Is it acceptable to use the abbreviation cf. in MLA style?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

In MLA style, cf. may be used in parenthetical citations, but writers should take care not to use the abbreviation, meaning “compare” (from the Latin “confer”), when they intend see also. Whereas see also is used to direct a reader to a supplementary work, cf. is used to compare one source with another:

Diminutive staffs (between ten and twenty officials to inspect the nation’s multifarious workhouses) necessarily meant that much was left to “local discretion” (Fraser 53; cf. Wood 79–83).*

In the example above, the citation “(Fraser 53; cf. Wood 79–83)” means that Fraser is the source of the preceding borrowed material and that Wood may be compared with Fraser.

For an example of how see also may be used, see our post on see and see also

*Example taken from Lauren M. E. Goodlad, “Beyond the Panopticon: Victorian Britain and the Critical Imagination” (PMLA, vol. 118, no. 3, May 2003, pp. 539–56).