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Apostrophes, Parentheses, Brackets and Ellipses


Apostrophes are very handy indicators to use in sentences. They are used to indicate possession.
Here are some examples:

‘John’s car was a different colour from my sister’s car.’

‘I turned the corner to be confronted by my manager’s assistant.’

‘The politician met his mother’s expectations but failed to meet his electors’ expectations.’

If the apostrophe is not used, then Johns and sisters become plural, as if you are talking about more than one John or sister (as in electors, which is plural). Using the apostrophe makes a possessive. If you need to indicate possession at the end of a word that is a plural, like electors, you simply add it to the end.

Parentheses and Brackets (  ) [  ]

Parentheses (sometimes called round brackets) are used to enclose references or citations and are also used to enclose extra information that is not vital to the sentence. That is, parentheses will accentuate material that is related to the rest of the sentence. The sentence must still make sense if you remove the material in parentheses. Here are a few examples:

‘When John was confronted by Betty (his manager’s assistant), he was most upset.’

‘Betty had asked John (several weeks ago) to provide her with important information.’

Brackets (sometimes called square brackets) are used to enclose material that does not necessarily belong to the surrounding text. This information can be added by another person other than the writer. They are also used for translations, corrections and insertions.

Here are some examples:

‘The information provided was not enough. [As your manager, I require more detailed information please].’

‘The book Le sang des autres [The Blood of Others] was written by French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir in 1945.’

‘The French actor was bad‘ [Correction: This should read: ‘The Frenchman’s acting was below par’].

You can also use brackets if you need to insert words into a direct quotation to make it read well, or when you use ‘sic’ to indicate that an error was in the original quotation, as in these examples:

The interviewee stated that ‘there were always errors in [her] work’.

The interviewee stated that ‘I hate me [sic] job’.

Finally, parentheses and brackets may be nested, for example:

‘Harper (on returning from her overseas trip to Southeast Asia [Vietnam] and Europe [Paris]) immediately applied to four universities in the hope of studying languages.’

Alternatively, use a combination of dashes and parentheses instead, for example:

‘Harper—on returning from her overseas trip to Southeast Asia (Vietnam) and Europe (Paris)—immediately applied to four universities in the hope of studying languages.’

However, avoid using parentheses within parentheses.

Indicate Your Omission with Ellipses   

When you need to let your reader know you have omitted a word, line, phrase or more from a quoted passage, use an ellipsis. Ellipses are three full stops together, with a space either side, indicating an omission.

Ellipsis points may be used with quotation marks, question marks and exclamation marks; otherwise, no punctuation should precede or follow ellipses. In written dialogue, an ellipsis can indicate a pause, text omitted from a quotation, or an unfinished thought or a trailing off into silence.

Here are some examples:

‘The politician had to think hard … he had lied before.’

‘Never before, have so many … for so few.’ [Echoing Churchill’s famous 1940 speech]

John had been beaten and was losing consciousness. He thought, ‘If I black out …’

Ellipsis points can also indicate a missing paragraph or more from a block quotation. In this case, the ellipsis points are placed on a line of their own.

Like that.

Updated 29 September 2023

Ms Rachel Wheeler,

Managing Editor,

                           Elite Editing.