MLA Formatting Quotations
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.
Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2018-01-06 01:54:24
When you directly quote the works of others in your paper, you will format quotations differently depending on their length. Below are some basic guidelines for incorporating quotations into your paper. Please note that all pages in MLA should be double-spaced.
To indicate short quotations (four typed lines or fewer of prose or three lines of verse) in your text, enclose the quotation within double quotation marks. Provide the author and specific page citation (in the case of verse, provide line numbers) in the text, and include a complete reference on the Works Cited page. Punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should appear after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted passage but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of your text.
For example, when quoting short passages of prose, use the following examples:
According to some, dreams express "profound aspects of personality" (Foulkes 184), though others disagree.
According to Foulkes's study, dreams may express "profound aspects of personality" (184).
Is it possible that dreams may express "profound aspects of personality" (Foulkes 184)?
When short (fewer than three lines of verse) quotations from poetry, mark breaks in short quotations of verse with a slash, ( / ), at the end of each line of verse (a space should precede and follow the slash).
Cullen concludes, "Of all the things that happened there / That's all I remember" (11-12).
For quotations that are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, place quotations in a free-standing block of text and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, with the entire quote indented ½ inch from the left margin; maintain double-spacing. Only indent the first line of the quotation by an additional quarter inch if you are citing multiple paragraphs. Your parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark. When quoting verse, maintain original line breaks. (You should maintain double-spacing throughout your essay.)
For example, when citing more than four lines of prose, use the following examples:
Nelly Dean treats Heathcliff poorly and dehumanizes him throughout her narration:
They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so, I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it would be gone on the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw's door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house. (Bronte 78)
When citing long sections (more than three lines) of poetry, keep formatting as close to the original as possible.
In his poem "My Papa's Waltz," Theodore Roethke explores his childhood with his father:
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We Romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself. (qtd. in Shrodes, Finestone, Shugrue 202)
When citing two or more paragraphs, use block quotation format, even if the passage from the paragraphs is less than four lines. Indent the first line of each quoted paragraph an extra quarter inch.
In "American Origins of the Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement," David Russell argues,
Writing has been an issue in American secondary and higher education since papers and examinations came into wide use in the 1870s, eventually driving out formal recitation and oral examination. . . .
From its birth in the late nineteenth century, progressive education has wrestled with the conflict within industrial society between pressure to increase specialization of knowledge and of professional work (upholding disciplinary standards) and pressure to integrate more fully an ever-widerning number of citizens into intellectually meaningful activity within mass society (promoting social equity). . . . (3)
Adding or omitting words in quotations
If you add a word or words in a quotation, you should put brackets around the words to indicate that they are not part of the original text.
Jan Harold Brunvand, in an essay on urban legends, states, "some individuals [who retell urban legends] make a point of learning every rumor or tale" (78).
If you omit a word or words from a quotation, you should indicate the deleted word or words by using ellipsis marks, which are three periods ( . . . ) preceded and followed by a space. For example:
In an essay on urban legends, Jan Harold Brunvand notes that "some individuals make a point of learning every recent rumor or tale . . . and in a short time a lively exchange of details occurs" (78).
Please note that brackets are not needed around ellipses unless adding brackets would clarify your use of ellipses.
When omitting words from poetry quotations, use a standard three-period ellipses; however, when omitting one or more full lines of poetry, space several periods to about the length of a complete line in the poem:
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration . . . (22-24, 28-30)
Many students tend to overuse direct quotations in their essays. Direct quotations should be used only when paraphrasing would change the effectiveness or meaning of the author's words or when the author is a noted authority and the idea could not be better expressed or said more succinctly. Although quotations are common in essays in the humanities, they are used less extensively in the social sciences, and rarely in scientiﬁc writing.
NOTE: Remember that you must reference the use of someone else's ideas or ﬁndings as well as direct quotations.
1. Introduce the Quotation with Your Own Words and Integrate it Grammatically into the Sentence
In this study, children were taught effective ways to deal with confrontations through role playing. "They demonstrated a signiﬁcant increase in generating relevant solutions to interpersonal problems at both post-testing and follow-up testing."
In this study, children were taught effective ways to deal with confrontations through role playing: "They demonstrated a signiﬁcant increase in generating relevant solutions to interpersonal problems at both post-testing and follow-up testing."
In this study, children who were taught effective ways to deal with confrontations through role playing "demonstrated a signiﬁcant increase in generating relevant solutions to interpersonal problems at both post-testing and follow-up testing."
