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)
Formatting Direct Quotations Properly in MLA Format
Using direct quotations involves using the exact words of others in your paper, and under the MLA format, you must format quotations differently depending on their length.
Short quotations are less than four lines of prose or three lines of verse (poetry)
Long quotations are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse (poetry) and include multi-paragraph quotes.
In addition, you might sometimes need to add words to direct quotations for clarity, or omit words that are unnecessary from the quotation. In MLA format, certain formatting rules apply in these situations.
Short direct quotations in MLA format
Short direct quotations include prose that is no more than four lines or verse that is no more than three lines. To format these correctly in MLA format, there are a few rules you must follow.
- Enclose the direct quotation in quotation marks.
- Reference the original author or title (if no author) and page number or line number (verse).
- Place punctuation after the parenthetical citation.
- Place questions marks or exclamation points that are part of the quote inside the quotation marks; place them outside if not part of the original author’s words.
- Include complete reference to the source on Works Cited page.
- According to Spools, sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (289).
- Sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289).
- Some say that sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289), but other researchers disagree that this level of vigilance is necessary.
- Is sustainable weight loss possible without engaging in “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289)?
Short quotations that consist of verses from poetry are handled a little differently.
Breaks are notated with a “/,” and a space appears before and after the slash mark. In addition, the line of the verse is used instead of a page number for the parenthetical citation (unless the poem is quoted in a secondary source). Keep the capitalization of each line of verse intact after the slash mark.
- Silverstein ends with “For the children, they mark, and the children, they know / The place where the sidewalk ends” (15-16).
Long direct quotations in MLA format
Long direct quotations consists of quotations that are longer than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, and the MLA format dictates how these are presented.
- Use a free-standing block of text (block quote).
- Omit the quotation marks.
- Start the direct quotation on a new line.
- Indent one inch from the left margin.
- Indent the first word of paragraphs ONLY if quoting multiple paragraphs.
- Use double spacing in the quotation.
- Include parenthetical citation after the ending punctuation.
Fitness and health guru Jillian Michaels stresses the importance of believing in yourself.
If you are citing poetry, maintain the original formatting to the best of your ability. Use poetry line numbers unless you are quoting something quoted in another source.
In his poem “The Sphinx,” Ralph Waldo Emerson personifies the sphinx as many different pieces of nature, and this shows the transcendental ideals Emerson often touted.
Uprose the merry Sphynx,
And crouched no more in stone,
She melted into purple cloud,
She silvered in the moon,
She spired into a yellow flame,
She flowered in blossoms red,
She flowed into a foaming wave,
She stood Monadnoc’s head. (120-128)
Showing changes to direct quotations in MLA format
Sometimes when you use direct quotations, you might need to add a word or words for clarity or omit portions of the quotation to shorten it or make it work within the context of your words. When this is necessary, you must show changes with brackets [ ], and show omissions of text with an ellipsis […].
When using brackets, place the words you add between the brackets.
- According to Putz, “Some people [who are trying to lose weight] try one fad diet after another with little success because these diets do not promote sustainable or ongoing weight loss” (98).
When using an ellipsis to show the omission of words, put a space before and after it.
- According to Jillian Michaels, success is within reach when you “Have establishment in yourself; trust in the significance of your life … [because] destiny is awaiting you (285).
Direct quotations should stay a small part of your research paper. Paraphrasing and summarizing information into your words is a larger part of including information from your sources. Understanding [URL]direct quotations versus indirect quotations[/writing-resources/punctuation/direct-versus-indirect-quotations] is important in presenting information.