Punctuation Review #3: Introducing Quotations

By Maeve Maddox

A reader questioned the introduction of a direct quotation with the word that:

I’ve had the understanding that preceding what was said with the word “that” indicates that what follows is not a verbatim quote, but rather a description of what was said, and quotation marks are thus not to be used.

The conjunction that is used to introduce an indirect quotation:

The officer said that we would have to cancel our travel plans.

That can also introduce a direct quotation, as in this example from The Chicago Manual of Style:

Was it Stevenson who said that “the cruelest lies are often told in silence”?

Whether and as can also introduce a direct quotation:

He is now wondering whether “to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.”

This teacher describes the Common Core Standards as “a corporate flimflam that promises more than it can deliver.”

Note: When the lead-in to a direct quotation ends in that or as, no comma is needed.

Here are some more ways to introduce a direct quotation:

Introduce the direct quotation with a colon.
Example: Hamlet views the world as a dreary place: “an unweeded garden.”

Introduce the quotation as part of a sentence.
Example: James Bond’s favorite drink is “a martini…shaken, not stirred.”
No comma is needed because the quoted phrase functions as part of the sentence (complement of the verb).

Use an introductory phrase naming the source.
Example: According to the Dalai Lama, “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.”
A comma is required after an introductory phrase.

Precede the quotation with a “quotation verb”
Example: Emerson concludes, “Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”
A comma follows the verb. According to MLA and APA guidelines, the quotation begins with a capital, whether or not it is a complete sentence. For example:

Original quotation
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off. —Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Partial quotation, APA style
FDR concludes, “Cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

Partial quotation, MLA style
FDR concludes, “[C]ooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

Note: “Quotation verbs” include says, comments, remarks, concludes, writes, suggests, etc. Some authorities recommend that says be used only if the words were originally spoken aloud, as in a speech or an interview.

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1 Response to “Punctuation Review #3: Introducing Quotations”

  • Mary

    If the original quotation was, “Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” then why wouldn’t the partial quotation be:

    FDR concludes, “…[C]ooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”?

    I wasn’t taught that it should always start with a capital but I was told that you needed the ellipsis to show that the sentence didn’t actually start from there.

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