Parentheses within Parentheses ( )

What do you do when you need to insert a set of parentheses within another set of parentheses? 

This is an issue that commonly arises in academic writing, particularly when inserting additional information about an in-text reference. For example, you have a parenthetical element, such as an in-text reference (e.g., Elite Editing, 2014). Now, you want to add an additional parenthetical element, such as an abbreviation (EE), into the parentheses. Keeping them as they are (identically curved), can lead to confusion about where the elements start and stop. 

The solution is to turn the interior parentheses into square brackets [ ], to distinguish them from the original curved parentheses ( ). For example:

  • (e.g., Elite Editing [EE], 2014)
  • (some critics, such as Dubosarsky [2014], have used parentheses many times)
  • (I would [usually] not recommend constructing a bullet list consisting [entirely] of parenthetical elements).

What’s the difference between a bracket and a parenthesis?

The terms ‘bracket’ and ‘parenthesis’ are often used interchangeably to describe either ( ) or [ ]. However, the Oxford Dictionaries (Oxford University Press, 2014) state that these ( ) are ‘parentheses’, and these [ ] are ‘brackets’. This terminology is also commonly used in mathematics.


Oxford University Press. (2014). Parentheses and brackets ( ) [ ]. Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from

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