METM23 presentation

Exploring bracket (mis)use

Joy Burrough-Boenisch, Renkum, Netherlands

You’ll be familiar with brackets (parentheses in American English). I will discuss the conventional advice on bracket usage in English and present some of the dozens of examples of thought-provoking usages in English (native and non-native) that I’ve photographed or transcribed over decades. This will be an interactive session, with the audience being encouraged to react to the examples, interpret their meaning and contribute their experience of bracket usage in languages other than English. We won’t delve into brackets’ specialised connotations in maths, science and programming codes. Instead, prepare for some puzzlement and fun as we examine brackets being used in genres such as pop songs, poetry, newspaper articles, recipe books and research articles, and work out why writers put brackets around word(s). Do these uses match those listed in online and hard-copy punctuation authorities? (Spoiler alert: no, not always – especially not when writers transfer bracket use from another language into English.)

You will come away from this session not only wary of the mantra that leaving out the information included in brackets doesn’t change a sentence’s meaning, but also knowing the origin of this (potentially) misleading advice. And when editing or translating, you will deal with brackets more critically and cautiously.

About the presenter

Joy Burrough-Boenisch, a founder and honorary member of SENSE (, has long worked as a freelance authors’ editor and translator for Dutch academics and scientists, and as an occasional teacher of academic English. She has given many conference presentations and workshops in Europe and beyond on editing non-native English. Originally a geographer, she learnt to edit in Borneo and Australia before moving to the Netherlands. Her PhD thesis is on Dutch scientific English. She has various scholarly and professional publications on editing and non-native English to her name. See