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What is the MLA’s stance on the use of British spelling?

MLA publications generally follow the American spelling preferences listed in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged. When you are writing a paper for a class in the United States, it is sensible to use American spelling, but in other contexts British spelling may be appropriate. Read our post on writing a thesis in British English.

Published 26 December 2018

Should shortened generic forms of proper nouns be capitalized?

In general, lowercase generic forms of proper nouns:

the United States Army, the army
President Kennedy, the president
the Brooklyn Bridge, the bridge
Housatonic River, the river

But, as The Chicago Manual of Style notes, capitalize generic terms if necessary for clarity (“Wars”):

the French Revolution, the Revolution of 1789, the Revolution, the revolution of 1848

Work Cited
“Wars and Revolutions.” The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., sec. 8.113, U of Chicago P, 2017,
  . . .

Published 9 August 2018

When should you correct spelling in a title?

The spelling of a title should almost never be corrected, especially by students, even when the title seems to include an error. Sometimes the “error” is intended, as for the Stephen King novel and movie Pet Sematary, or may be otherwise purposefully made, however ill advised, as for the movie Two Weeks Notice.
But sometimes an incorrect spelling appears to be the result of a typo, as for the 2011 manual published with the title The Senate Office of Education and Traiing. (The manual included information about a proofreading course and was soon republished with the missing letter n added to the title.) Another example is a New York Times article about the American Folk Art Museum originally published online with “Fork Art” . . .

Published 23 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

How do you make a plural out of the word so?

Someone might write, for example, “There are too many sos in this sentence,” in response to:

So many people were present, so he said so, so they were all so very pleased, but others felt that attendance was not so great, was, in a word, so-so.

But “sos” is hard to read. It looks at first like a mistake. Using italics might help a bit but not much: sos. Another option would be to add an apostrophe: so’s. But MLA style uses apostrophes only to form plurals of letters: p’s and q’s.
Note that dos and don’ts is fairly well established—that is, . . .

Published 7 February 2018

How do I handle prefixes such as pre- and post- in MLA style?

MLA style, which follows Merriam-Webster, does not use hyphens after most prefixes. We would write, for example, antiestablishmentcoauthor, nonlinear, and prealgebra. A hyphen is needed, however, before a capital letter (pre-Renaissance), when the term would be hard to recognize otherwise (anti-intellectual), and to avoid misreading (the hyphen in re-cover, meaning “cover again,” distinguishes the term from recover, meaning “recuperate”).

Published 18 January 2018

If a page number includes letters in addition to a number, should I include the letters?

Yes. In the following example of a quotation from an early English work, the quotation appears on page 37v, so you would include both the number and the letter in your parenthetical reference:

In “Dumbe Man’s Academie,” John Bulwer writes, “The Dumbe hath the same passions as wee have for he hath the same potentialitye of the soule equal with us” (folio 37v).
Work Cited
Bulwer, John. “The Dumbe Man’s Academie.” British Library, London, MS Sloane 1788.

Published 11 January 2018

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