Integrating Quotations | Part 1 (MLA)


If you want to see dramatic improvement in your writing, then focus on integrating quotations. It is an area where many people struggle. Whereas in ordinary speech we easily introduce the words of others (he said; she was like), it somehow seems more difficult in writing. That is why learning the rules is time well spent.

Being able to integrate quotations gives you the confidence to interact with the ideas of others, to be part of a larger discussion. Quoting is not just about referencing a few lines of text that seem vaguely relevant. It is about having a conversation.

On this page we will cover the basics of integrating quotations. All examples follow the MLA style rules.

The Basics

The Parts of a Quotation

In academic writing, nearly every quotation is made up of three parts: a signal phrase, the quote itself, and some kind of citation:

Signal Phrase + Quote + Citation

Example: As Kurt Ramble argues, “Urban farming should be incorporated in the elementary school curriculum” (78).

The signal phrase consists of your own words that signal to the reader that a quotation is coming.

The quotation can be long or short. If it is quite long, then it may have to be formatted differently as a block quotation.

As for the citation, in this guide we will be using parentheses, but you could use footnotes or endnotes if you are not following MLA conventions.

Now that we know the three basic parts of a quotation, we can zoom in a little. Most quotations share the following details:

The Parts of a Quotation Formatted Using the MLA Style Rules

Notice that this passage is not crammed full of bibliographic information. Most of the time you need mention only the author and the page or line number. Other details can be saved for the works cited page. For example, titles are normally only mentioned if they are directly relevant, or if you are citing multiple works by the same author.

When a quotation is followed by parentheses, final punctuation is removed from the end of the quotation (with the exception of question marks and exclamation marks found in the source) and your own punctuation follows the citation.

Types of Signal Phrases

Quotations are categorized by the way they are introduced, and there are three main types of signal phrases.

The Short Expression

One of the easiest ways to introduce a quotation is to announce who the speaker or author is and to add a verb that describes the way in which the idea is expressed:

Jonathan Truculent writes, “The best part of the pizza is the crust” (314).

As Iris Evans suggests, “Cell phones and tablets have increasingly overlapping capabilities” (58).

There are plenty of other verbs that work equally well:

argues, believes, notes, states, implies, observes, etc.

Note that many of these constructions are introduced by the conjunction as:

As Smith argues …

Of course, your signal phrase can include more than the author and the verb. Here are some instances where the “short expression” is not all that short:

As Imagen Randolph suggests, in a salacious memoir that caused quite a scandal, “There was always inappropriate behaviour at his parties.”

John Connelly mentions the contrary opinion of Judge Gavel, who writes, “[N]0 jury should convict on those grounds” (qtd. in Connelly 23).

It was George Fandangle, the nineteenth-century antiquarian, who famously wrote about the Greek philosopher Stroumboulopoulos, “Just like the popular culture he analyzed, he is now mostly forgotten” (117).

However, at the core of these signal phrases we still have the author and the verb. In all such cases we use a comma between the signal phrase and the quotation.

After this type of signal phrase, the first word of the quotation is usually capitalized. You can use square brackets around the capital letter if the word in the source was in lowercase.

Checklist for the short expression:

  • Does your signal phrase include at least a subject and a verb (e.g., He suggests)?
  • Does your signal phrase end with a comma?
  • Have you capitalized the first word of the quotation?
  • Is the quotation a complete sentence?
  • Have you put the appropriate closing punctuation after the parentheses (e.g., a period) rather than at the end of the quotation?

The Formal Introduction

Next, we have a more stately way to introduce quotations. The formal introduction consists of an independent clause that typically makes a claim about the quotation that follows. The quotation then acts as proof or evidence of the signal phrase:

Godfrey Boggart, on the other hand, claims that opera is a dead art form: “While classic operas like Carmen or The Magic Flute are still being performed, most new operas receive little public attention and are in any case overshadowed by musicals” (49).

