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.


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. – kiamlaluno May 23 '11 at 19:40
  • @Kiamlaluno: Where do you see the edition? – Alenanno May 24 '11 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. – kiamlaluno May 24 '11 at 8:36

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