How does the MLA handle an orphaned word?

In our publications, we prefer to avoid an orphan—a word alone on a line or at the end of a paragraph—if the word, including any punctuation, is fewer than five characters (e.g., too.). We also prefer to avoid part of a word on a line by itself (e.g., sighted, if the full word is farsighted). An exception is made if Merriam-Webster includes the hyphen in the word (e.g., far-fetched).

In general, student writers and scholars submitting manuscripts for publication need not be concerned about orphaned words since publishers, including the MLA, address this problem during the publication process. But in some cases scholars may have sole responsibility for checking page proofs, so understanding the conventions for orphans may be helpful.

Published 22 March 2019

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