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I found the terms bracket and brace used interchangeably. Is there a difference, and what is it?

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I don't suppose you're talking about things you find at the hardware store? – wuputah Sep 23 '10 at 17:29
up vote 19 down vote accepted

"Brackets" is used interchangeably for various symbols:

  • angle brackets for <>
  • round brackets for ()
  • curly brackets for {}
  • square brackets for []
  • and more, some of which are only used in certain regions or cultures

The more specific "braces" and "parentheses" are almost never used for other than {} and (), respectively. Mathematics has several more (subtle) variations in addition and is formalized more than other fields.

I prefer "braces" for {}, "parens" (informally or in the context of programming) or "parentheses" for (), and plain "brackets" for [], though "square brackets" is sometimes required to be explicit about the latter. This gives you a one-word name for any of those common symbols. (And don't get me started on the problems of angle brackets for grouping... :P)

To provide a non-text counterpoint, "bracketing" in photography is taking multiple exposures around a given value (which value—white balance, ISO, aperture, etc.—depends on what you're targeting). This shows the use of "bracket" to mean "surrounding," which lines up nicely with the text symbols above.

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Thank you. Excellent answer, esp. the point on use in programming. – mafu Sep 24 '10 at 13:21
I believe there is a UK/US difference here -> see the question that RegDwight links to in his comment on the question. – Benjol Oct 14 '10 at 4:52
Grave digging here, but correct there is a US vs other-english difference. Braces have been referred to parentheses quite commonly in coding. See: sarfraznawaz.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/… If I had the rep I'd downvote as really this is only half an answer and misleading to others. – Brian Ellis Nov 21 '15 at 15:14

Square brackets [] are often simply called brackets, while curly brackets {} are often called braces (in the US, at least). Someone using the term braces for square brackets is making a mistake, because most people will assume that person means curly brackets. So, these terms are not interchangeable, although braces are a type of bracket.

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In UK English, the word brackets on its own, without modifiers, would usually be understood to refer to round brackets. – TRiG Oct 15 '10 at 14:24

I am not sure about other contexts, but in texts about programming you will often find these terms used as follows:

braces: {} parentheses: () brackets: [] angle brackets: <>

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Only in US can this be relied upon. Also, the language matters to a degree. I've found JAVA and C guys to be more semantically correct compared to web developmers. Obviously strict type language also involving compiling is more detailed oriented so I imagine everyone strives to use common terminology more. – Brian Ellis Nov 21 '15 at 15:18

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