MLA in-text citation
This page describes the correct format for in-text citations in MLA:
- Basic format
- Multiple authors
- Multiple sources by one author
- Quotations and block quotations
- Title in author position
- Reference within a source (secondary source)
- Sources with multiple editions
- Multiple sources within the same brackets
New to referencing? See the introduction to referencing.
When you have used a source in an assignment it is necessary to credit the source for the reader. See why reference? for the reasons why this is important.
This credit appears in two places: within the body of the assignment (the in-text citation) and at the end of the assignment (in the list of works cited). For every in-text citation there should be a matching entry in the list of works cited, and vice versa. The in-text citation contains basic information about the source:
- The source's author(s)
- The page number
The list of works cited contains more detailed information about the source: the title, publishing details, etc.
An in-text citation looks like this:
Billy has the ability to relate to others with his voice (Vonnegut 36).
Note that the full stop only comes after the closing bracket, and that only the family name (last name) of the author is used. Unlike APA, there is no comma between the author and page number.
The author's name can also be incorporated into a sentence in the assignment, in which case it is moved outside the brackets:
Vonnegut describes Billy's ability to relate to others with his voice (36).
An in-text citation is needed whenever you have used information, ideas, concepts, or facts from another source. If you have paraphrased, summarised or quoted another author, you need to provide an in-text citation.
Sometimes a source will have more than one author, no author, or no page numbers. See referencing elements for what to do in these situations.
If a source has two authors, cite the authors last names in the order they are given in the source. Separate the last names with an 'and'.
(Smith and Jones 23).
If a source has 3 or more authors, then give the first authors last name but replace the other authors with et al. (et al. means and others in Latin). This applies to both in-text citations and the works cited list.
(Burdick et al. 3)
Note: If two authors are cited with the same last name, then also cite the first initial of these authors.
(J. Smith 21)
Sometimes you will need to cite two or more sources by one author.
In this circumstance, a shortened version of the title (usually the first few words) is added to the in-text citation to distinguish the different sources. The abbreviated title should begin with the word that the title is alphabetized by in the works cited list. Put shortened titles of self-contained sources or the container (e.g. book, journal title), in italics and put the shortened title of articles in quotation marks. The abbreviated title should be separated from the author with a comma.
(Peake, Titus Groan 94, Gormenghast 2, and "Boy in Darkness" 35).
Both the author's name and the shortened title can be incorporated into a sentence in the assignment, in which case they don't need to be repeated in the brackets:
Peake, in Titus Groan, describes Swelter as "a dappled volume of warm vague whiteness and of a grey that dissolved into swamps of midnight" (33).
Quotations and block quotations
Direct quotations are usually put inside quotation marks (“ ”), followed by the reference:
Billy's voice is described as “a gorgeous instrument” (Vonnegut 36).
If a quotation is longer than 4 lines of prose or 3 lines of verse, no quotation marks are used, and the quotation is indented instead. Note: with indented quotes, the final punctuation mark (e.g. full stop) is after the concluding word of the quote and before the citation:
Vonnegut clearly establishes Billy's power of oration:
Billy opened his mouth, and out came a deep, resonant tone. His voice was a gorgeous instrument. It told jokes which brought down the house. It grew serious, told jokes again, and ended on a note of humility. The explanation of the miracle was this: Billy had taken a course in public speaking. (36)
Short verse quotations (3 lines or fewer) may be included in text (as with prose) with a forward slash (/) to indicate where the line break is.
Quotations should be identical to the original source, but some small changes can be made. See quoting for details.
In some sources no individual or group author is listed. This is often true for magazine/newspaper articles, web pages and encyclopædia entries. In these situations, a shortened version of the source's title (often only one or two words) is used instead of the author in the in-text citation:
(“Writing for television”)
If the title is in quotation marks in the list of works cited it should also be in quotation marks here. If the title is italicised in the list of works cited (i.e. a self-contained source or the source container) it should be in italics here. A page number can be included, following the normal rules. See referencing elements for details.
Reference within a source (secondary source)
Many academic books and journal articles quote earlier books or articles on the same topic. If you cannot access the original source (e.g. it is out of print, or unavailable through the library), you can cite the secondary source instead:
As Shakespeare said, “Sweets to the sweet” (qtd. in White 109).
In this example, the quoted source (the original source) is Shakespeare. The quoting source (the secondary source) is White. The original source is mentioned first, followed by ‘qtd. in’ (for “quoted in”) and then the secondary source.
Because you have not viewed the original source (Shakespeare), it only appears in the in-text citation, not in the list of works cited. The secondary source (White) should appear in the list of works cited, according to the normal format for that type of source.
If an entire article or chapter has been reproduced exactly in another source (photocopied, for example), you can cite the original source and disregard the secondary source. See Massey University books of readings for details.
Sources with multiple editions
Sometimes literary works (e.g. Shakespeare) have been published many times and are available in more than one edition. In this instance it is helpful to provide extra information in addition to (or sometimes in place of) page numbers to help readers locate the source. Extra information might be chapter, paragraph, act, section or line numbers. When you provide additional information, give the page number first with the extra information separated with a semi-colon.
(Wollstonecraft 185; ch. 13, sec. 2)
Multiple sources in the same brackets
If you want to include several different citations in one set of brackets, they should be separated by a semi-colon:
(White 109; Vonnegut 36; Peake 33)
References and further reading
MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association, 2016. [Massey Library link]
The MLA Style Centre. Modern Language Association, 2018, https://style.mla.org/.
These pages are provided as a guide to proper referencing. Your course, department, school, or institute may prescribe specific conventions, and their recommendations supersede these instructions. If you have questions not covered here, check in the style guide listed above, ask your course coordinator, or ask at Academic Q+A.