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MLA Style Guide 9th Edition

Formatting: Quotations

for information on in-text citations for quotations see In-text Citations 

Formatting: Quotations

Short quotations can be placed in quotation marks and incorporated into your prose. The guidelines for the length of a quote that is considered "short" is different for prose, poetry, and dialogue. If your quote runs longer than these guidelines then they should be formatted as a block quotation (see Block Quotations).

  • Prose: four lines or less
  • Poetry: three lines or less

For guidelines on quoting dialogue, see Quoting Dialogue.


  • If your quotation runs four lines in your paper or less, place it in quotation marks and incorporate it into your prose.


In Slaughterhouse-Five Vonnegut states that "the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures of Tralfamadore" (87).


  • If you quote all or part of a single line of poetry place it in quotation marks within your text, just as you would with a short line of prose
  • if you are quoting two or three lines of poetry place it in quotation marks within your text using a forward slash with a space on each side ( / ) to mark the line breaks. 
  • If a stanza break occurs within the two or three lines you are quoting, mark it with two forward slashes ( // ).


After all, as Rumi says "One who does what the Friend wants done / will never need a friend" (95). 

Lewis Carroll's nonsense words are still capable of evoking emotion. "Oh frabjus day! Calloh! Callay! / He chortled in his joy. // 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves" (176). Few would dispute that the Jabberwocky is the greatest of all nonsense poems.



  • a quotation that runs longer than four lines in your paper should be formatted as a block quotation:
    • start the quote on it's own line
    • indent the whole quote half an inch from the left margin. Do not indent the first line an extra amount
    • do not add quotation marks not present in the source.
  • The quotation can be introduced in the text of your paper with a colon, or integrated into the sentence structure of your prose.
  • After the concluding punctuation mark of the quotation, add your in text citation in brackets with no period following.


Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim describes the way Tralfamadorians see reality in chapter 5:

Billy Pilgrim says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarified, luminous spaghetti. And Tralfamadorians don't see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millepedes-- "with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other," says Billy Pilgrim. (87)


  • If you are quoting more than three lines of poetry it should be formatted as a block quote:
    • start the quote on it's own line
    • unless the quotation involves unusual spacing indent the whole quote half an inch from the left margin. 
    • If the lines from the poem are too long to fit on one line in your paper then they should be formatted with a hanging indent, so the continuation of the line is indented more than the rest of the block
    • If the layout of the lines in the source text are unusual, reproduce it as accurately as possible
    • do not add quotation marks not present in the source.


Despite Carroll's use of nonsense words his meaning is still clear:

 And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms by beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

He chortled in his joy. (176)

Unusual Spacing:

Carroll uses spacing and font size to good effect:

Fury said to

     a mouse, That

           he met in the

                house, 'Let

                        us both go

                                to law: I 

                                    will prose-

                                       cute you.—

                                        Come, I'll

                                       take no de-

                                  nial; We

                           must have

                       the trial;

                  For really

            this morn-

     ing I've


 to do.'

Said the

  mouse to

     the cur;

          'Such a

            trial, dear

                 sir, With

                    no jury

                       or judge,


                             be wast-

                        ing our


              'I'll be


     I'll be















    you to

death.'  (39)

Dialogue from a play, screenplay, online chat, interview transcript etc.

When quoting dialogue that includes a label identifying each speaker, such as a play, screenplay, online chat, or interview transcript, reproduce that label and format the quote as a block quotation:

  • Begin each part of the dialogue with the appropriate character's name, indented half an inch from the left margin and written in all capital letters, followed with a period
  • indent all subsequent lines in that character's speech an additional amount, as in a hanging indent
  • reproduce any indents and spacing shown in the source

If the quote is very brief or partial, you may integrate it into your prose instead of setting it as a block


The opening lines of Shakespear's Macbeath include the famous conversation between the three witches:

1 WITCH. When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightening, or in rain?

2 WITCH. When the hurlyburly's done,

When the battle's lost and won.

3 WITCH. That will be ere the set of sun (1.1.1-5)

Brief exerpt:

In act five scene one Lady Macbeth utters "Out, damned spot! Out I say!" (5.1.33), her most quoted piece of dialogue.

Dialogue from Prose

When quoting from prose, such as a novel, use a block quotation if each character's speech starts on a new line. If your source begins each new speech indented, reproduce the indentation of dialogue as shown in the source, using double quotation marks around the spoken words


Billy goes on to find out how exactly the universe ends:

Billy felt that he had spoken soaringly. He was baffled when he saw the Tralfamadorians close their little hands on their eyes. He knew from past experience what this meant: He was being stupid.

"Would--would you mind telling me--" he said to the guide, much deflated, "what was so stupid about that?"

"We know how the Universe ends--" said the guide, "and earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too."

"How--how does the Universe end?" said Billy.

"We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Talfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Univers disappears."

So it goes. (116-117)


Poetry is not formatted differently if it contains dialogue.