MLA In-Text Citations

Learning Objectives

  • Successfully identify the components of MLA in-text citations

MLA Citations in the Body of Your Paper

MLA citations follow specific conventions that distinguish them from other styles. In-text citations are also sometimes known as “parenthetical citations” because they are enclosed in parentheses. The author’s last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

  • At the end of the day, Wilbur made “in excess of half a million dollars” (Marx 43).

If you use the name of the author to set up your quote or paraphrase, you mention the author’s name in the sentence and then put the page number only in the parentheses at the end of the sentence.

  • According to Marx, Wilbur made “in excess of half a million dollars” (43).

If you need to cite more than one source in your in-text citation, you should use a semicolon to separate the sources.

  • (Jones 101; Williams 23).

It’s important to remember, in MLA style, each citation in your text must have a complete bibliographic entry in your Works Cited page, so, if readers want to go to the original source, they can!

Sample of text showing an in-text citation with the author's last name and page numbers inside parenthesis at the end of the sentence.

Figure 1. Include the right information in the in-text citation. Every time you reference material in your paper, you must tell the reader the name of the author whose information you are citing. You must include a page number that tells the reader where, in the source, they can find this information. The most basic structure for an in-text citation looks like this: (Smith 123).

The examples above are just a few of the most common examples of in-text citations in MLA style. The following sections provide more detailed information about in-text citing in MLA.

Single Author

When you quote or paraphrase a source, list the last name of the author, followed by the page number.

  • According to some experts, Marx used “class” in “two different ways” (Calvert 11).

Two Authors

Separate their last names with the word “and.” The authors’ names should be listed in the order they appear in the published work.

  • Marx used “class” in “two different ways” (Calvert and Sennett 11).

Three or More Authors

If your source has three or more authors, you should include the first author’s name followed by et al.

  • Marx used “class” in “two different ways” (Calvert et al. 11).

Multiple Works by the Same Author

If more than one work by an author is cited, include shortened titles for the works to distinguish them from each other.

Example if the author’s name is mentioned:

  • Obama has argued that the invasion was a bad idea (“Too Soon” 42), though he has acknowledged elsewhere that it led to much good (“A Stronger Country” 13).

Example if the author’s name is not mentioned in the sentence and you are citing more than one work by an author:

  • Photography, because it is both science and art, seems to be “a bridge discipline” (Barthes, “Of Loss and Cameras” 45).

Multiple Sources

If multiple sources are cited within the same in-text citation, separate each citation with a semicolon. The sources do not need to be alphabetized.

  • The importance of family bonds and connections is immeasurable (Pickens 21; Bulmore 68).

No Page Numbers

If a work, such as a website, does not include page numbers, then omit this portion of the in-text citation.

  • Marx used “class” in “two different ways” (Calvert).

Anonymous or Unknown Author

Use an abbreviated version of the work’s title if the author is unknown. For example:

  • An anonymous source claimed that the Iraq invasion was a bad idea from the beginning (“Bush Cannot Win” 104).
Graphic showing when and how to create MLA In-text citations. If it is your own work, you do not need a citation. Otherwise, you need to look for the author's name (or title if there is no author name), and then the page number(s). Put the author's name and page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence, before the period, like: (Wilson 38).

Figure 2. Follow the trail on the infographic to determine what needs to be included in your in-text citation.

Being more compliant with MLA in-text citation guidelines will become easier if you review these examples and the citation rules on which they rely.

Correct: A recent study determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals (Rathore and Chauhan 6652). Correct: Rathore and Chauhan determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals (6652). Incorrect: Rathore and Chauhan determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals (Rathore and Chauhan 6652). — You should not list the author(s) parenthetically if that information is in the sentence itself. Plagiarism: A recent study determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals. — The writer did not attribute proprietary information to the people who conducted the study.

Figure 3. In-text citations are often parenthetical, meaning you add information to the end of a sentence in parentheses. But if you include that necessary information in the language of the sentence itself, you should not include the parenthetical citation. This example shows you proper uses of in-text citations.

When to Use a Block Quotation

A typical quotation is enclosed in double quotation marks and is part of a sentence within a paragraph of your paper. However, if you want to quote more than four lines of prose (or three lines of poetry) from a source, you should format the excerpt as a block quotation, rather than as a regular quotation within the text of a paragraph. Most of the standard rules for quotations still apply, with the following exceptions: a block quotation will begin on its own line, it will not be enclosed in quotation marks, and its in-text citation will come after the ending punctuation, not before it.

For example, if you wanted to quote the entire first paragraph of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, you would begin that quotation on its own line and format it as follows:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” (Carroll 98)

The full reference for this source would then be included in your Works Cited section at the end of your paper.

The entire block quotation should be indented one inch from the left margin (double the normal paragraph indentation). The first line of the excerpt should not be further indented, unless you are quoting multiple paragraphs—in which case the first line of each quoted paragraph should be further indented 0.25 inches. As should the rest of your paper, a block quotation in MLA style should be double-spaced.

Block Quotations

Watch this video from Imagine Easy Solutions for more information on formatting block quotations.

Try It

Check your understanding of appropriate in-text citations in the activity below.