How does one quote something inexactly, for example, changing the tense of the sentence a bit.

For example, with the quote

enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom

I want to instead use

enlarges our thoughts and frees them from the tyranny of custom

Is giving an inexact quote okay?

  • 1
    So long as you're clear about who said what, and you provide appropriate attribution (and avoid recontextualizations which change the meaning of the quoted language), it's completely fine. You can even introduce the quote by saying "To paraphrase Joe The Great..." – Dan Bron Aug 22 '14 at 16:49
  • 3
    You say "to paraphrase, '... " That's what you do. – Fattie Aug 22 '14 at 17:30
  • Use square brackets thus: Liberal education "enlarge[s] our thoughts and free[s] them from the tyranny of custom." Square brackets for insertions and ellipses for omissions allow you to alter a quotation without deceit. – Brian Donovan Aug 22 '14 at 18:16

If you are a journalist, following AP or NYT style, you cannot alter the quote at all. You have several choices for dealing with this: You could paraphrase (as suggested), but in that case you do not use quotation marks. You could expand or reduce the quoted text so that it makes grammatical sense in context. Or, if it's imperative that you use the original quote, you can insert bracketed (i.e., "editorial") text within the quotation marks. That is, you might say, "enlarge[s] our thoughts and frees them ...." That last choice is often used in scholarly writing as well. If you are writing casually, without regard for the finer points of attribution protocol, then I suppose you could reasonably get away with careless quoting. I don't know why you'd want to.

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    If you are anybody, if you alter the quote, you are no longer quoting. – Oldcat Aug 22 '14 at 17:33
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    Oldcat, you're exactly right. But when transcribing a spoken interview, we do have to insert punctuation as we see fit (was that a question or a statement?), and sometimes have to decide whether to transcribe throat-clearing sounds or inarticulate mumbles. It's much easier, of course, if you're quoting a written source. – Linda Stephenson Aug 22 '14 at 17:52
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    +1 but disagree with the careless quoting. – bib Aug 22 '14 at 18:00

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