Excel Series: Brackets – Part 1

What are brackets?

Brackets, parentheses, braces… Round, square, angled, or curly? Depending on what kind of English you speak, you might have heard of any one of these.



  1. each of a pair of marks ( ) [ ] { } 〈 〉 used to enclose words or figures in order to separate them from the context.
  2. a category of people or things that are similar or fall between specified limits.

Brackets in Excel

In Excel we find a couple of different types, each with a different use. If you can understand the difference between these, it will be the difference between frustration and success!

In summary, to kick us off, brackets can be found in different places in Excel:

  • as part of number formatting
  • within formulas and functions
  • within text (to add additional information)
  • as shapes grouping information together

Types of brackets

Round brackets ()

Brackets in formulas & functions
  • Firstly, they are most commonly found within simple formulas.
    • As early as grade 7 we were taught about order of operations (BODMAS). The first part of that acronym refers to Brackets!
    • Therefore, all other mathematical operations are subservient to the humble bracket.
    • Whatever calculation is in a bracket, will be performed first.
    • For example, (5 + 3) * 2 = 30, but 5 + 3 * 2 = 11. So, where you put your brackets are of utmost importance.
  • Secondly, they can be found within functions.
    • Functions are formulas built into Excel, such as the SUM function.
    • Two important things to remember about functions, are firstly, to always start with an equal sign, but secondly, that you need to open and close the bracket.
    • For example, =SUM(A1:A2). Functions always have an open bracket next to its name before continuing with the range to select. It is of utmost importance that every open bracket must also have a closing bracket.
Errors with brackets

On the other hand, failure to close your brackets may result in an error message by Excel, depending on how badly you made a mistake.

  • Firstly, if you are doing a simple function, Excel may automatically add a bracket for you.
  • Or, you might have the option to accept the correction suggested by Excel.
Excel suggestion to correct brackets
  • Secondly, if you really confused Excel, it may ask you to correct the formula yourself. Generally, Excel is kind enough to place the cursor within the formula, based on where it suspects the error lies.
Excel error message for missing brackets
Brackets in formatting

Round brackets can also be found in custom number formatting to depict negative values. For example, different formats are shown below:

Format Preview
Number format -20
Accounting format -R20
Currency format  R      (20)
Number format – custom (20)
Number format – custom (20) (red)
  • Although the accounting format and currency format both provide a currency symbol, how they format the text is slightly different.
  • The default number format will pick up on your computer’s regional settings, and may look different from the example.

If you would like to explore your regional settings, navigate to:

  • Control Panel
  • Additional date, time and regional settings
  • Change date, time or number formats
  • Additional settings
  • Here you are able to customize what your numbers, currency, time and date formats look like.

However, note that this affects your entire computer’s settings, and not just a specific cell or spreadsheet.

  • Alternatively, you can use some of the generic options in Excel to change your number formatting according to your preferences. Easily access your additional number formats in one of the following ways:
    • Use the Home Ribbon -> Number ->
    • Right click on your cell -> Format Cells
    • Use Ctrl + 1 to bring up the Format Cells dialog box

To be continued…

In part 2 of this blog post, you can read about the other two (lesser known) types of brackets. Don’t miss out!

If you want to learn more about customizing your number formatting, book your spot at our next Excel Intermediate training session.