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This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.


The name bracket is a grouping name for matching pairs of characters that wrap around some text, for one of various reasons.

Parentheses: ( )

Names include:

  • Parentheses
  • Round brackets
  • Curved brackets
  • Oval brackets
  • Parens

Angle brackets: < >

Names include:

  • Angle brackets, angled brackets
  • Diamond brackets
  • Chevrons

There are some graphical variations, particularly the less bent ones in math (chevrons -- when the word is used in the context of characters).

Square brackets: [ ]

Names include:

  • Square brackets
  • Box brackets

Used within sentences it often suggests that the editor added something to clarify, but wants to set it apart from the literal text {{(e.g. in interviews, where you shouldn't paraphrase)}}, for example:

  • I like them [the fish], but I cannot accept them, particularly when this is unclear when referents the sentence is taken out of its original context
  • sic, to signify that incorrect or unusual spelling or grammar is intentional

Accolades: { }

Names include:

  • accolates
  • curly brackets




Parenthetical use


Dependent introduction


Style arguments

The serial comma

The serial comma, also called the Oxford comma, Harvard comma, and probably other-university commas, is the comma before the 'and' in a list ('after the penultimate', 'before the conjunction'), as a disambiguation tool that prevents the possible reading of the last two terms as a single concept.

In most cases, context will help you resolve it.

Say, the difference between "cheese, bacon and eggs" and "cheese, bacon, and eggs" probably won't change what your meal is at all, because it's a rough description, not a recipe.

Sometimes drawing attention to the distinction of the last two is just clearer. Consider that

They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid and a cook

makes it ambiguous whether it's one person (just Betty) or three people, while

They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid, and a cook

is clearly listing three people.

Now consider "The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector." [1].

If you know anything about Mandela, you will probably not read this as "encounters with Nelson Mandela, who is a 800-year-old demigod and is also a dildo collector", and read it as "encounters with Nelson Mandela, with an 800-year-old demigod, and with a dildo collector".

Yes, including another comma would still more clearly lead to the latter reading. But unless people never go outside or read anything, they'll quickly figure out which of the two readings is intended. This may well confuse machine parsing, but very few humans.

Some will suggest always using it (including the Oxford and Harvard press and some style manuals(verify)) apparently with the argument that if you're going to have a style rule about it at all, and keep it simple, then always having it makes for fewer ambiguous cases.

Which is fair, yet at the same time, if it's usually unambiguous, it also doesn't do anything. Also, there is no no way to clearly mark when the last two things are supposed to be grouped. Even when you can expect your reader to know which style guide you are following and how closely (basically never), the absence of the comma can be intentional or accidental.

So it's all half a solution at best. While it's sometimes clearer and better, it usually makes no difference.

Note that in some cases, the use of a comma still doesn't prevent ambiguity. In some cases omitting the 'and' is an effective option.

It's often better style to rephrase to avoid such ambiguity in the first place, than to argue over how to duct-tape over it.

Good judgement is better for for a writing style.

This is also part of why it comes across as snobbish, not because of the association with whatever university, but because the argument is associated with those who indulge in hypercorrection before they do common sense.

See also:

Comma overdose


Hyphens, Dashes

Generally, a hyphen marks joins and breaks of syllables and words, where necessary and for style, while a dash is used as punctuation. In many cases there are clear distinctions between the two concepts, but in a number of cases the formal style sources disagree, and pragmatic use mixes the two a lot too - particularly digitally, if you consider use of the wrong Unicode codepoints as incorrect.


This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

A hyphen is a character that joins words, often to make phrases visually recognizable. Not to be confused with dashes.

Hyphens are also used to mark words that were split at syllable edges. Hyphenation may refer specifically to the process of deciding where to do so, and to the typographical detail of breaking up words.


In English, hyphens are tools to guide towards correct readings, sometimes disambiguating where even common sense fails.

For example, it marks confusable compound modifiers by directly connecting compounds. Style guides vary in when and where they suggest use.

English particularly marks noun-noun compounds (as in 'twentieth-century invention' and 'purple people-eater') and adjective-adverb compounds (as in 'hot-headed cop').


  • which means there are a lot of cases where two words in a phrase/compound are clear, but three or more could use a dash. For example, "Science fiction is written by science-fiction writers".
  • A hypthen is often omitted in cases where the interpretation is deemed obvious. Most of us understand 'science fiction writer' just fine, because there's really only one reading that makes any sense.

  • Phrases used as modifiers (pronounced quickly) often get hyphens, particularly if they are long.
    • Example: "know-it-all argument".
    • When the same is used descriptively, it often acts as separate words. For example: "We are going to throw away out-of-date books and get some that are not as out of date" is acceptable, though some would prefer the second to be hyphenated as well.
    • It is possible to get quite creative with longer cases, though this tends to be marked use.

  • There are also a number of phrases that generally appear with hyphens, such as city-state.
  • Hyphens are also often used while spelling out numbers, as in twenty-two, and also (somewhat more optionally) in the digit form, such as in 36-year feud and 120-meter wingspan.
  • Hyphens can sometimes be used to avoid possible confusion in the presence of homographs, such as to distinguish recreation (in the sense of a fun diversion) and re-creation (creating again).


Hyphenation (usually) refers to inserting a hyphen in a word, for one of many reasons.

