Monday, March 30, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Using Tenses and Pronouns for Harmonious Quotations

When using quotes as dialogue or citation, knowing how to properly punctuate those quotes within the sentence is very important. Tenses and pronouns however are crucial, especially when taking a quote or passage and applying it in a new context. The wrong tense or an awkward pronoun causes the whole quote sound confusing and can ruin an otherwise strong paragraph.

Always integrate tenses, especially if the original text is in present tense and the new sentence in past tense. The Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed uses the following example:

[Original] Mr. Moll took particular pains to say to you, gentlemen, that these eleven people here are guilty of murder; he calls this a cold-blooded, deliberate and premeditated murder.
[As quoted] According to Darrow, Moll had told the jury that the eleven defendants were “guilty of murder” and had described the murder as “cold-blooded, deliberate and premeditated.”

With pronoun changes, these should always be used as little as possible. They also need to be bracketed so the reader knows this is a change from the original text. Above all, make sure the quotes flow easily with the rest of the paragraph. If they sound awkward or forced, it might be time to reevaluate.

For more information on all things quotable, check out The Chicago Manual of Style, paying particular attention to chapter 11, “Quotations and Dialogue.”

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