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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

When I use too in the sense of “also,” should I use a comma before it?

In most cases, you need not use a comma before too at the end of a sentence or commas around it midsentence:

She likes chocolate chip cookies too.
She too likes chocolate chip cookies.

But, as usage experts note, you must use commas when too separates the verb from its object (Cook 126):

I note, too, that you have eaten all the chocolate chip cookies.

Work Cited
Cook, Claire Kehrwald. Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1985. 



Published 20 November 2018

How do I eliminate back-to-back parentheses in a sentence?

To eliminate back-to-back parentheses in a sentence, you should generally reword:  

The General Franco Institute published the most important Spanish colonial work on Andalusi music, Patrocinio García Barriuso’s La música hispano-musulmana en Marruecos (“Hispano-Muslim Music in Morocco”) (1941).
In 1941, the General Franco Institute published the most important Spanish colonial work on Andalusi music, Patrocinio García Barriuso’s La música hispano-musulmana en Marruecos (“Hispano-Muslim Music in Morocco”).

In some cases, you can combine information in one set of parentheses and separate the items with a semicolon:

In N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn,

Published 31 October 2018

Does MLA style allow the use of slashed terms?

The slash is rarely necessary in formal prose. It mainly appears when two terms are paired as opposites or alternatives and used together as a noun:

The writer discussed how fundamental oppositions like good/evil or East/West affect the way cultures view historical events.

When two terms paired as opposites precede and modify a noun, use a hyphen:

nature-nurture conflict
East-West relations

In other cases, you can rewrite to avoid a slash. For example, you can replace the slash in “political/economic factors” with and or or, depending on the intended sense:

 political or economic factors


political and economic factors

You can rewrite “political and/or economic factors” as follows:

factors that are political or economic or both

Published 29 October 2018

When is a comma used before et al. in MLA style?

In MLA style, a comma is generally only used before et al. in the “Author” slot of works-cited-list entries when the author’s first and last names are reversed:

Burdick, Anne, et al. Digital_Humanities. MIT P, 2012. 

The comma tells your reader that the name Anne is out of normal position and that the abbreviation attaches to the full name, not just to Anne.
In contrast, in an entry starting with a name that is not reversed—for example, a Chinese, Japanese, or Korean name—no comma is needed:

Liu Chang et al. “Cong Changchungong dao Zhongcuigong.” Zijincheng,

Published 11 September 2018

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