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Citing Literary Works

In-Text Citations

MLA in-text citations come at the end of a sentence and include two parts.  The first identifies the source, and the second indicates what part of the source you used.  In most cases, this is the author and page number.  If no author is given, use a brief version of the title instead. 

There are unique exceptions for literature.  Instead of page numbers, you will sometimes use line, act/scene or other part numbers.

Type of Source Explanation Examples
Author & Page Numbers

(Author Last Name Page Number).

  • (Anagonye 27).
  • (Al-Tahrawi and Matlesky 19-20).
  • (Garcia et al. 167).

No Author

OR

If you cite multiple works by the same author (comparing Shakespeare's tragedies)

("Brief Title" Page Number).

(Brief Title Page Number).

* Format your title just as it is in your works cited page (in quotation marks or italics).

* The title should be shortened as much as possible but must give enough information that your reader can find the source in your works cited list.

  • ("Ali Baba" 27).
  • (Beowulf 23). 
  • (Hamlet 3.5.27)

*  ("Ali Baba") is a shortened title for "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves".

* The Hamlet citation is correct only if the writer is citing more than one work by Shakespeare.  If we are only writing about Hamlet, the correct citation would be (Shakespeare 3.5.27).

No Page Numbers

If there is no page number (or any other numbering system), omit the number.  Website usually follow this format.

Some literary works, like poems, plays and scripture use part numbers instead.  See examples below.

  • (Nguyễn).

Short Poems

(1 page or less)

Do not include any numbers, only the author or title.
  • (Angelou)
  • ("The Sounds of the Night")

Longer Poems

(more than 1 page)

Use the numbering system used by your source. 

Usually these are line numbers. 

Very long poems might have book, canto, or section numbers, and these should be combined with the line numbers. 

If no line or section numbers are given, you can use the page numbers, and if no numbering is given, simply omit the numbers and list only the author.

  • (Giovanni line 23).
  • (Giovanni lines 28-34).
  • (Milton 2.21-23).

*  In the last example, 2.21-23 refers to book 2, lines 21-23.

Plays Plays typically include act, scene and line numbers but may also include other part numbers.  Given part numbers from largest to smallest, separated by periods but no spaces.

(Shakespeare 3.5.27-30)

(Hamlet 3.5.27-30)

* Use the author's name if you are citing only one work by that person.  If citing multiple plays by the same person, use the title.

* 3.5.27 in the examples above refer to act 3, scene 5, lines 27-30.

Signal Phrases

If you identify the source you are citing within your sentence, you can omit that information from the in-text citation.

Correct:  In Milton's Paradise Lost, the angel Gabriel states that "Providence may e'er / be undone righteously" (2.19-20).

Wrong:  In Milton's Paradise Lost, the angel Gabriel states that "Providence may e'er / be undone righteously" (Milton 2.19-20).

Citing the Same Work Repeatedly

You can also omit the author/title in subsequent citations if it is clear which literary work you are citing.  For example, if my entire paper is about The Glass Menagerie, my citation only needs to include the relevant numbers, like this (3.2.12-15).

Brief and Block Quotes

Keep quotes brief - ideally just a few words.  The purpose of quotes is to set up your analysis, so only quote what is necessary to make you point.  There are two ways to format quotes:

Brief Quotes Block Quotes
Length of Your Quote
  • 4 or fewer lines of prose
  • 3 or fewer of poetry
  • 5 or more lines of prose
  • 4 or more of poetry
How to Use Run brief quotes into the body of your paper and use in-text citations.

Use block quotes only when absolutely necessary, and be sure to provide extensive analysis if you do.

Write a sentence to introduce the block quote, and end the sentence with a colon instead of a period.

Indent 1/2" on the left margin.

Add an in-text citation at the end of the block quote, after the final punctuation.