MLA considers "short quotes" to be any direct quotes that are less than four typed lines in your paper. All direct quotes must be accompanied by an in-text citation, as well as a signal phrase.
A signal phrase will let the reader know that you are about to use a quotation, someone else's ideas or words. Signal phrases help blend or embed a quote within your own writing. You never want to simply drop a quote into your writing because the reader will be left wondering what it means. You want to signal that you are about to use a quote, provide the quote, and end with an in-text citation. Following the blended quote, you should explain how the quote supports your claims or connects to your ideas.
Let's look at an example:
Notice how the signal phrase not only tells the reader that the writer is expressing someone else's ideas, but it also leads the reader into the quote just like a transition statement between paragraphs.
Think of short quotes as a picture frame. The author of the source provides the photo: the quote. As the writer, you need to frame the quote using the signal phrase and explanation.
Let's look at some example signal phrases using the name of the author from the example:
Some useful verbs for signal phrases are...
acknowledges / adds / admits / agrees / argues / asserts / believes / claims / comments / compares / confirms / contends / declares / denies / disputes / emphasizes / endorses / grants / illustrates / implies / insists / notes / observes / points out / reasons / refutes / rejects / reports / responds / suggests / thinks / writes
It is important to note that all of these signal verbs are in the present tense. MLA uses the present tense to discuss literature. In order to correctly format a short quote for an MLA paper you will need to use the present tense both in the signal phrase and in the explanation of the quote.
Amis describes the world of Kafka’s works as "dream-like, calling to mind the faint details of intangible moments" (23).
Notice that the verb "describe" is in present tense ("describes"), and that the sentence would be incomplete without the quote. They work together.
How do you know when your quote is adequately embedded within your paper?
To check if you've embedded a quote, you need to first remove the words that are inside the quotation marks (as well as the in-text citation).
Next, read the remaining information as you would a regular sentence. If the remaining material makes sense (both logically and grammatically) then your quote was not blended. If the remaining material makes no sense at all, then your quote was embedded in your paper. When the ideas surrounding a quote depend on the quote to make sense, the quote is blended.