I saw it many times in many texts. There will be a word or a phrase inside a text and surrounded by square brackets.


  • This is [the] main purpose of xxx.
  • And it was called [xxx].

There are many examples out there. What does it mean when you surround a text in square bracket inside a whole text?

  • 4
    Different style guides will have different positions regarding square brackets - some may specifically identify [sic] as a context that should use square rather than round brackets, for example. Or when quoting otherwise verbatim text, you might put square brackets around some non-verbatim element that you've re-worded for clarity in context. Plus there's a long-established convention in software / technical documentation that we may use them to delineate [optional words]. In short, there are too many possibilities to list here, and your "examples" aren't valid or useful. Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 10:54
  • Check out this style guide on the use of square brackets. Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 15:28
  • Does this answer your question? "[I]t literally scared her to death" - Why is "I" in brackets?
    – Void
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 6:37

1 Answer 1


Square brackets are mainly used to enclose additional information that was not actually said by the speaker. For example, if somebody says

He shouldn't be allowed to get away with this

A reporter might decide that it is not clear who He refers to, and add the name in square brackets:

He [John Doe] shouldn't be allowed to get away with this

It could be used to correct grammatical errors in the original speaker's text, as in your first example, But your second example certainly isn't a valid use of square brackets, because the contents of the brackets is fundamental to the sentence, not additional information.

  • @TypeIA yes, sic is related, but it is used to mark a grammatical or typographic error as coming from the original source. It would not be much help in indicating an omitted word, as in the first example.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 13:31
  • 1
    The second example is sometimes used when the quote has been edited. For example the original speaker may have given several different names for the thing and explained why most of them were inaccurate, but the reported text just contains the correct name in. Or the original quote may have given the name in a different language, which is irrelevant in the reported quote.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 18:36
  • @JavaLatte Yes, I know what it means. It's something that often appears in square brackets though and is neither source material nor editorial insertion. Also I wonder why my comment was deleted?
    – TypeIA
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 19:23
  • 4
    I could see the second example if the original sentence was something like "And it was called the same thing." You'd put in the name/title in square brackets if your quote didn't include the earlier reference. Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 20:50
  • @JavaLatte I've removed my previous comment, because you (and the link) are correct. I must have been getting mixed up with the use of square brackets to swap capitalized letters (the "[T]his study has been widely cited" example in your link).
    – RToyo
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 14:11

You must log in to answer this question.