A complete guide to MLA in-text citations

When you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work, you have to cite the source. In MLA style (8th edition), you use a brief in-text citation to direct the reader to the correct entry in the list of Works Cited, where you give full details of the source.

A basic MLA in-text citation includes the author’s last name and the page number(s) in parentheses. For sources without an author, the title is used instead.

MLA in-text citations
TypeExampleExplanation
1 author(Ferrante 37)Include the author’s last name and page number
2 authors(Moore and Patel 48–50)Connect last names with “and
3+ authors(Gallagher et al. 59)Use first author’s last name and “et al.
No author(Amnesty International Report 187)Use the title, shortened if appropriate
No page number(Luxemburg, ch. 26) or (Rajaram)Use chapter/section numbers if available, omit if not
Multiple sources in one citation(Haraway 17; Barad 32–33)Separate with semicolons

Create MLA in-text citations

Where to include an MLA in-text citation

Place the citation directly after the relevant information, and before any other punctuation (except with block quotes, where the citation comes after the period).

MLA is the second most popular citation style (Smith and Morrison 17–19).
APA is by far the most-used citation style in the US (Reynolds 74), but it is less dominant in the UK.

If you have already named the author in the preceding text, don’t include the name in the parentheses.

According to Smith and Morrison, MLA is the second most popular citation style (17–19).

The aim of an MLA in-text citation is to point the reader to the correct source as unobtrusively as possible. Parenthetical citations should only include as much information as is necessary to identify the source.

MLA in-text citations with no page numbers

If the source does not have page numbers but is divided into numbered paragraphs, sections or chapters, use these instead, together with an appropriate abbreviation (par., sec., ch.). In this case, use a comma after the author’s name.

(Luxemburg, ch. 26)

If the source does not use any numbering system (as is often the case for online article citations), include only the author name or title in the in-text citation. Don’t include paragraph numbers unless they are explicitly numbered in the source.

Several scholars have critiqued the “narrative of crisis” at Europe’s borders (Rajaram).
Rajaram argues that representations of migration are shaped by “cultural, political, and ideological interests.”

Note that, in the second example, the author has been named in the sentence and there are no page or section numbers, so no parenthetical citation is necessary. If you take this approach, ensure that there is no ambiguity and that the reader could easily locate the source from the text alone. If in doubt, add a parenthetical citation.

In-text citations for plays

When quoting a play that includes act, scene and line numbers, use these instead of the page number.

(Shakespeare 1.2.95)

In-text citations for time-based sources

When citing an audiovisual source (such as a movie or YouTube video), in place of page numbers, include the time range as displayed in the media player where you accessed it.

(Wynn 10:23-45)

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MLA in-text citations with no author

In some cases (such as an MLA website citation), a source will have no named author. If there is no author, use the title in the parenthetical citation instead.

If the title is longer than a few words, shorten it to the first word or phrase, excluding any articles (a, an, and the). The shortened title must unambiguously lead to a single entry in the Works Cited. It should always begin with the same word by which the source is alphabetized.

Shortening titles in MLA parenthetical citations
Full titleShortened title
Amnesty International Report 2017/2018: The State of the World’s Human RightsAmnesty International Report
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”“Sources”
“A Quick Guide to Proofreading”“Quick Guide”

Formatting titles

Follow the usual MLA rules for formatting titles. If the source is an entire self-contained text (e.g. a whole website or film), the title appears in italics. If the source is part of a larger whole (e.g. a page on a website or an episode of a TV show), put the title in quotation marks.

A recent report highlighted “the systematic crackdown on the rights of refugees and migrants” in Hungary (Amnesty International Report 187).
Transport accounts for 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions (“Sources”).
The homepage of The Correspondent describes it as “a movement for radically different news.”

Note that, in the last example, there is no parenthetical citation because the source has already been named in the text and there is no page or section number.

Organization as author

If the source was written by an organization whose name is different from the publisher, use the organization name in place of the author.

(U.S. Global Change Research Program 25).

Check the in-text citation against the Works Cited entry

When citing a source without an author, it’s most important to ensure that the in-text citation includes the first word(s) of the Works Cited entry so that the reader can easily find it in the alphabetized list. For the examples above, the Works Cited entries should look like this:

Amnesty International Report 2017/2018: The State of the World’s Human Rights. Amnesty International, 2018, www.amnesty.org/­download/­Documents/­POL1067002018ENGLISH.PDF.

The Correspondent. www.thecorrespondent.com/. Accessed 12th May 2019.

“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/­ghgemissions/­global-­greenhouse-­gas-­emissions-­data. Accessed 5th Mar. 2019.

U.S. Global Change Research Program. The Climate Report: National Climate Assessment — Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States. Melville House, 2019.

Citing multiple sources with the same author name

If your Works Cited page includes more than one entry under the same author name, you need to distinguish between the sources in the in-text citations.

Different authors with the same last name

To distinguish between authors with the same last name, use initials or first names in the in-text citations.

(A. Butler 19)
(J. Butler 27)

Multiple sources by the same author

If you cite more than one work by the same author, use a short version of the title to signal which source you are referring to. This also applies to multiple publications by the same organization.

(Butler, Gender Trouble 27)
(Butler, “Performative Acts” 522)

In this example, the first source is a whole book, so the title appears in italics. The second is an article published in a journal, so the title appears in quotation marks. As usual, if the author name appears in the sentence, you only need to add the title and page number in parentheses.

Combining multiple sources in one in-text citation

To cite more than one source that gives the same information or supports the same point, you can combine them into a single parenthetical citation. Separate the two sources with a semicolon.

Livestock farming is one of the biggest global contributors to climate change (Garcia 64; Davies 14).

However, only combine citations like this when they refer to the same idea or point. If a sentence makes multiple points taken from separate sources, or if you quote from a source, use separate in-text citations to make it clear where each piece of information comes from.

Livestock farming is one of the biggest global contributors to climate change (Garcia 64), and a reduction in meat consumption is considered an “urgent necessity” (Davies 14).

Citing indirect sources

Sometimes you might want to quote something that you found in a secondary source instead of in the original text. It is always preferable to directly cite the primary source, but if this isn’t possible, indicate where you found the quotation with the abbreviation qtd. in (short for quoted in).

Marx defines “the two primary creators of wealth” as “labour-power and the land” (qtd. in Luxemburg, ch. 26).

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