Parentheses within Parentheses ( )

What do you do when you need to insert a set of parentheses within another set of parentheses?

This is an issue that commonly arises in academic writing, particularly when inserting additional information about an in-text reference. For example, you have a parenthetical element, such as an in-text reference (e.g., Elite Editing, 2014). Now, you want to add an additional parenthetical element, such as an abbreviation (EE), into the parentheses. Keeping them as they are (identically curved), can lead to confusion about where the elements start and stop. This is called ‘nested parentheses’.

One solution is to turn the interior parentheses into square brackets [ ], to distinguish them from the original curved parentheses ( ). For example:

  • (e.g., Elite Editing [EE], 2014)
  • (some critics, such as Dubosarsky [2014], have used parentheses many times)*
  • (I would [usually] not recommend constructing a bullet list consisting [entirely] of parenthetical elements).

* However, please note that if you are using APA referencing style, you would use commas around the date instead of brackets: (some critics, such as Dubosarsky, 2014, have used parentheses many times)

Another solution is to use a combination of parentheses and em rules. For example, instead of:

Dr Jones (an authority on the issue under review (smoking cessation strategies)) discussed this at length in his paper.


Dr Jones—an authority on the issue under review (smoking cessation strategies)—discussed this at length in his paper.

What’s the difference between a bracket and a parenthesis?

The terms ‘bracket’ and ‘parenthesis’ are often used interchangeably to describe either ( ) or [ ]. However, the Oxford Dictionaries (Oxford University Press, 2014) state that these ( ) are ‘parentheses’, and these [ ] are ‘brackets’. This terminology is also commonly used in mathematics.


American Psychological Association, 2010, Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edn, APA, Washington, DC.

Oxford University Press, 2014, Parentheses and brackets ( ) [ ], Oxford dictionaries, viewed 8 October 2018, <>

Snooks & Co., 2003, Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, repr. with corrections, John Wiley & Sons, Brisbane.

Updated 06 October 2018

Dr Ellen McRae,

Managing Editor,

Elite Editing.

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