Is there a general term for punctuation that surrounds a word or phrase? Something that includes brackets and quotes, but there may be other types of punctuation, formal or otherwise, that have the same appearance.

Let me give some examples, and their purpose:

  • Parentheses () to separate supplementary information from the main sentence: Sen. John McCain (R., Arizona) spoke at length.
  • Quotes "" to indicate a group of words referring to a singular entity, such as the title of a work: David Bowie's "Space Oddity"
  • Dashes to show a break in thought, similar to parentheses: You are the friend—the only friend—who offered to help me.
  • Markup annotation used for purposes other than reading, for example as instructions for printing/presentation: In Markdown, surrounding a phrase in asterisks renders it in italics

What term would you use to cover these in general? I see a few possibilities:

  • Brackets which covers most of them but I feel it doesn't include quotes
  • Bookends since that's what they look like, but unless I use it in context it's not clear what I'm referring to

2 Answers 2


I'd go with delimiters. While other things could be considered delimiters, such as (unpaired) periods delimiting sentences, I think the word suitably captures the essence of what you're after.

As mentioned in this related question, enclosures might be an alternative.

  • Or delimiter pairs, pairs of delimiters?
    – TrevorD
    Aug 14, 2013 at 13:28

I would call it bracketing punctuation.

For reference, see the following definition of bracket (v.) according to Merriam Webster:

to be located at each side of (something)

Each of the punctuation pairs you mentioned are located one at each side of some word or phrase; hence, bracketing punctuation.

  • This might be a good choice, but can you provide an appropriate dictionary definition of bracketing to clarify to readers why it is suitable in the context of punctuation?
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 28, 2016 at 1:43

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