The formal introduction does not require a verb of expression (writes, believes, argues, etc.). It just needs to be a complete sentence that allows us to make sense of the quotation.

As with the short expression, the quotation is usually a complete sentence too. The one exception is if the quotation is an appositive phrase:

To describe the reasoning of toddlers, child psychologist Martin Frost coined a humorous portmanteau word: “toddlerlogical” (205).

If you find this an awkward construction, then just use the next method of integrating quotations: the run-in quotation.

To determine if you need to capitalize the first word of the quotation, check your source and follow the same formatting.

Checklist to the formal introduction:

  • Are both the quotation and your introduction complete sentences? (exception: the quotation is an appositive noun phrase)
  • Have you followed the same capitalization as in your source?
  • Does your introductory phrase end with a colon?

The Run-in Quotation

Often you can combine your signal phrase with the quotation to form one complete sentence. In that case you don’t need any punctuation in between. You will have to be selective about which words you quote, as the transition needs to be seamless.

The transept “first became popular in Romanesque architecture, and it gave the basilica the appearance of a Latin cross” (Chevet 5).

Buchanan contends that “despite being the longest ice age, the Huronian era remains understudied” (3).

The signal phrase may include the author and a verb of expression, but neither is essential. The key is that the signal phrase and the quotation together form a complete sentence.

So, there you have it: if you pick one of the three signal phrases, you should have no trouble introducing your quotations.

Checklist for the run-in quotation:

  • Do your words combine with the quotation to form a complete sentence?
  • Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?

Minor Variants

Occasionally, you may come across a quotation that has no signal phrase. It just sits there, all by itself in the middle of a paragraph. Kind of sad really, as the reader may have no idea what to make of it. Our advice is to play it safe and always provide a signal phrase.

A more acceptable variant is where the order is flipped around, and the signal phrase comes afterwards:

“The high costs of drugs are as much an effect of government intervention as a by-product of free market capitalism,” writes economist Hugo X. Santana (19).

Notice that by default the citation comes at the end of the sentence. As a result, the comma has been placed inside the quotation, even though it was not there in the source. Sometimes, for the sake of clarity, you may wish to place the citation immediately after the quotation.

You can also place the signal phrase in the middle if you like:

“The high costs of drugs,” writes economist Hugo X. Santana, “are as much an effect of government intervention as a by-product of free market capitalism” (19).

This way of integrating the quotation (placing the signal phrase later in the sentence) is more common when the words are spoken rather than written down:

“I will shoot anyone who thinks gun control is unnecessary,” shouted Ella Pringle, at a rally in Utah.

Another acceptable variant is to introduce the quotation with a short prepositional phrase:

According to Virgil Cain, “Japanese gymnasts have managed to improve their elasticity by eating copious amounts of calimari.”

Make sure your signal phrase and the quotation form a complete sentence.

While you are free to experiment, in academic prose the default is to place your signal phrase before the quotation. Otherwise, your reader won’t immediately know what to make of the quotation and has to wait for an explanation.

Continuing After the Quotation

You might be asking yourself, do I need to end every sentence right after the quotation? Can I extend the sentence?

Yes you can.

The only caution is that continuing after the quotation is best done when your signal phrase runs right into the quotation (see above) and when the quotation is relatively short. Here is an example:

Odysseus is “the man of twists and turns,” an apt description of both his character and his wanderings coming home from Troy (1.1).

This is also a great way to string together a number of shorter quotations:

Matilda Anderson, in a recent address to the Anthropophagy Society, argued for a “redefinition of cannibalism,” so that the restaurant industry “might have a new source of protein” (1, 5).

Note that with multiple quotations you are allowed to combine citations. If those citations are from different sources, separate them with a semi-colon.

If you feel uncomfortable about extending your sentence after the quotation, then use a period and start a new sentence. Don’t fudge it by adding semi-colons.

Checklist for continuing on after the quotation:

  • Do your words combine with the quotation(s) to form a complete sentence?
  • Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?
  • Have you placed parentheses either at the end of the sentence or immediately after the quotation?
  • Have you put punctuation after the parentheses as appropriate?


Now that know how to introduce a quotation with a signal phrase, check out part 2 of our guide on quoting to learn about all those finicky exceptions! Don’t worry though–with a bit of practice you will master the rules soon enough.

If you would like to print a version of this page, please download our handy Guide to Integrating Quotations.

Integrating Quotations | Part 2 (MLA)


Once you are familiar with how to introduce a quotation using a signal phrase, you are ready to learn the more advanced rules on this page. You don’t have to memorize every rule, but try get a general sense of things and then consult specific sections when you have questions.

Additional Rules

Block Quotations

If your quotation is rather long, you have to set it off differently.

In MLA format, the rule is that when a quotation is longer than three lines of text (i.e., four or more lines) you should turn it into a block quotation.

To check the length of a quotation, just start typing it out in your own text and if it exceeds three lines then you know it should be a block quotation. In the case of poetry, you count the number of poetic lines in the original text, even if there are only a few words per line.

Here is an example of a block quotation:

I have always found Ellen Grammar to be extremely repetitive, as she shows in this passage from Why I Love Quotations:

Let me repeat myself for clarity. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. This is a quotation. Got it yet? (315)

In a block quotation, almost all the regular rules for quoting are inverted or changed. There are no quotation marks, the entire quotation is indented one tab space, and the final punctuation comes before the citation, and not after.

Most block quotations are introduced by a formal introduction. The reason is that if you are quoting a significant amount of text you need to give it a fairly detailed introduction. Otherwise, the reader may have a hard time making sense of the quotation.

In particular, you should typically avoid continuing your sentence after the quotation, even though you will often see this in older academic texts.

Finally, after the block quotation there is no need to indent your next sentence. Usually you will want to continue with your paragraph and explain the significance of the quotation.

Quoting Poetry

Here are the essential rules for quoting poetry.

If you are quoting 2 or 3 lines of poetry, use slashes to indicate line breaks:

In “Aristo-cat,” Emily Thompson confesses her mixed emotions about her pet: “I love my cat / Though he’s a brat” (1-2).

Make sure you put a space on either side of the slash. If your quotation skips a stanza break, use a double slash (//).

As with a regular quotation, delete the final punctuation (unless it is an exclamation mark or question mark).

If you are quoting 4 or more lines of poetry, use a block quotation. Do not use slashes, but copy each line (including its punctuation) on a separate line just as it appears in your source:

One wonders whether Ella Pencil’s poem “Spaced Out” parodies itself:

This is yet another poem that
relies on unu-
spacing to make
an impression. (1-5)

As with any block quotation, we have a signal phrase (usually a formal introduction), the lines are indented a tab space, and the final punctuation is deleted unless it is an exclamation mark or question mark.

Note that all the original spacing is retained in a block quotation. This also applies if the quotation starts in the middle of a line.

Finally, it may happen that a line of verse is so long that it cannot fit on one line of text. In that case, indent the second line a bit more (hanging indentation).

Quoting Drama

With the exception of brief snippets, quotations of dialogue from plays or screenplays are treated as block quotations. Names of the speakers are in capitals:

In David Baird’s play Broken Glass, the leaders of the main political parties are divided about how to stem the tide of illegal immigrants from the Vatican:

PRIME MINISTER GATTUSO: We cannot allow any more of these robed people into our country.
ANDREA PEERLESS: I can’t accept such a heartless …
PRIME MINISTER GATTUSO: heartless? It’s simply a matter of restoring order. We cannot have these people parading through the streets in their strange costumes. (3.4.15-19)

In print format, apply hanging indentation to each speaker’s lines.

Citations of plays are usually by act, scene, and line number. In the case of plays in prose, you may cite by page number instead.

Quotes within Quotes

A quote within a quote is placed between single quotation marks:

My friend Natasha told me about a conversation she had with Nibaa after their American lit class: “The other day, Nibaa said, ‘I don’t understand why Moby-Dick is a classic. Much of it reads like a manual on how to run a ship.'”

In the unusual event that you are dealing with a quote within a quote within a quote, you would revert back to double quotation marks.

If you are not quoting anything more than the entire quote within a quote, then just use double quotation marks:

Natasha told me what her friend Nibaa had to say about Moby-Dick: “I don’t understand why Moby-Dick is a classic. Much of it reads like a manual on how to run a ship.”


If you are quoting a language other than English, you may want to provide a translation.

There are a number of ways to format the translation. We would recommend placing it in parentheses:

In one draft, Tolkien had Gandalf tell the Balrog, “Achtung, Baby” (“Pay attention, baby!”; 223; Johnson 34).

However, you can also place it prior to the parentheses, in single quotation marks:

In one draft, Tolkien had Gandalf tell the Balrog, “Achtung, Baby” ‘Pay attention, baby!’ (223; Johnson 34).

Cite the source and the translation in the same order as you quoted them.

If the translation is your own, use the abbreviation “my trans.” instead:

In the original Pig Latin manuscript, Sarah’s question about hopscotch alludes to the “ants” that are frequently in the “way”: “howay antsway otay laypay opscotchay?” (“who wants to play hopscotch?” (2.3.1; my trans.).

If you are consistently using translations, you can save time by noting your source in a footnote or endnote.

You can also provide a translation as part of a block quotation:

We thought it would be great to translate a stanza from the Haka into Klingon. Here is how one online translator renders the following passage:

This is the hairy man,
Who fetched the sun and caused it to shine again.
One step upward, another step upward!
A step upward, another… the Sun shines!

hairy loD ghotvam’e’.
pemHov fetched je ‘oH jatlhqa’ boch luH.
latlh mIw upward mIw upward, wa’!
latlh mIw upward, a … jul boch! (“Ka Mate”; Tradukka)

I am no Klingon, but this does not seem quite accurate to me.

Notice that when you cite internet sources you may not be able to give page numbers and may need to give a short title of the title instead.

In our examples, we have given the original text first, but you can change the order. If you think the reader would have a hard time understanding the original language, you might place the translation first. Make sure you also change the order in the citation! For example, (49; my trans.) would become (my trans.; 49).

On the other hand, if you can expect the reader to have some expertise in the language (as is the case in many academic disciplines), or if you want to point out something about the original, then first provide the original.

Adding Emphasis

It may happen that you want to emphasize something in a quotation. To indicate that you have made the change, use a tag such as “emphasis added”:

Churchill apparently joked, “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put” (emphasis added).

If you are citing a source as well, place the tag after a semi-colon:

Everyone was surprised when Mary told Tony, “Bob’s your aunt!” (Leicester 28; my emphasis).

Most of the time, though, you don’t need to add any emphasis. Assume that your reader is smart enough to figure out why the quotation is significant.


Sometimes you may want to skip part of the quotation.

To indicate the omission of words, phrases, or entire lines, you must use an ellipsis (plural ellipses), which is just a fancy word for three spaced periods. Here is an example:

As Edward Diptych points out, “Art forgers sometimes include blemishes and imperfections . . . in an effort to outwit the connoisseur” (88).

And here is an example for poetry:

William Blake argues in “Holy Thursday” (1794) that “where-e’er the sun does shine . . . Babe can never hunger there” (13, 15).

Notice that in this case the ellipsis takes the place of a line break (/); in other words, you don’t necessarily need to use both.

If you indent a longer quotation of poetry and you skip one or more lines, use a line of dots roughly the same length as the average line:

In the “The Lady of Shalott,” Tennyson appears to allude to the shadows in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave:

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott. (46-48, 71-72)

Be careful that when you use an ellipsis the grammar and meaning of the quoted passage still make sense.

Also, you do not have to add ellipsis marks at the beginning or end of a quotation. We know that the quoted text has been cut out of a larger passage. The exception is if you have left out some words at the end of a sentence or line quoted. In such cases you can add an ellipsis at the end.

If you end one sentence before the ellipsis, and start a new one afterwards, then you will end up with four spaced periods (one regular period and three for the ellipsis). Here is an example:

Viktor Bardstrom speculates that Viking explorers got as far as Minnesota: “Anyone who has watched football knows about the Minnesota Vikings. . . . In fact, historical records show that the braid in the Vikings logo goes back all the way to the thirteenth century” (20).

Finally, if the passage you are quoting already had an ellipsis, you have two options. You can either put square brackets around the ellipses you have added, or you can add a note in your citation—something like this:

(54; 1st ellipsis in original)

Square Brackets

You can edit quotations by inserting your own words in square brackets. Here are some areas in which this is useful:

1. When you want to clarify something in the quotation:

William Blake argues in the poem “Holy Thursday” (1794) that “where-e’er [wherever] the sun does shine . . . Babe can never hunger there [in England]” (13, 15).

2. When you want to capitalize a word or vice versa:

William Blake writes in “Holy Thursday” (1794), “[W]here-e’er the sun does shine . . . Babe can never hunger there” (13, 15).

3. When you need to add some words to make the grammar work. You can substitute these words for existing words in the quotation.

William Blake writes about children in “Holy Thursday” (1794) that “where-e’er the sun does shine . . . [they] can never hunger there” (13, 15).

This is useful for changing the pronouns to match your signal phrase. However, avoid excessive reliance on brackets.

4. Lastly, if there is a mistake in the quotation (let’s say a spelling error), you can insert “sic” behind it to indicate that the mistake is not yours.

Lee Slovenly writes that “Harry Plotter [sic] has a predictable narrative structure” (899).

You can often avoid coming across as pedantic by rewriting slightly:

Lee Slovenly writes that Harry Potter “has a predictable narrative structure” (899).

In other words, try to minimize the use of square brackets.

Page and Line Numbers

For your first citation in an essay, it is generally a good idea to indicate whether it is a page number of line number (e.g., page 315). After that, you can just supply the number and leave out the word “page” or “line(s).”

However, if you are switching back and forth between different formats (pages, paragraphs, lines, etc.), you may want to provide further clarification in the course of your writing.


A paraphrase is when you sum up a passage in your own words and provide an appropriate citation. Quotations take up a lot of space, so paraphrases can be a useful way of incorporating the ideas of others.

Here is an example:

Original text: In Edmonton’s early days there were coal mines all along the river, even in the downtown core. Eventually mining operations moved out of the centre of town (especially east to Beverly), until the switch to natural gas in the late 1920s brought an end to coal mining in the area. These days, developers are advised to consult old mining maps, though many tunnels were not properly reported and may since have collapsed. (Highland 77).

Paraphrase 1: Edmonton’s early history was fueled by coal, and even today developers may come across collapsed mining shafts (Highland 77).

Paraphrase 2: After Edmonton started to use natural gas for fuel, the local coal industry collapsed, and so did many of the tunnels over time (Highland 77).

Be careful that you don’t use entire phrases from the original text. This is how not to do it:

Incorrect paraphrase: Edmonton’s urban landscape hides the fact that there were coal mines all along the river (Highland 77).

The second half of this paraphrase is lifted word for word from the original text. Despite the citation, this is a form of plagiarism.

Final Advice

It is important to remember why you are using quotations in the first place. An essay is not just a patchwork of quotations. Think of yourself more as a curator at a museum. You get to put on a show. You organize the spaces and write the captions. In the same way, you need to help the reader make sense of the ideas of others.

So don’t let the quotations swamp your own analysis. Introduce every quotation carefully and be sure to explain, interpret, and apply quotations before you move on with your argument.

For more information about quoting, see also our section on in-text citation (part of the MLA guidelines for writers).