If a phrase is repeated throughout a work, what page number should I use when discussing the phrase?

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.

When citing a phrase that appears more than once in a work, give the page number of the first instance in the parenthetical reference:

B. Venkat Mani’s latest work considers book circulation in terms of “bibliomigrancy” (145).

Work Cited

Mani, B. Venkat. “Rights, Permissions, Claims: World Literature and the Borders of Reading.” PMLA, vol. 134, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 144–49.

In some cases, you might add “e.g.” (“for example”) before the page number or page numbers to make it clear to readers that what follows is not a full list of instances:

Toward the end of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, rumors spread about plans to “disappear” members of the squadron (e.g., 366, 401).

Work Cited

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. Simon and Schuster, 1955.

If you are comparing two characters’ use of a phrase, you will want to list each instance separately:

Yossarian first hears of a plan to “disappear” Dunbar from Nurse Duckett: “They’re going to disappear him” (Heller 366). The phrase comes up again in a conversation with Havermeyer, who, on hearing that Major Major is gone, wonders, “Did they disappear him?” (401).

We advise against using “ff.” (“and following”) because it is imprecise.