Quotation Marks with Fiction, Poetry, and Titles
A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.
Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2016-02-27 11:17:45
Check your citation style guide for specific guidelines on when you should use block quotations. Typically, you should use a block quotation when the quotation extends more than four typed lines (in MLA style) or extends 40 words or longer (in APA style). Although they are allowed in any type of writing, you will likely most often use them when quoting from fiction or literature. A block quotation is removed from the main body of your text. Indent one inch from the main margin (the equivalent of two half-inch paragraph indentations) and begin your quote. Maintain double spacing throughout, but you do not need to use quotation marks.
Gatsby experiences a moment of clarity while standing with Daisy on his dock. Fitzgerald writes:
Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now to him vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one. (98)
When you quote a single line of poetry, write it like any other short quotation. If the piece of poetry you are quoting crosses multiple lines of the poem itself, you may still type them in your text run together. Show the reader where the poem's line breaks fall by using slash marks.
In his poem, "Mending Wall," Robert Frost writes: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/ that send the frozen-ground-swell under it" (42-44).
If the quotation is three lines or longer, set it off like a block quotation (see above). Some writers prefer to set off two-line verse quotations for emphasis. Quote the poem line by line as it appears on the original page. Do not use quotation marks, and indent one inch from the left margin.
In his poem "Mending Wall," Robert Frost questions the building of barriers and walls:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Write each person's spoken words, however brief, as a separate paragraph. Use commas to set off dialogue tags such as "she said" or "he explained." If one person's speech goes on for more than one paragraph, use quotation marks to open the dialogue at the beginning of each paragraph. However, do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the final paragraph where that character is speaking.
Quotation Marks with Titles
Use quotations marks for:
- Titles of short or minor works
- Short Stories
- Short Poems
- One Act Plays
- Other literary works shorter than a three act play or complete book
- Titles of sections from longer works
- Chapters in books
- Articles in newspapers, magazines, or journals
- Episodes of television and radio series
Underlining or italics are used for the titles of long pieces or works that contain smaller sections.
The block quote is used for direct quotations that are longer than four lines of prose, or longer than three lines of poetry. A block quote is always used when quoting dialogue between characters, as in a play.
The block format is a freestanding quote that does not include quotation marks. Introduce the block quote with a colon (unless the context of your quote requires different punctuation) and start it on a new line. Indent the entire quote 1-inch from the left margin and double-space it (even if the rest of your paper is not double-spaced). Include the page number at the end of your block quote outside of the ending period. Also include the author's last name, date of publication, and page number(s)/paragraph number.
If you quote a single paragraph (or just part of one), do not indent the first line of the block quote more than the rest:
It is not until near the end of The Hound of the Baskervilles that the hound itself is actually seen:
A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog. (Doyle 82)
If you quote two or more paragraphs, indent the first line of each paragraph an additional ¼ inch. However, if the first sentence quoted does not begin a paragraph in the source, do not indent it the additional amount, only indent the subsequent paragraphs. Here is an example where the first sentence is the beginning of a paragraph:
In the aftermath of the hound sighting, Sherlock Holmes keeps his cool:
Sir Henry lay insensible where he had fallen. We tore away his collar, and Holmes breathed a prayer of gratitude when we saw that there was no sign of a wound and that the rescue had been in time. Already our friend's eyelids shivered and he made a feeble effort to move. Lestrade thrust his brandy-flask between the baronet's teeth, and two frightened eyes were looking up at us.
"My God!" he whispered. "What was it? What, in heaven's name, was it?"
"It's dead, whatever it is," said Holmes. (Doyle 82)
Just as for prose, poetry block quotations (3+ lines) should begin on a new line. Unless the quotation involves unusual spacing, format it as you would prose: indent each line one-inch from margin and double-space the lines. Do not add any quotation marks that do not appear in the source:
Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “To John Oliver Killens in 1975” addresses another African American writer of the day:
look at our mercy, the massiveness that it is not.
look at our “unity,” look at our
Dim, dull, and dainty. (1-5)
A line of poetry in a block quote that is too long to fit within the right margin of the page should be continued on the next line and indented an additional ¼ inch:
Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” begins:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo
in the machinery of night, (9)
When quoting dialogue from a play, begin each part with the appropriate character’s name indented 1-inch from the left margin and written in all capital letters followed by a period. Then, start the quotation and indent all subsequent lines an additional ¼ inch. In the parenthetical reference at the end of the quote, include the act, scene, and line(s) of your quote, instead of the page number(s):
At the beginning of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, chaos erupts on a ship at sea before the cast of characters ends up on Prospero’s island:
MARINERS. All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!
BOATSWAIN. What, must our mouths be cold?
GONZALO. The king and prince at prayers! let’s assist them,
For our case is as theirs.
SEBASTIAN. I’m out of patience.
ANTONIO. We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards:
This wide-chapp’d rascal,—would thou mightst lie drowning
The washing of ten tides!
GONZALO. He’ll be hang’d yet,
Though every drop of water swear against it,
And gape at widest to glut him.
A confused noise within: “Mercy on us!”—“We split, we
split!”—“Farewell my wife and children!”—“Farewell,
brother!”—“We split, we split, we split!” (1.5.3-14)