Definition and Examples of Quotation in English Grammar

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A quotation is the reproduction of the words of a speaker or writer.

In a direct quotation, the words are reprinted exactly and placed in quotation marks. In an indirect quotation, the words are paraphrased and not put in quotation marks.

Etymology: From the Latin, "of what number; how many"

Pronunciation: kwo-TAY-shun

Examples and Observations

  • "Use quotes when a writer says something so well that you could not possibly capture the idea as well by paraphrasing or summarizing. Quote when your paraphrase would end up being longer or more confusing than the original. Quote when the original words carry with them some importance that helps make a point, such as when the writer is an absolute authority on the subject . . ..
    "Do not, however, fill your research paper with quote after quote. If you do, your reader is likely to conclude that you really have few or no ideas of your own on the subject or that you have not studied and understood the subject well enough to begin to form your own opinions." (Dawn Rodrigues and Raymond J. Rodrigues, The Research Paper: A Guide to Internet and Library Research, 3rd ed. Prentice Hall, 2003)

Overusing Quotations

  • "Poor writers are apt to overuse block quotations . . .. Those who do this abrogate their duty, namely, to write. Readers tend to skip over single-spaced mountains of prose . . ..
    "Especially to be avoided is quoting another writer at the end of a paragraph or section, a habit infused with laziness. Skillful quoters subordinate the quoted material to their own prose and use only the most clearly applicable parts of the previous writing. And even then, they weave it into their own narrative or analysis, not allowing the quoted to overpower the quoter." (Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2003)

Trimming Quotations

  • "Speakers are wordy. They are always speaking in the first draft. Remember, you are aiming for maximum efficiency. That means getting the most work out of the few words, which includes quotes. Don't change the speaker's meaning. Just throw away the words you don't need." (Gary Provost, Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing. Writer's Digest Books, 1988)

Altering Quotations

  • "The accuracy of quotations in research writing is extremely important. They must reproduce the original sources exactly. Unless indicated in brackets or parentheses . . ., changes must not be made in the spelling, capitalization, or interior punctuation of the source." (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 2009)
  • "Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution. If there is a question about a quote, either don't use it or ask the speaker to clarify." (D. Christian et al, The Associated Press Stylebook. Perseus, 2009)
  • "Should editors 'correct' quotes? No. Quotes are sacred.
    "This doesn't mean we need to reproduce every um, every er, every cough; it doesn't mean a reporter's transcription errors can't be corrected; and it certainly doesn't mean that stories should attempt to re-create dialect (plenty of literate people pronounce should have as 'should of'). But it does mean that a reader should be able to watch a TV interview and read the same interview in the newspaper and not notice discrepancies in word choice." (Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma. Contemporary Books, 2000)

Pronouns in Quotations

  • "[P]lease let me indulge in a parenthetical peeve, which has to do with the way in which pronouns can infect sentences that contain interior quotes--the pronouns apparently changing horses in midstream. To give just one random example: 'He arrived at the pier, where he learned that "my ship had come in."' Whose ship The author's ship? Try reading something like that before an audience or on an audio CD. It is factual and correctly punctuated, yes, but it is no less awkward." (John McPhee, "Elicitation." The New Yorker, April 7, 2014)

Citing Quotations

  • "For every summary, paraphrase, or quotation you use, cite its bibliographic data in the appropriate style . . .. Under no circumstance stitch together downloads from the Web with a few sentences of your own. Teachers grind their teeth reading such reports, dismayed by their lack of original thinking." (Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, 3rd ed. The University of Chicago Press, 2008)

On the Record

  • "Ground rules for conversation between reporters and sources come in commonly accepted categories: 'On the record' means that everything said can be used, and the speaker can be quoted by name.
    "'Not for attribution' and 'on background' are used to mean that a source's comments can be quoted, but he or she must not be directly identified." ("Forms of Speech." Time, Aug. 27, 1984)

Imagining Quotations

  • The life I'd been offered was completely unacceptable, but I never gave up hope that my real family might arrive at any moment, pressing the doorbell with their white-gloved fingers. "Oh, Lord Chisselchin," they'd cry, tossing their top hats in celebration, "thank God we've finally found you.(David Sedaris, "Chipped Beef." Naked. Little, Brown and Company, 1997)

Fake Quotations

  • "Mr. Duke writes as follows: Benjamin Franklin said, ' The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Here it was again, this time attributed to one of the few men who had a hand in drafting both the Declaration and the Constitution. Could Franklin really have got them confused? . . .
    "Now I was really intrigued. The wording of the quotation reminded me less of Franklin’s well-known style than of mid-twentieth-century self-help. 'You have to catch it yourself,' I soon discovered, is an exceedingly popular bit of Frankliniana, complete with the awkward reference to the Constitution. It can be found on countless quote-compiling websites, the modern-day equivalent of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations minus the fact-checking. Authors associated with the latest right-wing revival routinely attribute great significance to this quotation. Bloggers love it, especially those bloggers partial to a strict, no-welfare-allowed interpretation of the founding documents. . . .
    "Nowhere, though, could I find anyone who sourced the phrase back to a primary work by or about Benjamin Franklin. It does not appear in Bartlett’s itself. A search of the authoritative database of Franklin’s writings yields no matches. Google Books assures us it does not come up in any of the major Franklin biographies. I contacted six different Franklin authorities; none had ever heard of it. . . .
    "[G]iven that it is only a little more difficult to use the Internet to check fake quotes than to reproduce them, one wonders: Why don’t the guardians of Founder purity take that step? Why do fakes proliferate instead of disappear?
    "I think the answer is that the myths are so much more satisfying than reality. In a 1989 study of spurious quotes, They Never Said It, historians Paul F. Boiler Jr. and John George write that quote fakers 'dream up things that never happened but which they think should have and then insert them into history.'" (Thomas Frank, "Check It Yourself." Harper's Magazine, April 2011)

H.G. Wells on the "Nobler Method of Quotation"

  • "The nobler method of quotation is not to quote at all. For why should one repeat good things that are already written? Are not the words in their fittest context in the original? Clearly, then, your new setting cannot be quite so congruous, which is, forthwith, an admission of incongruity. Your quotation is evidently a plug in a leak, an apology for a gap in your own words. But your vulgar author will even go out of his way to make the clothing of his thoughts thus heterogeneous. He counts every stolen scrap he can work in an improvement--a literary caddis worm. Yet would he consider it improvement to put a piece of even the richest of old tapestry or gold embroidery into his new pair of breeks?" (H.G. Wells, "The Theory of Quotation." Certain Personal Matters, 1901)

Michael Bywater on the Lighter Side of Pretentious Quotations

  • "[T]here are some figures of speech which are not to be taken at face value, but which are to be taken at precisely their between-the-lines value. Take, for example, the hoary old 'I think it was X who said . . .' followed by a plausible but obscure quote. What that meant was 'I have just looked through my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and found this quote from Pindar, whom I have never read but who is generally thought to be the marker of a pretty spiffy sort of mind. Since I would like you to think I have a pretty spiffy mind, I wish to give you the impression that I am intimately familiar with the works, not only of Pindar, but of absolutely bloody everybody, so while I am happy to expose to you an inch or so of my massive, throbbing intellectual armamentarium, I do so with the entirely false caveat that, having been plucked from my capacious intellect, it may be falsely labelled." (Michael Bywater, Lost Worlds. Granta Books, 2004)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Quotation in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of Quotation in English Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Quotation in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).