At trial in 1921, expert witnesses disagreed about Bullet III. “[F]irearms identification in 1921 was in an embryonic stage,” notes forensics investigator James Starrs. The controversy surrounding Bullet III intensified after the trial.

Could you please explain why there is not used in the first sentence the definite article while in the second one it is so. – Maybe my second question is irrelevant for this site… but what does it generally mean when the part of the quoted text is in square brackets (like above "[F]irearms")? Is that from the reason that in the original text it is written "firearms"?

  • 1
    That's really 2 questions, however, 1) 'at trial' is a bit of legalese; describing the 'process' of 'being tried' rather than the 'event' of the trial itself. 2) a guess, but the [F] is possibly as you mentioned; because the original was a partial sentence. Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 12:11
  • To follow up on what Tetsujin said. "At trial" refers to the stage in the chronology of the legal proceedings, just as we would say "The rocket's engines malfunctioned at lift-off". When the trial has been concluded, the chronology of the proceedings is ended, and thereafter the trial can be referred to as a particular completed event: "after the trial".
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 12:36

1 Answer 1


Q1: Why is there no article in "at trial"?

"At trial" is similar to "at sea", "on vacation", and "in jail". It refers to a state of being, not a specific event. "After the trial" refers to a specific trial, so it needs a definite article.

Q2: What do square brackets in quoted text mean?

As discussed in this ELU question and this article, square brackets are used to show that you've edited a quotation. In your example, it looks like the quotation was part of a longer sentence. The 'F' is in square brackets to show that "firearms" wasn't originally capitalized.

Square brackets can also be used when you replace a word. It's common to replace pronouns with nouns to clarify the meaning of a quoted sentence. If you want to omit a word or phrase, use an ellipsis instead.

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