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What should you do if you’re quoting someone, and that quote has a grammatical error?

Say for example that I’m quoting this line from the American Pregnancy Association:

The term used for a pregnancy that ends on it’s own, within the first 20 weeks of gestation.

The proper way to write this is without the apostrophe. I know that, and you know that, but the Association’s proofreader apparently missed it.

The question is what I should do now: how can I quote this without sounding like I’m the one committing a grammatical error?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Use the word "sic", which is Latin for "thus". It indicates that the error was in the source material. But beware - it can be considered rude. I would quote the passage thusly:

the term used for a pregnancy that ends on it's [sic] own, within the first 20 weeks of gestation.

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Thanks. That's just what I was looking for. I knew it was something like that, but I couldn't remember what. –  chama Feb 8 '11 at 23:33
You should put the sic in square brackets. "The pregnancy ended on it's [sic] own." –  Robusto Feb 9 '11 at 1:29
To add to what Robusto said, you should put anything that wasn't in the original source, and which you've added, in square brackets — including [sic], other explanations added for clarity, whatever. Putting it in () like here may suggest that it was part of the original quote. (This convention is predicated on the assumption that the original source does not contain square brackets, of course. :-)) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 9 '11 at 5:36
I'm editing my response to reflect your corrections. –  Chris B. Behrens Feb 9 '11 at 14:34

I think that putting "[sic]" after the error is not just impolite, it also distracts from what you are trying to say. It is also advisable to be damn sure an error really was made.

Quietly correcting the error is nothing less than a misquote. The "error" may have been deliberate for ironic or emphatic reasons, in which case all you do is point out your denseness.

Why can't we be generous and ignore others' fallibility.

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As Chris Behrens says, if you do quote a grammatical error, then [sic] is the standard way to disclaim it.

However, in many cases it’s also perfectly fine to silently correct the error when you quote. There are a couple of main criteria:

  • Might you be changing their meaning? In this example, there’s no ambiguity as to what the intention was, or what the correct version should be.

  • Is the error relevant to the context you’re quoting it in? If you’re discussing the quality of informational materials provided by charities, then you probably want to preserve and point out the error. If you’re using it as a source in an article on miscarriages, then the error is probably irrelevant, and an unnecessary distraction for your reader.

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Good point. Thanks for your input. –  chama Feb 9 '11 at 2:47
Another convention, slightly more distracting than this but less distracting than [sic], is to put the corrected word within square brackets: "the term used for a pregnancy that ends on [its] own, within the first 20 weeks of gestation." –  ShreevatsaR Feb 9 '11 at 5:38
Yes, I've seen that done before to "fill in" words that weren't in the original text, because the context is obvious in the quoted text, but not in the quote itself. –  Alexander Rafferty Feb 9 '11 at 7:30
I would also add, as I mentioned in my response, "sic" is a tad rude, especially when it's perfectly clear what the correct usage was. "Sic" is often used as invective against a political opponent (see how stupid my opponent is? He can't even get his grammar right in this quote!). For an example as simple as this, I agree with PLL - you should probably just correct the error and live with the infinitesimally inaccurate quote. –  Chris B. Behrens Feb 9 '11 at 16:48

protected by RegDwigнt Dec 1 '12 at 1:40

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