Language mistakes in quotes

Quotation marks are used to show that a quoted text is verbatim. But what should you do if that text contains a language mistake?

Students have traditionally been told to leave the mistake as it is, but to add [sic] after whatever is incorrect. Using [sic] indicates that this mistake was made in the source material, and not by you.

Example:

Digital Media’s employee handbook (2014) states that “all team members who pass their annual performance review will be given a twelth-month [sic] bonus.”

According to Thysson and Wu (2009), “Dali’s staying power is undeniable; he’s an artist who’s [sic] popularity has only increased with time.”

Twelth should be twelfth and Who’s should be whose.

This is still what APA style guidelines say should be done. However, other sources (including The Chicago Manual of Style) say it is acceptable to correct minor spelling mistakes and typos such as those above. This is because doing so is less disruptive for the reader. When the mistake reveals something important about the quotation or the person being quoted, however, it’s best not to fix it.

Example:

During the interview, Abadi expressed his disdain of social media: “I think this Tweeter [sic] nonsense is a complete waste of time.”

Leaving Tweeter instead of changing it to Twitter tells us even more about Abadi’s position on the matter.

You should also not change anything that you are uncertain about.

Example:

Ana Figueres (2013) argues that “scalpel safaris are destined to become a major source of foreign revenue in south Africa [sic].”

It seems logical that the author meant the country of South Africa, but she may also have meant the region.

Your Scribbr editor will call your attention to language mistakes found in quotations within your paper. You can then decide whether you want to stick to the formal APA guidelines and use [sic] or simply make a correction. Since it is very easy to make small mistakes when re-typing quotations, your first step should always be to double-check your source material!

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Sarah Vinz

Sarah's academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.

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