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)
How to Quote a Source
Introducing a quotation
One of your jobs as a writer is to guide your reader through your text. Don't simply drop quotations into your paper and leave it to the reader to make connections.
Integrating a quotation into your text usually involves two elements:
A signal that a quotation is coming--generally the author's name and/or a reference to the work
An assertion that indicates the relationship of the quotation to your text
Often both the signal and the assertion appear in a single introductory statement, as in the example below. Notice how a transitional phrase also serves to connect the quotation smoothly to the introductory statement.
Ross (1993), in her study of poor and working-class mothers in London from 1870-1918 [signal], makes it clear that economic status to a large extent determined the meaning of motherhood [assertion]. Among this population [connection], "To mother was to work for and organize household subsistence" (p. 9).
The signal can also come after the assertion, again with a connecting word or phrase:
Illness was rarely a routine matter in the nineteenth century [assertion]. As [connection] Ross observes [signal], "Maternal thinking about children's health revolved around the possibility of a child's maiming or death" (p. 166).
Short direct prose
Incorporate short direct prose quotations into the text of your paper and enclose them in double quotation marks:
According to Jonathan Clarke, "Professional diplomats often say that trying to think diplomatically about foreign policy is a waste of time." 1
Longer prose quotations
Begin longer quotations (for instance, in the APA system, 40 words or more) on a new line and indent the entire quotation (i.e., put in block form), with no quotation marks at beginning or end, as in the quoted passage from our Successful vs. Unsucessful Paraphrases page.
Rules about the minimum length of block quotations, how many spaces to indent, and whether to single- or double-space extended quotations vary with different documentation systems; check the guidelines for the system you're using.
Quotation of Up to 3 Lines of Poetry
Quotations of up to 3 lines of poetry should be integrated into your sentence. For example:
In Julius Caesar, Antony begins his famous speech with "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" (III.ii.75-76).
Notice that a slash (/) with a space on either side is used to separate lines.
Quotation of More than 3 Lines of Poetry
More than 3 lines of poetry should be indented. As with any extended (indented) quotation, do not use quotation marks unless you need to indicate a quotation within your quotation.
Punctuating with Quotation Marks
With short quotations, place citations outside of closing quotation marks, followed by sentence punctuation (period, question mark, comma, semi-colon, colon):
Menand (2002) characterizes language as "a social weapon" (p. 115).
With block quotations, check the guidelines for the documentation system you are using.
Commas and periods
Place inside closing quotation marks when no parenthetical citation follows:
Hertzberg (2002) notes that "treating the Constitution as imperfect is not new," but because of Dahl's credentials, his "apostasy merits attention" (p. 85).
Semicolons and colons
Place outside of closing quotation marks (or after a parenthetical citation).
Question marks and exclamation points
Place inside closing quotation marks if the quotation is a question/exclamation:
Menand (2001) acknowledges that H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage is "a classic of the language," but he asks, "Is it a dead classic?" (p. 114).
[Note that a period still follows the closing parenthesis.]
Place outside of closing quotation marks if the entire sentence containing the quotation is a question or exclamation:
How many students actually read the guide to find out what is meant by "academic misconduct"?
Quotation within a quotation
Use single quotation marks for the embedded quotation:
According to Hertzberg (2002), Dahl gives the U. S. Constitution "bad marks in 'democratic fairness' and 'encouraging consensus'" (p. 90).
[The phrases "democratic fairness" and "encouraging consensus" are already in quotation marks in Dahl's sentence.]
Indicating Changes in Quotations
Quoting Only a Portion of the Whole
Use ellipsis points (. . .) to indicate an omission within a quotation--but not at the beginning or end unless it's not obvious that you're quoting only a portion of the whole.
Adding Clarification, Comment, or Correction
Within quotations, use square brackets [ ] (not parentheses) to add your own clarification, comment, or correction.
Use [sic] (meaning "so" or "thus") to indicate that a mistake is in the source you're quoting and is not your own.
Notes1. "The Conceptual Poverty of U.S. Foreign Policy," Atlantic, September 1993, 55.