Incorporating direct quotations effectively is an important writing skill.
Here is an example of an ill-fitting quotation in an article about media doctor Mehmet Oz who was recently the subject of a Senate hearing. It’s from an article by Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post (print and digital):
“I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact,” Oz said at a U.S. Senate hearing, adding that he “personally believes in the items I talk about in my show.”
One obvious problem with this example is the use of pronouns that don’t go together. Not so obvious is the fact that the quotation differs from what Oz actually said.
Quotation marks represent a covenant between writer and reader, a promise that the words enclosed by them are exactly what the person being quoted said.
Here’s the original response to Senator McCaskill’s question:
I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about in the show.
In quoting Oz’s original statement, the writer has fallen into a crack between direct and indirect quotation. The word he is outside the quoted material, but the writer (or editor) has added an -s to believe to make it agree with he. Without noticing that the pronoun I does not fit with the preceding he, the writer adds a my that was not in the original quotation.
The writer could have reported the words as an indirect quotation, putting only part of it in quotation marks:
he “personally believes” in the products he talks about in his show.
Or, he could have introduced the quotation with a colon:
“I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact,” Oz said at a U.S. Senate hearing, adding: “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about in the show.”
A quotation should not be dropped into an essay or a news article without adequate introduction. It should agree grammatically with surrounding text, reproduce the exact words that were said, and it should not stand alone.
Browse all articles on the Style category or check the recommended content for you below:
Improve your English in 5 minutes a day! Subscribe to our Writing Tips and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!