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MLA Block Quotes – Formatting Block Quotations in MLA Style

The MLA 9th edition handbook is an essential resource for researchers in the humanities, providing comprehensive guidelines for writing and documenting scholarly work. It is a particularly useful guide for researchers in fields like literature and film studies, as it emphasizes clarity and consistency in citation, covering a wide range of sources from the Bible to Hollywood. What’s more, it also provides detailed guidelines on how you can quote from such works, an essential requirement in fields where you are investigating different authors and creative outputs.  

Short Quotations

If the material you’re quoting is fewer than 4 lines or prose or 3 lines of verse, your quotation can be fitted into the main (running) text. Enclose the material in double quotation marks, and place punctuation marks like commas and periods outside the closing quotation marks. Of course, you need a proper citation, backed by a supporting entry in the Works Cited list.

Now, let’s look at some examples:

            Desmond concludes that “absence is not always a sign of proclivity” (45).

Poe’s “The Raven” has a similar opening scene: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” (lines 1-2).

You’ll see from the second example above that in the case of poetry, you’ve to use a slash with a space on either side ( / ) to mark line breaks in the original.

Long (Block) Quotations

When you’re quoting longer chunks of text, you need to present the quoted material in a separate, standalone paragraph. This paragraph is entirely indented .05 inches from the left margin. The citation should be placed after the closing quotation mark, as illustrated in the example below.

   Brontë exhibits a delicate choice of words while describing Miss Temple in Jane Eyre:

I suppose I have a considerable organ of veneration, for I retain yet the sense of admiring awe with which my eyes traced her steps. Seen now, in broad daylight, she looked tall, fair, and shapely; brown eyes with a benignant light in their irids, and a fine pencilling of long lashes round, relieved the whiteness of her large front; on each of her temples her hair, of a very dark brown, was clustered in round curls, according to the fashion of those times, when neither smooth bands nor long ringlets were in vogue; her dress, also in the mode of the day, was of purple cloth, relieved by a sort of Spanish trimming of black velvet; a gold watch (watches were not so common then as now) shone at her girdle. Let the reader add, to complete the picture, refined features; a complexion, if pale, clear; and a stately air and carriage, and he will have, at least, as clearly as words can give it, a correct idea of the exterior of Miss Temple—Maria Temple, as I afterwards saw the name written in a prayer-book intrusted to me to carry to church. (64-65)

When quoting poetry or verse, you maintain the original line breaks in case of quotations exceeding 3 lines.

         Poe’s “The Raven” represents the grief of losing a loved one and the struggle to overcome it, the raven itself being a symbol of the uncanny:

     And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

            Shall be lifted—nevermore! (lines 103-108)

Quotation Marks within Block Quotations

At times, you might have quotation marks used within the text you’re quoting. In the case of block quotes, you leave them as is.

Bronte paints a sombre picture of the mealtimes and the kind of food offered to girls educated in “charitable” institutions of that era:

A long grace was said and a hymn sung; then a servant brought in some tea for the teachers, and the meal began.
Ravenous, and now very faint, I devoured a spoonful or two of my portion without thinking of its taste; but the first edge of hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess; burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it. The spoons were moved slowly: I saw each girl taste her food and try to swallow it; but in most cases the effort was soon relinquished. Breakfast was over, and none had breakfasted. Thanks being returned for what we had not got, and a second hymn chanted, the refectory was evacuated for the schoolroom. I was one of the last to go out, and in passing the tables, I saw one teacher take a basin of the porridge and taste it; she looked at the others; all their countenances expressed displeasure, and one of them, the stout one, whispered—
“Abominable stuff! How shameful!” (Jane Eyre 54)

Omitting Words or Lines in Block Quotes

If the original material is lengthy or contains extraneous material, you can shorten the quoted text by omitting lines or words. Indicate deletion using an ellipsis (…) with a space on each side.

Bronte’s description of the physical hardships endured by the protagonist in Jane Eyre are not atypical of charity schoolgirls of that age.

During January, February, and part of March, the deep snows, and, after their melting, the almost impassable roads, prevented our stirring beyond the garden walls, … Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains, as were our feet: I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening, when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes into my shoes in the morning. Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid. … Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of hunger.

Sundays were dreary days in that wintry season. We had to walk two miles to Brocklebridge Church, where our patron officiated. We set out cold, we arrived at church colder: during the morning service we became almost paralysed. …

At the close of the afternoon service we returned by an exposed and hilly road, where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summits to the north, almost flayed the skin from our faces. (74-75)

When it comes to poetry, if you’re omitting just a few words, you use the same device: an ellipsis with spaces on each side:

            The following lines of “The Raven” illustrate the loneliness of the author:

But the Raven, … spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

            Then the bird said “Nevermore.” (lines 55-60)

However, if you’re omitting an entire line, you use a long series of periods, rather than just an ellipsis.

            “The Raven” begins with an eerie description of a late evening in December:

                            Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.


    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

            This it is and nothing more.” (lines 7-18)

Remember that quoted material always needs to have a supporting citation, so that readers can quickly locate the source text.

Finally, if you’re adding words into the quoted text, you need to use square brackets around them, as follows:

              It is clear that drawing was treated as an advanced subject in Brontë’s time: “Miss Temple [the school principal] had smiled approbation; she had promised to teach me drawing, and to let me learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement two months longer” (Brontë 84).

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