Sometimes, in the definition of a word there is a part that explains the context for which the meaning is valid; for example, for automagically the definition is the following:

(especially in relation to the operation of a computer process) automatically and in a way that seems ingenious, inexplicable, or magical.

Sometimes the part that is between parentheses is different, as in the definition of puzzle:

cause (someone) to feel confused because they cannot understand something.

When reporting the definition on EL&U, should I use the parentheses as I have reported here, or should I use brackets as in the following definition of bracket?

[with adjective or noun modifier] a category of people or things that are similar or fall between specified limits.

1 Answer 1


Usually in word definitions the round parentheses (...) are used for meaning or context explanation.

The square brackets [...] are often used by dictionaries to report the pronunciation of the given word (I checked 3 paper dictionaries I have), so maybe using it for the other purpose too might get the reader confused.

  • All the examples I reported are taken from the NOAD, the electronic version Mac OS X comes with; in my case it's the NOAD third edition.
    – apaderno
    May 23, 2011 at 19:40
  • @Kiamlaluno: Where do you see the edition?
    – Alenanno
    May 24, 2011 at 0:28
  • In the preference panel, when I select "Dictionary," I read the following text: "New Oxford American Dictionary 3rd edition © 2010 by Oxford University Press, Inc." I am using a pre-release of Mac OS X Lion; in the Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the version is a different one.
    – apaderno
    May 24, 2011 at 8:36

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