Citing a Short Direct Quotation in MLA Format

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11720

Quotation marks belong at the beginning and end of direct quotations, right? Yes. And no. It depends on the length of the quote. Learn the proper technique for citing quotations in various situations!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Is there a difference between a short quotation and a long quotation? There sure is, and they are formatted differently. Now is the time to learn how to format the short quotation.

In MLA format, a short quotation is considered any direct quote that is four lines or less of typed or handwritten text.

Logically then, a long quotation is any direct quote longer than four lines.

In the last of the Related Lessons in our MLA In-text Citations series, found in the right-hand sidebar, you learned how to cite sources when the writer does not directly quote an outside source. In this lesson, you will learn how to cite a short direct quotation in MLA format.

Do you remember what two pieces of information you used to cite summary from a source? Tell your parent or teacher.

If you said the author's last name and page number, then you are correct. These same two pieces of information are also used to cite both a short and long direct quote. Just like citing summary from a source, there are exceptions to the general rule, and you will learn about these exceptions later in the lesson.

When formatting a short direct quote, you place quotation marks around the words, phrases, and sentences that are taken word-for-word from the outside source. At the end of the quotation, you place the in-text citation. The parentheses are placed one space after the quotation marks, and the punctuation for the end of the sentence goes AFTER the parenthetical citation, regardless of whether the direct quote had an ending punctuation mark or not.

A correctly cited short direct quote looks like this:

Although many adopted animals find their forever homes, "a small percentage of these animals will have to be returned to shelters due to unforeseen circumstances" (Jones 58).

Did you notice anything about the way the quotation was introduced? As you can see in the example above, a quotation, short or long, cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence in the MLA format. A direct quote must either be introduced or concluded with the writer's own words. This help integrate the quotation into the flow of the writer's ideas, and prevents the quote from appearing to be cut-and-pasted into the essay.

You can also choose to both introduce and conclude the sentence containing a direct quote with your own words, embedding the quote in the middle of the sentence. No matter what way you choose for integrating your quotes, the parenthetical citation will be placed immediately after the direct quote.

Another rule of thumb for placing quotations in your writing is to remember that a direct quote cannot start or end a paragraph. It is the writer's responsibility to introduce and conclude a paragraph, because that is where the writer's ideas are being introduced and summarized in each paragraph. The only two exceptions to this rule are:

  1. The introductory paragraph can be started with a short direct quote.
  2. The conclusion paragraph can be ended with a short direct quote.

Now that you know more about how to set up a short direct quote and cite it correctly, move on to the Got It? section to learn about the exceptions to the general rule of citing a short direct quote.

Image - Button Next