I know that putting words in square brackets when quoting is used to clarify or emphasize something, but I've seen some cases where it really doesn't make sense to me.

For example this sentence:

If you drink a liter of water, [urination] will increase

from this context:

He added that any increase in fluid input will lead to an increase in urine output. "If you drink a liter of water, [urination] will increase," Armstrong said. "Doesn't mean you shouldn't drink water."

So, the word in brackets is added by the writer of the article, but hasn't been said by the quoted person, right? What boggles me is why would the writer put urination in brackets, when the sentence would obviously not make sense, if we omit that specific word in this specific case...?

If you drink a liter of water, will increase

doesn't really sound right to me.

  • 2
    In ancient texts it often means the words are missing. In modern quotes that the words are a paraphrase. Without the brackets it would be a misquotation. The original text was possibly too wordy, [it percolates through the kidneys etc etc ] will increase.
    – Hugh
    Feb 26, 2019 at 8:56
  • Or it could be that the original had something vulgar or slangy, so the person quoting replaced it with "urination" which was the meaning.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 26, 2019 at 12:59
  • Suppose he said: "That's how urination works: if you drink a liter of water, it will increase". If you're going to quote only the last part, you need to clarify what "it" refers to. Feb 27, 2019 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


Brackets: [ ] In your example, "urination" - the original quotation could have been an obscure medical term, or originator used slang for urinating. The writer can alter for clarification for the reader simply by removing the original unclear word/term and and overwrite with their own, then enclose their change in brackets. British call them "square brackets."

That's it. Source doc's and explanation are below if you need more.

If you need to alter the capitalization in a source document you are referencing, indicate with brackets

The main use for brackets is to show you have altered a quotation, or to correct words of a writer you are quoting. Simply place your additions in a pair of brackets.

Example: "John told us we were all going to Jackson [Mississippi] to finish out our time at school.'

To change a part of a quotation that would otherwise be unclear. Example: "Unless there is a substantial raise is revenue all of them have got to go." Change to: "Unless there is a substantial raise in revenue all of [the pigs] have got to go."

Ref: Little Brown Handbook 11th Ed. Pg. 474. Pearson Education. 2010. Book

British call them square brackets. There are different minor rules, used primarily for same purpose & reason. That is, "enclose enclose words added by someone other than the original writer or speaker, typically in order to clarify the situation." https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/parentheses-and-brackets

  • Thanks for the thorough explanation! :) P.S. I think you should teach, if not your wife then, your kids at least to speak English. They will thank you later on. :) Feb 27, 2019 at 9:20
  • A man who speaks two languages is worth two men--yet, one conversant to lecture in eight, there are still yet men here of caliber I have but little defense.The Lingua Franca is Japanese;. Don't doubt for a second what a father does to correct his children in his own house (smile).
    – Steve B053
    Feb 27, 2019 at 9:56

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