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Using Quotations in MLA Style the Right Way

Quotations in MLA Style

Information is taken from the 8th edition MLA Handbook, latest version, 2020. 

When it comes to formatting quotes in MLA style, everything falls into these two categories: short quotes and long quotes. Using a direct quote from a source can be a great way to reinforce topics you’ve already written about or introduce a new topic at the beginning of a paragraph, so it’s essential to format it correctly!

Identifying if your quote is considered short or long by MLA standards is much easier than you may think. Here’s a simple explanation for both types of quotes and how to format them!

How to Format Short Quotes in MLA Format

The MLA Style Guide says that short quotations take up four lines or less of prose and quotes that take up three lines or less of verse. What’s the difference between prose and verse? Well, if you’re quoting from a poem or book of poetry, that is considered verse, so if your quote only takes up three lines or less, you should format it as a short quote. Any other source type is prose.

So what does it look like to format a short quote in MLA style? You’ll need to enclose your quote in double quotation marks and provide the page number where you found it as part of the in-text citation (if that applies to your source type). 

If your quote ends with an exclamation point or question mark, that will come before the in-text citation. But if your quote ends with any other form of punctuation—or none at all—it comes after the in-text citation.

These quote rules might all sound somewhat complicated so far, so let’s look at a few examples.

Here’s an example paragraph for a short quote of prose:

         Larry Brown’s collection of short stories entitled Facing the Music takes the reader on a wild ride through his interpretation of out-of-the-box writing. Brown’s experimental writing style is evident in each story, as they each take on an entirely new feel, which affects character perception and the pacing and rhythm of each beat. A perfect example of this is the story “Kubuku Rides,” which opens like this: “Angel hear the back door slam. It Alan, in from work. She start to hide the glass and then she don’t hide the glass, he got a nose like a bloodhound and gonna smell it anyway, so she just keep sitting on the couch” (Brown 11).

Here’s an example paragraph for a short quote of verse:

In his debut poetry collection entitled Crush, Richard Siken delves into topics many poets have tried to tackle before him. These range from the oddness that everyday life can sometimes hold to the grief of losing your partner. However, the thing that sets Siken’s poetry apart from others in this realm is his ability to take his own day-to-day experiences and twist them just enough to make his readers see something new. In his poem, “Seaside Improvisation,” he does this with the image of his own hands. “I take off my hands and I give them to you but you don’t / want them, so I take them back / and put them on the wrong way, the wrong wrists” (Siken 8).

The slashes here mark line breaks in the poem. If your quote includes stanza breaks, indicate those with a double slash (//).

How to Format Long Quotes in MLA Style

Quotes that are longer than four lines of prose or three lines of verse will be formatted differently than short quotes. These long quotes start on an entirely new line inside the paragraph. You don’t need to add quotation marks anywhere, but you will need to add a half-inch indent for each line of the quote. When you reach the end of your quote, the final punctuation mark will fall before your in-text citation.

Here’s an example paragraph for a long quote of prose:

Larry Brown’s collection of short stories entitled Facing the Music takes the reader on a wild ride through his interpretation of out-of-the-box writing. Brown’s experimental writing style is evident in each story, as they each take on an entirely new feel, which affects character perception and the pacing and rhythm of each beat. A perfect example of this is the story, “Kubuku Rides,” which opens like this:

Angel hear the back door slam. It Alan, in from work She start to hide the glass and then she don’t hide the glass, he got a nose like a bloodhound and gonna smell it anyway, so she just keep sitting on the couch. She gonna act like nothing happening, like everything cool. Little boy in the yard playing, he don’t know nothing. He think Mama in here watching Andy Griffith. Cook supper. She better now anyway. Just wine, no beer, no whiskey, no vodka. No gin. (Brown 11)

Here’s an example paragraph for a long quote of prose:

In his debut poetry collection entitled Crush, Richard Siken delves into topics many poets have tried to tackle before him. These range from the oddness that everyday life can hold for some to the grief of losing your partner. However, the thing that sets Siken’s poetry apart from others in this realm is his ability to take his own day-to-day experiences and twist them just enough to make his readers see something new. In his poem, “Seaside Improvisation,” he does this with the image of his own hands.

I take off my hands and I give them to you but you don’t
want them, so I take them back
and put them on the wrong way, the wrong wrists. The yard is dark,
the tomatoes are next to the whitewashed wall,
the book on the table is about Spain,
the windows are painted shut. (Siken 8)

Please take note that when formatting long quotes, you’ll place the punctuation before the citation instead of after it. Notice that you won’t need to use slashes or double slashes to indicate line/stanza breaks. Alternatively, you’ll try to keep the poem as close to its original form as possible.

Summary

Quoting directly from a source or two in your MLA style essay can strengthen your argument and showcase the knowledge that you hold on your topic. These examples should help you format those quotes correctly, whether short or long, making your MLA essay the best it can be!

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