Straightforward guide to MLA block quotes

MLA (Modern Language Association) format is most often applied in the liberal arts and humanities.

Topics covered in this field might include poetry, literature and plays, all of which may require analysis of longer passages of text.

If this is your area of research, you might choose to feature these longer passages within your paper to show the reader examples and demonstrate evidence. In that case, there are two aspects to consider with regard to formatting:

  • Length of the quote
  • Type of source

Basic requirements for an MLA block quote

In MLA, you must use the block quote format when:

  • You quote a piece of prose (which means most forms of text) longer than four lines.
  • You quote a section of poetry longer than three lines.
When formatting an MLA block quote, take note of the following:
Step 1Introduce the quote with a lead sentence followed by a colon. You should only change this if the quote requires different punctuation.
Step 2Indent the quote 0.5 inches from the left-hand margin.
Step 3Double space the quote.
Step 4Include a parenthetical citation with the required information after the period.

Prose in MLA format

Prose refers to most kinds of writing that you will find in books, internet articles and journal articles. This is the standard form of an MLA block quote.

When quoting prose, the citation should include the author name and page number or, in the case of an online source, paragraph number with “para.” before the number.

Example of an MLA block quote: prose

The reader quickly becomes familiar with Nick Carraway’s relationship with Jay Gatsby, as the very first mention of the character illustrates both his admiration and disdain:

Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. (Fitzgerald 4)
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Prose including dialogue: quotes within quotes

Quoting prose in MLA block format can become a little tricky when the quote itself includes a quote or dialogue indicated by quotation marks in the original text.

If you need to include a quote within your block quote, place double quotation marks around the text in question — this is called nesting punctuation. If you need to include a subsequent quote, use single quotation marks.

This might seem complicated, but the rule is actually quite simple: alternate between the two as far as you need to.

Example of a block quote with nesting punctuation

Similar to the reader’s introduction to Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s opening description of Daisy immediately informs of her charm and allure:

she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.

“I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.”

She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. (Fitzgerald 11)

In MLA, you cannot change the capitalization, spelling or interior punctuation. Therefore, as we chose to use the quote from partway through the first sentence, the word “she” must be lower case as it appears in the novel itself.

Poetry in MLA format

In MLA, sections of poetry longer than three lines must be formatted as a block quotation. Any poetry quote shorter than three lines can be written as per the usual quoting style, with line breaks indicated by a forward slash.

Example of short poetry quote in MLA
In her poem, “My Country”, Dorothea Mackellar describes different features of Australia’s unique landscape: “I love her far horizons, / I love her jewel-sea, / Her beauty and her terror” (Mackellar).
Example of an MLA block quote: poetry

The poem “My Country” is one of the most widely known in Australia, depicting the author Dorothea Mackellar’s love for the country’s unique landscape:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains,
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror,
The wide brown land for me! (Mackellar)

Plays in MLA format

When quoting plays, the parenthetical citation should include the author name, act, scene and line(s) rather than the date and page number. If your paper focuses on one particular playwright, for example, the works of Shakespeare, use the italicized play name rather than the author name in each citation.

Other considerations for plays:
Abbreviating play namesTo avoid repeating play names throughout your dissertation, the MLA style guide recommends writing the full name in the first citation, then using abbreviations for subsequent mentions. If your research is focused on Shakespeare, there are universally accepted play name abbreviations you can use.
Format for line numbersWhen writing multiple line numbers in your citation, any figure below 100 should be written in full (e.g. 21-35). When indicating more than one line above 100, include the first number only once. E.g. 165-8.
Character namesIn most cases, when quoting dialogue from a play, you must include the characters’ names written in all capital letters and followed by a period. The exception is when all dialogue quoted is from the same character.

Examples of quoting a play in MLA

For quotes of three lines or less, the same rules apply as for poetry, with forward slashes to indicate line breaks. When quoting one character, include quotation marks. When quoting more than one, use no quotation marks but include the characters names.

Short quotes

Example of quoting one character with three lines or less:
The character Banquo was the first to draw attention to the perception of the three witches: “How far is’t call’d to Forres? What are these / So wither’d and so wild in their attire, / That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth” (Shakespeare 1.3.139-41).
Example of quoting multiple characters with three lines or less:
The notion that Macbeth wants to become King of Scotland is introduced early in the play: MACBETH. Your children shall be kings. / BANQUO. You shall be king. / MACBETH. And thane of Cawdor too: went it not so? (Shakespeare 1.3.188-90)

Long quotes

For quotes longer than three lines, use the block quote format, keeping the lines written as they are in the original text. Indent the quote one inch from the left margin and double space.

Example of quoting one character with more than three lines

Macbeth beseeches the witches to share more of their prophecy, before they abruptly vanish:

Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more:
By Sinel’s death I know I am thane of Glamis;
But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives,
A prosperous gentleman; and to be king
Stands not within the prospect of belief,
No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence
You owe this strange intelligence? or why
Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you. (Shakespeare 1.3.171-79)

When quoting multiple characters over dialogue of more than three lines, indent the capitalized names of the characters one inch from the left margin. If a character has more than one line of dialogue in the quoted section, indent the subsequent lines a further ¼ inch from the left margin.

Example of quoting multiple characters, with more than three lines:

The first lines spoken by the witches tell Macbeth that they believe he will be king:

MACBETH. Speak, if you can: what are you?
FIRST WITCH. All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!
SECOND WITCH. All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!
THIRD WITCH. All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!
BANQUO. Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear

Things that do sound so fair? I’ the name of truth
Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner
You greet with present grace and great prediction
Of noble having and of royal hope,
That he seems rapt withal: to me you speak not. (Shakespeare 1.3.148-53)

Omitting words or lines

If you wish to omit words from a quote, you must be sure you are not taking the text out of context or changing the author’s meaning to your own advantage.

You can indicate words missing from a quote using ellipses ( … ).

If you wish to omit a line of poetry, you indicate this with a line of periods to approximately the same length as a line of the poem.

Example of omitting words in poetry

I love a sunburnt country,


Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

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Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

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