What Are Braces ( { ) How Do You Use Them?

When it comes to brackets, parentheses are usually the one that almost everybody knows and uses on a regular basis. Many people may not even know that other kinds of brackets even exist. So, don’t feel bad if you have never seen anyone use braces in writing before or don’t even know what braces even are. Braces look like a fancy pair of parentheses, but they see much, much less use than their plain cousins.

What are braces?

Braces, also commonly called curly brackets or curly braces, are a rarely used punctuation mark in writing. They are often considered to be a type of bracket, a category that also typically includes parentheses, square brackets, and angle brackets. Braces come in pairs as { and }. On most keyboards, they are typed using the same keys as square brackets. You are much more likely to see these marks used in math, high level physics, computer programming languages, or sheets of music than in writing.

When do you use braces?

Braces are very rarely used in writing. Some style guides or grammar resources will not have any formal use for them. However, some resources will cite one acceptable use for braces: grouping together a set.

Grouping a set

This use of braces in writing is similar to how these symbols are used in math. In general, braces can be used to introduce a set of items or people. For example,

  • My sisters {Mandy, Sandy, Brandi} are coming to visit.
  • There are a variety of colors {red, green, blue, yellow, white, black} to choose from.

Even this usage is rare, and many writers are likely to instead use the more familiar parentheses to do this same job.

Informal uses

Informally, braces could potentially be used for a variety of reasons. A person may use them as a fancy alternative to parentheses or in texting to make emoticons. One common informal use of braces is to clarify a statement that uses multiple sets of parentheses within other parentheses. For example, someone may write a sentence like this in informal writing:

  • The tree (a Christmas tree with red [or was it pink {really, really pink}] ornaments) looked really nice.

How to use braces

It’s entirely possible that you will never need to use braces in your writing. Still, it is useful to know how to properly use them in case the opportunity presents itself. 

Braces are always used in pairs

As with other types of brackets, it is considered a grammatical error to only use a single brace. Braces are typically used in pairs:

 Incorrect: The numbers on the sign {7, 2, 6, 3, 5 were hard to read.
Correct: The numbers on the sign {7, 2, 6, 3, 5} were hard to read.

Braces don’t require and

Because braces typically indicate a set rather than a list, the word and is usually not written before the final item. For example,

  • The desserts {cakes, pies, cookies, candies} looked tasty.


Typically, the first item in a set within a pair of braces is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun:

  • The circus animals {bears, lions, tigers, monkeys} were very well trained.
  • The band members {Tito, Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon, Michael} were great singers and dancers.

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