What do people call the symbol '()' in English? A dictionary of my mother language mentions bracket or parenthesis, but I don't know which one is more commonly used among people in English native countries.

  • Remotely related, but could be fun to read :-) What is the difference between curly braces and curly brackets? -- Hint: you might find your answer by clicking the link to a Wikipedia page in my answer. ;-) – Damkerng T. Apr 3 '16 at 14:20
  • This question has some discussion that might be helpful (it's not a duplicate) ell.stackexchange.com/q/84624 – ColleenV Apr 3 '16 at 14:36
  • Parentheses is the more technical / literary term, and carries stronger connotations of the syntactic role of the symbol. Per OED: parenthesis = A word, clause, or sentence inserted as an explanation, aside, or afterthought into a passage with which it has not necessarily any grammatical connection, which by association came to be used for the orthographic delineator itself as well as the text contained within. But non-literary folk normally just call them brackets. – FumbleFingers Apr 3 '16 at 14:48
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    @FumbleFingers Yeah, so we don't consider parentheses to be "literary". It's perfectly normal over here. Brackets is likely to be misunderstood in AmE because we use that term for other symbols. – snailboat Apr 3 '16 at 19:31

"Parentheses are mainly used to separate off information that isn’t essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence. If you removed the material within the parentheses, the sentence would still make perfectly good sense."

Compare with:

"Brackets (also called square brackets) are mainly used to enclose words added by someone other than the original writer or speaker, typically in order to clarify the situation." - Source 1

A second explanation:

"Usually we use square brackets - [ ] - for special purposes such as in technical manuals. Round brackets - ( ) - are used in a similar way to commas when we want to add further explanation, an afterthought, or comment that is to do with our main line of thought but distinct from it. Many grammarians feel that the parentheses can, in fact, be replaced by commas in nearly all cases." - Source 2

In addition, I personally hear the term 'brackets' more for informal settings, and 'parentheses' for formal settings. This is probably just because 'brackets' is a lot easier to say :P


Normally they are simply termed brackets or parentheses - the latter probably being the preferred term if you're American since they tend to have a separate notion of these to other kinds of brackets. {} are termed "braces" or "curly brackets" in some less formal circles. [ ] are usually called "square brackets".

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