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When should I capitalize the first letter of the first word of a quotation?

Whether to capitalize or lowercase the first letter of the first word of a quotation depends on how the quotation is integrated into your prose and what appears in the original.
After a Verb of Saying
Capitalize the first letter if the quotation appears after a verb of saying, regardless of the case used in the source–but flag any alterations you make.
A quotation that follows a verb of saying (e.g., writes, says, states, exclaims) and is run in to your text is introduced with a comma and begins with a capital letter.

Published 22 May 2018

How do I format and document epigraphs in MLA style?

Epigraphs establish tone, highlight allusions, provide commentary, and mark transitions between parts of a work. Primarily ornamental, they are not discussed subsequently in the text. 
Although publishers vary in how they style epigraphs, one commonality is that epigraphs are set apart from the main text by being placed at the start of a book, chapter, essay, or other section of a work. They usually do not appear in quotation marks. Sometimes, they are italicized or set in a font different from that used in the text. For example, in the MLA book series Approaches to Teaching, epigraphs appear thus:*

Whereas in the journal PMLA,

Published 7 May 2018

If I need to fit a quotation syntactically into a sentence, can I use empty brackets to indicate that I have removed letters from a verb?

No. In MLA style, brackets are generally only used to add material or show visible alterations, not to indicate omissions.1 So when attempting to fit a quotation syntactically into a sentence, you must find a different solution.
Let’s say, for example, you want to quote the opening sentence of David Lodge’s novel Changing Places:

High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. (7) 

If the syntax of your sentence demands that you place the quotation in the present tense,

Published 27 April 2018

Can I silently change the initial capital letter in a quotation to fit the quotation syntactically into my sentence?

No. As the MLA Handbook advises, “Unless indicated in square brackets or parentheses, changes must not be made in the spelling, capitalization, or interior punctuation of the source” (75). Let’s say your original source reads as follows:

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

If you need to lowercase the initial letter of the first word to fit the quotation syntactically into your sentence, indicate the change in brackets:

In “A Defence of Poetry,” Shelley argues that “[p]oets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
Work Cited
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry.” Poetry Foundation,

Published 23 April 2018

How do I cite a quotation that I use in the title of my paper?

If you include a quotation in the title of your paper, you should discuss the quotation in the body of your essay. Do not place a parenthetical citation or an endnote with source information after the title. Instead, cite the quotation where it occurs in your essay. 
For example, in the March 2017 issue of PMLA, Heather Love’s essay is titled “‘Critique Is Ordinary.’” The quotation in the title is repeated in the text, along with the source of the quotation and a page number. Publication details for the source are given, as always, in the works-cited-list:

In The Limits of Critique,

Published 16 April 2018

Do I cite a word or passage each time I quote it?

No. If you quote from a work and provide an in-text citation at first mention, you usually do not have to provide an in-text citation at subsequent mention as long as it is clear from your prose that you quoted the passage earlier in your essay. This rule applies when the subsequent mention appears directly after the first mention, as in the following example: 

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name?” (2.2.43). By “name” she means Romeo’s last name–Montague.

The rule also applies if the subsequent mention appears farther from the first mention, as in this example from the end of an essay: 

We thus come back to where our investigation of Shakespeare’s play began: “What’s in a name”

Published 16 March 2018

How do I punctuate a quotation within a quotation within a quotation?

A simple principle applies for what seems like a thorny issue: Nest punctuation that appears within punctuation by alternating punctuation marks to disambiguate–in this case, between double and single quotation marks.
One Level of Nesting
The most common reason for nesting punctuation is shown in section 1.3.7 of the MLA Handbook (p. 87): when you need to present a quotation within a quotation, use double quotation marks around the quotation incorporated into your text and single quotation marks around the quotation within that quotation:

In “Memories of West Street and Lepke,” Robert Lowell, a conscientious objector (or “C.O.”), recounts meeting a Jehovah’s Witness in prison: “‘Are you a C.O.?’ I asked a fellow jailbird.

Published 9 March 2018

What should I include in parentheses if the author’s name is provided in a signal phrase and the source has no page numbers or other kind of part number?

As the MLA Handbook notes, “When a source has no page numbers or any other kind of part number, no number should be given in a parenthetical citation” (56). The following example illustrates this principle: 

“As we read we . . . construct the terrain of a book” (Hollmichel), something that is more difficult when the text reflows on a screen.
Work Cited
Hollmichel, Stefanie. “The Reading Brain: Differences between Digital and Print.” So Many Books, 25 Apr. 2013, the-readingbrain-differences-between-digital-and-print/.

If you provide the author’s name in a signal phrase when quoting or paraphrasing a work with no page or part numbers,

Published 29 January 2018

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