See Hyphenation, syllabization for details

Lexical hyphens

Describes those that


Hyphenates (noun; singular: a hyphenate (which is a homograph but not homophone with the verb to hyphenate)) are things connected/divided (not necessarily broken) with hyphens, including syllables, phrases, names and others.

Examples include

  • someone with multiple related roles/jobs, e.g. singer-songwriter, writer-director, actor-model

See also (hyphens)


There are three common dashes, of which the the em dash and en dash see the most use. Em and en refer to width.

In the practice of common typing (unless in clever analytic word processors), an ASCII hyphen or minus is often used instead of any of these.

The em dash is used to denote a sudden break in thought and/or sentence structure, often a parenthetical-like break. It can be used to insert a clause, sentence, a phrase or even just a word. They have the connotation of asides, more so than than parentheses do.

The en dash is used meant for:

  • closed ranges, amounts: 1:00–2:00 p.m., pp. 34–37, ages 4–5
  • relations, connections: New York–London flight, 5–4 vote, mother–daughter relationship

Style manuals vary on this. Some insist on hyphens for relations.

A figure dash is a a dash for a specific purpose, to clarify without splitting or indicating a range. For example, it can be used when splitting a phone number into groups: 634?5789.

Unicode characters and practical (ab)use

Since unicode characters are harder to insert, many typesetting applications, will try to rewrite minus characters:

  • a single minus character as a hyphen ‐ or left as a minus, or possibly even make it a figure dash, depending on context,
  • a double minus as an n-dash (sometimes a single minus), and
  • a triple minus as a m-dash (sometimes double minus)

In fact, people often type a minus when they mean a hyphen.

The relevant characters in unicode:

There is also a horizontal bar (?, U+2015 (―)), which some languages use as quotation markers.


This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

A space is an empty zone between pieces of writing.

In many languages, it refers mostly to the inter-word space, to which there are quite complex rules in some languages, while it does not exist at all in some others.

It can refer to sentence spacing, or to spaces with digital typesetting meaning, such as the non-breaking space, which indicates that prevents an automatic line break, useful in things like names (e.g. F. Last) to avoid the initial is separated from the last name.

See also (space)


Colons suggests logical relation, rather than a directly grammatical one.

Many uses of a colon, the punctuation, are to have a logical (rather than directly grammatical) relation. You could see it as something between a conjunction and two separate adjacent sentences.

  • Syntactical-deductive: an introduced consequence or effect.
    • Example: There is another possibility: I'm wrong.
  • Syntactical-descriptive: description, explanation, example, or giving some or all members of a set (apposition).
    • Example: I have two sisters: Eve and Alice
    • Example: Example: This
    • Example: Love is like pi: natural, irrational and very important.
    • Example: "Make lots of money", "enjoy the work", "operate within the law": choose 2.
  • Explaining continuations arguably also fall under this. Consider:
    • Example: "Good old days: Beer foamed and drinking water didn't."
  • End of salutation (in a letter)
  • Source, quote, dialogue
    • Example: Patient: Doctor, I put a lime in the coconut
    • Example: On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."
  • Title/subtitle split (not unlike )
  • Functional convention
    • Example: Leviticus 19:27 will be quoted at 23:45.

Colons are typically not required/correct...

  • when breaking up a sentence, there is usually a strong preference to omit them (and and good argument of incorrectness)
    • separating an object from its verb, for example: "I requires: fish, tomato, and gluten."
    • separating a preposition from its object, for example: "My choice consist of: fish, tomato, and gluten."
  • They are unnecessary after most uses of 'such as', 'for example', 'including'.

Note that there are exceptions, particularly stylistic cases don't really deal with sentences, such as in bullet lists, in forms, and others.

Colon, the rhetorical device, refers to drawing attention to words

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colon_%28punctuation%29 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colon_%28rhetoric%29 http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Rhetoric_and_Composition/Colons


This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Semicolons are punctuation seen in a few different situations.

The semicolon is a relatively young piece of punctuation, so was probably never used widely enough to make its use very well-defined. It has been seen serving the purpose of showing you went to college/university, and has seen a bunch of misuse.

It also means we can only only really discuss some of its more common uses.

The most common is probably joining two independent clauses. This use lies somewhere between a comma and a period. Where a comma would often suggest you are directly continuing the same thought or argument, and a period would be a full stop on a thought, a semicolon often signals that two thoughts are related.

Such a semicolon is usually not truly necessary; a period will often work pretty well in a semicolon's place, as people will usually relate the sentence they're reading to the previous one. A semicolon is merely suggests that they are intended to be read as related in thought.

Consider statements between which you would pause less than between sentences.

Semicolons are more useful in essays, academic texts, and such because they allow for more complex structure and condition. This is rarely as useful in novels and such.

Another use is that of a super-comma. This is seen in a few uses, one of which is listing items that may have commas in them themselves (for some reason).

Not so correct uses include:

  • using them next to a conjunction, as if it were a comma that makes you look smarter

Quotation marks

Quotation marks (a.k.a. quotes, inverted commas, speech marks) are punctuation used to set off a sentence, phrase, word, or such.

They are used:

  • to mark dialogue
  • When quoting someone else's text verbatim. Used much less when paraphrasing, though.
  • to mark words used in senses other than the most usual sense. Sometimes grouped under
  • scare quotes are also associated with
    • adding quotes on someone else's terms or word choice, to highlight, distance or mock, or such.
    • some people have a "strange relation" with "figurative language" and will "quote" a lot of it.
    • See scare quotes for more

See also: