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Quotation Basics: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style

Some General Quotation Guidelines

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When writing a formal essay, you will often need to use quotes from a text or texts as evidence to prove your point or to make an argument. Below are grammar and punctuation guidelines to help you integrate those quotes into your essay successfully.

We recommend consulting a style manual or your instructor for specific queries.

Periods and Commas

  • You do not need to use any punctuation before a quotation if it forms part of your own sentence.

Example: Dennis cries that he is “being repressed!”

  • Use a comma when introducing a quote with a phrase such as ‘he said.’

Example: The old man protests, “I don’t want to go on the cart.”

  • Place parenthetical citations outside the end quotation mark, but before the punctuation.

Example: King Arthur declares, “Let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place” (13).

Colons and Ellipses

  • Use a colon when introducing a quotation with a full independent clause (one that can stand on its own).

Example: Emily feels frustrated by his response: “Is there someone else that we can talk to?”

  • Use an ellipsis (three periods, sometimes with spaces between: ‘…’ ) to indicate an omission in a quotation (Exception: it is not necessary to use an ellipsis when omitting words at the beginning of a quote unless you are using a block quote format).

Example: “The kind of intelligence a genius has … leaps with ellipses.”

  • When you want to omit one or more full sentences, use a period and a space before the three ellipsis dots.

Example: “Hatred paralyzes life. … Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

Slashes and Brackets

  • When you are quoting poetry, use a slash ( / ) to mark a line break.

Example: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments” (1-2).

  • Use square brackets to add a word, change a pronoun, or change a verb tense in the quote.

Original quote:“It’s my duty as a knight to sample all the peril I can.”

In your essay: Sir Galahad thinks “it’s [his] duty as a knight to sample all the peril [he] can.”

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

  • With a question mark or exclamation point, there is no need to use a comma or a period.

Example: The interested observer wonders, “Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?”

  • If the mark is part of your sentence and not part of the quote, it goes outside the last quotation mark.

Example: I don’t think we can ever understand the “ineluctable modality of the visual”!

Block Quotes

  • MLA style calls for use of a block quote (indent 10 spaces, or 2 tabs) when citing five or more lines of typed prose or four or more lines of verse. APA style calls for block quotes when citing forty words or more.


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate. / Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, / And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. (1-4)

Quote Within a Quote

  • When using a quote within a quote, single quotation marks are used for the inner quote.

Example: Josh laments, “Every time I try to talk to someone it’s ‘sorry this’ and ‘forgive me that.’”

Last revised: 08/2008 | Adapted for web delivery: 05/2021

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