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Can a footnote be an incomplete sentence? For example, a footnote for "Pharaoh" says, "The Egyptian king during the time of Prophet Moses."

If so, should "the" be capitalized or not?

  • If you are going to be fussy about capitals, you might consider the inclusion of a verb, also. – Nigel J Oct 5 '17 at 22:01
  • You mean like "116. Ibid., p. 257 (202)."? – Hot Licks Oct 5 '17 at 22:15
  • Yes, a footnote can be an incomplete sentence. And yes, footnotes should start with a capital letter. Oh, and the footnote cited ought to read "A title of the Egyptian king during the time of the prophet Moses." The word originally meaning "great house" in Egyptian; compare our present-day use of "the White House" to mean the office of the President of the US or "the Palace" to mean the monarchy. – tautophile Jun 28 '18 at 15:25
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Any annotation whether footnotes or elsewhere allows any information at all inside conceptually. What you want to consider is if you are providing context.

Consider a dictionary entry, which use a similar declarative style to your provided example. Another common example would be Wikipedia citations.

The Egyptian king during the time of Prophet Moses

If this footnote is numbered and matches a superscript number in the document, then you have created a fairly standard "reference". This provides a definition of whatever you're noting.

There's nothing grammatically "wrong" with this, you already understand this is not a complete sentence. So you cannot use it as a sentence which, by-and-large, is what grammar is for. A note does not need to be a sentence in a document.

What you'll instead need to check for is a style guide provided for the type of document you are submitting. If the document is for your own use, business letter, general publishing, etc.. then you are free to use your own style guide.


The starting letter is conventionally capitalized. One could make an argument this is not technically required. There are instances in programming texts for instance where note blocks begin with int, double...

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    Garet’s answer and Nigel’s and Hot Licks’ Comments pretty much over the case if you insists on footnotes but why do that, please? What could The Egyptian king during the time of Prophet Moses possibly add that wouldn’t be better sited in the text? Many writers, editors and publishers seem to think there’s a use for the things and presumably some readers agree but why go to that trouble to interrupt the flow of reading? – Robbie Goodwin Oct 8 '17 at 12:11
  • Well given the context of the provided sample note, it made me think of Bible references. Annotated Bibles don't usually want to change the text but they add notes. I was thinking this could apply to any quote or direct transliteration though, because translators and commentators of a manuscript will of course want to preserve the original. In normal works, I prefer inline and in-margin note blocks with some detail that ties together that section of the document. – Garet Claborn Oct 10 '17 at 8:23
  • Yes and any religious text is very different from everything else. Did you notice, huge numbers of people have been burned at the stake for asking less than you ask? – Robbie Goodwin Oct 10 '17 at 19:47
  • Of course annotated Bibles don't want to change the text and while I don’t seek out Bible versions, do you recognise at least a dozen well-respected versions, or not? My limited understanding is that if you take the trouble to look ate the Koran, you will find any deviation whatever from the standard text anathema. Getting back to reality, in your experience roughly what number or percentage of cases of footnotes has anything to do with transliteration? More clearly, what place do translators of or commentators on anything have in footnotes, as opposed to the main text? – Robbie Goodwin Oct 10 '17 at 19:56
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    The style of footnote mentioned in my answer is very common in Bibles as I mentioned, the same applies in many technical documents as well. Here's a common example, though these are in margin they often appear as footnotes: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Bible-KJV.JPG Re: burning at the stake, I didn't ask anything though, not sure what you mean. – Garet Claborn Oct 10 '17 at 20:00
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I am in the process of writing a lengthy family history - my children refer to it as a history of the western world with passing references to our ancestors - and, rather than just make bald assertions of what happened where and when, I give the source for pretty well every sentence. The work would be absolutely unreadable if that material was incorporated into the text. In the result, footnoted comments are complete sentences ("Read takes a different view: see page 27 of his work.") but the vast majority of my footnotes are not comments and so are not complete sentences ("Upper Canada Sundries, page 58753, letter from Baker to the Lieutenant Governor"). The same is true of the footnotes in pretty well every commercially-published history book that I have seen, and I have seen many. My only question is whether I should end mere sentence fragments with a period; logic says "no" but it looks strange not to do so.

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