2. Reproduce the Exact Wording, Punctuation, Capitalization and Spelling of the Original, Including Errors
Supplementary information should be enclosed:
- In square brackets if within the quotation
- In parentheses if after the quotation
Insert the word [sic] in square brackets after an error in the original.
He wrote, "I enjoy writting [sic], but ﬁnd it difficult."
If you want to underline or italicize for emphasis, write my emphasis or emphasis added in parentheses immediately following the closing quotation mark and before the end punctuation.
Hamlet says, "To be or not to be" (my emphasis).
Enclose in square brackets comments of your own added to clarify information in the original.
He felt that "it [the essay] should be analytical rather than descriptive."
3. Use the Proper Punctuation to Introduce Quotations
Use commas after an explanatory tag such as he said, she explained, they wrote, etc.
In his epilogue, Roberts stated, "I can't allow this abomination to continue."
"I can't," Roberts stated, "allow this abomination to continue."
Use a colon when the words introducing the quotation form a complete sentence, when you are introducing a verse quotation, or when a longer quotation is set off from the text.
She concluded with this statement: "I can't allow this abomination to continue."
Use no punctuation when the quoted words form part of the sentence.
She stated that she could not "allow this abomination to continue."
She told the readers that "this abomination" could not continue.
4. Use the Proper Punctuation to End Quotations
- Commas and periods are placed inside the ﬁnal quotation mark
- Semi-colons and colons are placed outside the ﬁnal quotation mark
- Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside only if the quotation is a question or an exclamation
She wrote, "What can I do to stop them?"
- Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside if both the quotation and the statement containing the quotation are questions or exclamations
Did she write, "What can I do to stop them?"
- Question marks and exclamation points are placed outside only if the statement is a question or exclamation
Did she write, "I can't allow this abomination to continue"?
- Do not use a period or comma as well as a question mark or exclamation point
"What can I do to stop them?", she wrote.
"What can I do to stop them?" she wrote.
She wrote, "What can I do to stop them?"
She wrote, "What can I do to stop them?"
5. Separate longer quotations from the text.
- Include within the text and use quotation marks around four lines or fewer of prose or three lines or fewer of poetry (use a slash (/) with a space on each side to signify the end of each line of poetry)
- Set off from the body of your text and omit quotation marks around ﬁve lines or more of prose or four lines or more of poetry. Indent one inch and use double spacing. These quotations are most often introduced by a colon
Smith explains the use of essay-writing terminology:
An assignment which asks you to do some library research to write on a topic may be called an essay, a paper, a research essay, a research paper, a term assignment, or a term paper. The terminology is not necessarily consistent: a term paper may tend to be a longer paper written in advanced courses, but not necessarily. You may be assigned a speciﬁc topic or asked to choose your own from subjects relevant to the course. (225)
NOTE: If the ﬁrst line of the quotation is the ﬁrst line of a paragraph, indent an additional quarter inch only if you are quoting several of the original paragraphs.
6. Use Single Quotation Marks for a Quotation within a Quotation
Bogel states, "Campaign slogans, for example, are often built on this presumed correlation of form with meaning, as in the hopeful phrase 'Win with Willkie,' which sought to connect victory with the candidate by means of alliterative bonding" (168).
7. To Omit Something from the Original
- To omit a line or more of a poem, use one full line of periods
- To omit material within a sentence, use three periods (ellipsis marks)
- To omit material at the end of a sentence, use four periods (to include the sentence period)
But of course these two "arguments" – that ﬁgurative language is necessary to deﬁne democracy, and that democracy permits such luxuries as ﬁgurative language – are really two faces of a single argument, an argument deﬁning democracy, in part, as that form of government which recognizes the necessity of certain luxuries.
(Source: Bogel, Fredric V. "Understanding Prose." Teaching Prose. Ed. Frederic V. Bogel and Katherine K. Gottschalk. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1988. 172.)
Use ellipsis when your words complete the sentence.
Bogel also claims that "these two 'arguments' . . . are really two faces of a single argument" (172) in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Use ellipsis when the quotation completes the sentence.
With endnotes or footnotes, use four periods.
Bogel also claims that "these two 'arguments' . . . are really two faces of a single argument . . . ."3
With parenthetical reference, place ﬁnal period after reference.
Bogel also claims that "these two 'arguments' . . . are really two faces of a single argument . . ." (172).
For more details on using quotations, refer to the following: Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.