I have the following sentence from the Time Magazine, which I use as an example sentence on a flashcard:

At its best, Losers is a sluggish, stream-of-concupiscence exposition of what Sartre called nausea.

I want to make clear that the complete title of the book is Beautiful Losers and that the author is Leonard Cohen. I also want to italicise the book title. The result would be as follows:

At its best, [Beautiful] Losers [by Leonard Cohen] is a sluggish, stream-of-concupiscence exposition of what Sartre called nausea.

The combination of italics and square brackets looks a bit awkward to me. Would [Beautiful] Losers be a prefered way in English (I'm not even sure how to do it properly in my native language)? Or do you generally avoid mixing italics with square brackets in this case?

  • 2
    If you are taking a block quote from Time, I'd skip the brackets and keep the quote exact and find a convenient place for the full title and author. It's probably better to paraphrase: Time Magazine reported that Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen ... However, if you must, non-italicized square brackets with italicized title inside would be your best bet.
    – Stu W
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 0:38
  • For the sake of consistency you might put 'beautiful' in square brackets alongside 'losers', both without italics, the same way you have included the author's name in this sentence. Remember the 'losers' part is not italicized in the original quotation as you have written it here. As in, "At its best, [Beautiful] Losers [by Leonard Cohen] is a, etc." Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 5:13

1 Answer 1


In cases like this, it's often best to mix a paraphrase with a direct quotation:

In a Times Magazine article, it's claimed that, at its best, Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers "is a sluggish, stream-of-concupiscence exposition of what Sartre called nausea."

However, flash cards are normally used to present short, simple ideas---and then, often, the person displaying them to an audience will expand on the ideas they present. Such a rephrasing may be at odds with this. So, you could leave the quotation exactly as it is and then, while holding up the flash card, verbally explain the book's actual title and its author.

But, to give a more technical answer rather than just suggesting an alternative, you do not put square brackets in italics---only those contents within the square brackets that should themselves be in italics. (The Chicago Manual of Style, 13.60 and 13.61, for example.) Also, there is no need to leave in every portion of the original quotation. So, in your case, it would be technically correct (and the easiest to read) with the following rephrasing:

At its best, [Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers] is a sluggish, stream-of-concupiscence exposition of what Sartre called nausea.

Since you are amending the original quotation anyway, it makes sense to also amend the incorrect roman type used for the (partial) title.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.