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How should I style my parenthetical citation the first time I quote lines from a poem if I have not mentioned the author’s name in my prose?

The MLA Handbook explains that if you are citing line numbers instead of page numbers in your parenthetical citation, you should “in your first citation, use the word line or lines” before the line numbers, “and then, having established that the numbers designate lines, give the numbers alone” (121):

According to the narrator of Felicia Hemans’s poem, the emerging prisoners “had learn’d, in cells of secret gloom, / How sunshine is forgotten!” (lines 131-32).

If you do not mention the author’s name in your prose, include it in the parenthetical citation and separate the name from the word line or lines with a comma:

According to the narrator of the poem,

Published 12 June 2019

Why are both a comma and and used to separate the names of coauthors in a works-cited-list entry?

The MLA Handbook notes that “[w]hen a source has two authors,” you should “[r]everse the first of the names” and “follow it with a comma and and” before providing “the second name in normal order” (21):

Dorris, Michael, and Louise Erdrich. The Crown of Columbus. HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

A comma is needed in addition to and so that the reader can easily distinguish the two names. In the example above, omitting the comma after “Michael” might cause the reader to momentarily misread the first name listed as “Michael and Louise Erdrich Dorris.”

Published 13 May 2019

Where do I place the colon that separates the title from a subtitle if the title ends with a quotation mark?

If the title ends with a quotation mark, insert the colon between the quotation mark and the subtitle. In the first example below, the title consists of a quotation from Shakespeare. In the second example, the title contains the title of a short story:

“To Be or Not to Be”: A Study of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”: Northern Progress Meets Southern Tradition

Read more on punctuating titles.

Published 3 May 2019

If my works-cited-list entry has a title styled in quotation marks that ends in a question mark, should I insert a period after the question mark?

No. Omit the period, as shown in the example below:

“How Do I Cite a Map?” The MLA Style Center, Modern Language Association of America, 6 Apr. 2018,

Read more on titles ending in question marks or exclamation points. 

Published 2 May 2019

How do you punctuate a question that quotes a question?

Do not use two question marks. Use only the question mark contained in the quotation:

Which Shakespeare character asked, “Is this a dagger which I see before me,  / The handle toward my hand?” 

But if the sentence includes a parenthetical citation, place the question mark after the citation:

How would you respond to the writer’s question, “How important is punctuation” (5)?


Published 30 April 2019

Should commas be used around by and an author’s name after a title?

It depends. In the following example, commas are used to set off the by phrase because the phrase is not integral to the meaning of the sentence:

Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson, won several book awards.

If you remove the phrase, the meaning is the same:

Life after Life won several book awards.

But in the example below, no commas are used around the by phrases because the authors’ names are needed to distinguish works with the same title:

I am reading Life after Life by Jill McCorkle, not Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

Published 20 February 2019

Should individual tale titles in The Canterbury Tales be set in quotation marks?

Yes. Student writers should place the titles of individual tales in quotation marks. This follows from the MLA Handbook’s general guideline for the styling of titles: “A title is placed in quotation marks if the source is part of a larger work” (25):

“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” appears in The Canterbury Tales.
The only tales from The Canterbury Tales included in the textbook Medieval Literature: A Textbook for Students are “The Knight’s Tale” and “The Clerk’s Tale.”  

Note, however, that by convention some scholarly publishers style tale titles in roman typeface without quotation marks:

The Pardoner’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale are among the most written about tales in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Published 2 January 2019

How do I punctuate a greeting like “Hi, Anne” in an e-mail or other message?

How you punctuate an e-mail or other greeting depends on the level of formality and the structure of the message. In a formal message, one that does not begin with a direct address, you would likely write:

Dear Anne,

But the greeting “Hi” is a form of direct address, which by convention is set off with commas:

Hi, Anne,

That said, “Hi” marks the correspondence as informal. Thus, you might omit the punctuation:

Hi Anne,

If you run the body of your correspondence into the greeting line, as in a text message, you might use a period instead of a comma after the name:

Hi Anne.

Published 18 December 2018

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