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MLA Guide

Introduction to Parenthetical Citations

The function of a parenthetical citation--also known as an in-text citation--is twofold: (1) it unambiguously directs readers to a source listed on the works cited page, and (2) it provides the specific location within the source of the information being cited. In an effort to disrupt reading as little as possible, parenthetical citations are often but not always placed at the end of a sentence.

Formatting the Parenthetical Citation

A typical in-text citation has two components. The first component mirrors the start of a source's entry on the works cited page. It allows readers to move from an in-text citation to a corresponding reference entry, where the source's publication information resides. The first component is usually the author's last name; the second is usually a page number.

The parenthetical citation in the example above indicates that the quotation comes from page 202 of a work by Cicero. Because the first component of a parenthetical citation corresponds to a reference entry, readers can easily locate the publication information for the source. In this case, readers will locate Cicero's name in the alphabetical list of works cited at the end of the paper.

Textual integration: Keep in mind that there is always some interplay between the text of a sentence and and its parenthetical citation. Specifically, if an author is mentioned in the body of a sentence, his or her name does not need to be repeated in a parenthetical citation, for it is already clear from what source the borrowed material originates. The examples below show three different ways that an author's name might be integrated into the body of a sentence. Note that page numbers are still indicated in parenthesis

Rhetoric without philosophy, according to Cicero, is but "an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage" (202).

In De Oratore, Cicero says that rhetoric--when not joined by philosophy--is "an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage" (202).

Cicero argues that the art of rhetoric, unless reunited with the discipline of philosophy, provides little more than "an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage" (202).

Textual flow: Most  parenthetical citations appear at the end of a sentence. Such placement is ideal because it does not substantially disrupt the flow of reading. Such placement is not always possible, however, without abandoning the precision of a citation. In the following example, two different ideas from two different pages are cited within the same sentence. A single parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence would not be sufficient here, as it would not be absolutely clear which information came from which page. In these types of situationsMLA guidelines dictate that parenthetical citations be placed at natural pauses in the sentence and as close to the cited material as possible. The solution here is to place a parenthetical citation after each idea or point. The citations are not only close to the cited material but also appear at natural pauses (e.g., at a comma, at a period).

In Gorgias, Plato accuses the sophists of practicing a form of verbal manipulation, one which deliberatively deceives the audiences (69), in an attempt to secure personal advantage (75).

Sample Parenthetical Citations

Not every source has a single author and numbered pages. Accordingly, not every source can be cited in the exact manner outlined above. The following section will provide sample parenthetical citations for the types of sources that researchers are likely to encounter.


One author: A source by a single author lists the author's surname and the page number(s) of the cited material.

(Cicero 202)          (Quintilian 353-54)


Two or more authors: If a source has two authors, each author's surname is listed in the parenthetical citation, joined by the coordinating conjunction "and." If a source has three or more authors, only the first author's surname is listed, followed by "et al." (the abbreviation for et alia, Latin for "and others"). Because it is a common Latin abbreviation, "et al." should not be italicized.

(Bizzell and Herzberg 33)          (Losh et al. 7-10)


Multiple authors with same last name: If a writer uses two or more sources by authors with the same surname, parenthetical citations must include the first initials of said authors.

(K. Burke 245-46)          (E. Burke 22)


Multiple works by the same author: If two or more works by the author are used, parenthetical citations must also include a title or shortened title of the work. Note that titles of articles are in quotes and those of books are italicized.

(Richards, "Learning" 251)          (Richards, Philosophy 3-5)          (Richards, Practical Criticism 174)


Corporate authors: Parenthetical citations for corporate authors simply list the corporation's name. If the corporation has an especially long name, it is acceptable to use the first few words of the name or to use abbreviations.

(Pew Research Center 3-5)          (Washington Institute 12)          (NORML 2)


Government authors: When a government agency is the author, a parenthetical citation will include the name of the government and the name of the agency that produced the work.

(United States, Department of Education 82)          (United States, Center for Disease Control 10)


Works with no author: If a work is not attributed to an author, the parenthetical citation will still list the first element of the works cited entry. Instead of an author, the first element is typically the title of the work. If the title is long, use only the first few words of the title.

(Beowulf 16; XIV)          ("Good Riddance" 16A)


Works of prose with multiple editions: Popular and oft-studied literary works are frequently available in multiple editions. To assist readers in locating cited material, it is customary to include division numbers. Divisions can be books, chapters, sections, etc. For prose works, division numbers are provided in addition to page numbers, which are listed first. The two are separated by a semicolon.

(Vonnegut 109-10; ch. 5)          (Plato, Republic 94-95; 398a)          (Beowulf 16; XIV)


Works of poetry: For verse, division and/or line numbers replace page numbers. Divisions can be books, chapters, sections, etc. For a long verse work with multiple divisions, give the division number and line, separated by a period. For shorter verse works, give only line numbers. NB: When citing divisions and lines, the first parenthetical citation for a source should include the name or abbreviation of the division and the word "line" or "lines," separated by a comma. Thus establishing the use of divisions and lines for that source, subsequent citations will only include referenced line numbers. 

(Dickinson, line 6)          (Dickinson 11-12)          (Homer, bk. 9, lines 366-67)          (Homer 9.366)


Works of drama: Parenthetical citations for dramatic works are built the same way as the previous two categories. If the drama is written in prose, it follows the guidelines for works of prose with multiple editions. If the drama is in written in verse, it follows the guideline for poetry.

(McDonagh 84; scene 9)          (Shakespeare, Macbeth 5.11.28-30)


Scriptural works: Parenthetical citations for sacred works use divisions and lines in lieu of page numbers. For the Bible, specifically, give the abbreviated name of the book being cited, followed by appropriate chapter and line number, separated by a period. To establish the use of a specific translation or version of the text, the first reference of the source--and only the first--should echo the first element of its works cited entry.

(New English Bible, Gen. 1.27)          (Gen. 2.22-23) 


Paragraph numbers: If a source has numbered paragraphs, they may be used to identify the location of cited material. Numbered paragraphs are sometimes present when page numbers are not, especially in online sources. Do not count and label paragraphs yourself; only use paragraph numbers when the source explicitly provides them. Writers signify that they are using paragraph numbers with the abbreviation "par." or "pars."

(Center for Academic Integrity, par. 9)          (Straw, pars. 9-10)


No page numbers: When a source has no page numbers--or other such numbers or divisions that identify textual location--simply provide the name of the author.

(Robinson)          (Stefaniak)


Time-based media: Audio and video recordings are cited by time or time range. Use HH:MM:SS format to indicate hour(s), minute(s), and second(s) into the recording.

(Clapton 00:02:32)          (Harrison 00:03:05-22)          (Scorsese 01:22:00-23:15)


Indirect citation: When a writer is quoting a quotation from another source, he or she should mention the name of the primary author in the body of the text but provide citation information for the secondary source parenthetically. Precede the secondary source with "qtd. in" to indicate that the quote is provided secondhand. 

Léonard Misonne explains the concept: "Light glorifies everything. It transorms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects. The object is nothing: light is everything" (qtd. in Sussman 19).

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