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Adding Words to Quotations

Adding Words to Quotations

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson goes over how to alter a quotation by adding or changing words.

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Adding Words to Quotes


Writers use brackets to add words to quotations without changing the meaning of the quote. Brackets look like square parentheses. [ ]
Why would a writer add his or her own words in a quote? 
  1. The writer might insert words in order to clarify something within the quote.
    • Example original quote: Peter describes his apartment as “belonging to a man I never knew,”
      1. The writer could use the word “he” inside brackets instead of the “I” in the original so that the words in the quote are blended into his or her sentence and still make sense. The quote now reads: Peter describes his apartment as “belonging to a man [he] never knew,”
    • Example original quote: “They had a litter of puppies.” Because the writer didn’t quote the sentence that contains the antecedent—the noun that was replaced by the word “they”—the reader might be confused. In order to clarify, the writer might remove “they” and add the nouns “Sheila and Russell” enclosed in brackets.
      1. The quote then reads: “[Sheila and Russell] had a litter of puppies.”
  2. The writer might insert words to provide an explanation about something in the quote.
    • Example: The original quote reads “No one noticed that Jeff skipped town.” Readers might not immediately know who Jeff is (especially if this is the first mention of him in the writing). The writer might insert the following phrase after Jeff's name: [the gardener]
      1. The quote would then read “No one noticed that Jeff [the gardener] skipped town.” The bracketed explanation gives readers additional information.
  3. The writer might enclose the word “sic” in brackets and insert it into a quote to indicate that an error or a typo appearing in his or her quote appeared in the original source.
    • Example: The original quote reads “They had fn.” The writer would then add [sic] into the quote after the error.
      1. It is impolite to point out another writer’s errors, especially if you do it too often. So if you are adding [sic] to quotes, do so sparingly.
To avoid changing the meaning of the quote you need to understand the quote. Make sure you think about what the quote meant in its context (in the original source). Think about how you can convey that meaning when you introduce and explain the quote in your paper. When adding words to the quote, make sure you do not add anything that could alter the meaning of the quote or misrepresent the ideas in the original source. 

Adding Words to Quotations