Several years ago, I took a college course that introduced a term for "phrases used when citing a text", but as the course was a few years ago, and I cannot find the lesson slides, I cannot remember the term used. It might be something like "tags".

I am not looking for words like "cite", "give attribution", but an actual noun and name for these types of phrases:

Examples: "According to...", "The author claims...", "The author contends...", "The passage reiterates that...", are all examples of this type of phrase.

Without this language: "The Earth is 40,075 km in circumference."

With this language: "According to White (2017), the Earth is 40,075 km in circumference".

Without this language: "The Earth is not entirely round."

With this language: "White (2017) claims that the Earth is not entirely round".

Sample sentence: "The author used too much of the same _____ when citing his sources, he should have instead used much more variety, to keep the paper more interesting."

What term best refers to this?

  • 2
    Reference? You haven't provided a sentence with a blank for how this would be used, so it's hard to figure out quite what you're looking for.
    – Xanne
    Nov 5, 2017 at 6:43
  • Could you possibly explain why you think there is a need for such a word? If you cannot find a single word for a particular idea normally expressed by a phrase, it is probably because the idea does not come up in writing or conversation often enough to to make it necessary. What will one word do that a brief phrase cannot?
    – Tuffy
    Dec 12, 2021 at 19:05
  • @Tuffy I know the word exists, as it was covered in a course, and now I'm teaching a course with the same, want to pass on the terminology.
    – Village
    Dec 12, 2021 at 19:11
  • When you cite a text, you provide a citation. Nothing describes the content of a citation except the citation itself.
    – Lambie
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:05
  • 1
    Then, to avoid attracting future bad answers, as questions live on beyond your personal need for them, please edit to make that clear. Dec 13, 2021 at 20:37

3 Answers 3


I think you're looking for the term "attribution tags". This wouldn't include the works cited (nor the parenthetical citation in some cases), as that's not a tag (see the grammar definition). It would include "according to X", as mentioned in some of the sources I found. Searching brings up a number of synonyms:

Less specifically it is called "attribution", or sometimes even "words of attribution", according to the University of Kansas (which also uses "attribution tag"). Arguably that would include the works cited section and parenthetical citations too. "Verbs of attribution" is used to refer to an obvious subset of such words.

And there are some terms used of non-academic writing, which are used when it's dialogue:

  • Dialogue tags (e.g. "she said")
  • Beats (when a character's action is used instead of a dialogue tag)
  • Dialogue attribution (a hypernym including both)

citation language

Each of these types of composition follows a well-defined form, so that, if we were given only an account in abstract terms of the arrangement of subject and predicate or a simple account of the selection of citation language (e.g., "as it is said," "our Rabbis have taught,") we could readily predict the purpose of the composition or composite. Jacob Neusner; The Talmud (2006)


By the end of the project, students will

Compare as well CD 16:6-9, where Deut. 23:24 is cited at the beginning of a series of scriptureless rules regarding oaths and vows (including CD 16:10-12, where citation language is used to introduce an allusion to Num. 30:9), as might have been the case for CD 9:8-10 (where the citation is not of an actual scriptural verse). M. Stone and E. Chazon; Biblical Perspectives (1998)

[I believe CD refers to a copy of the Damascus Document (one of the Dead Sea Scrolls) found in the Cairo genizah (synagogue storeroom) collection.]

Samraj's investigation revealed that, compared to the RA writers, the student thesis writers had more frequent use of the integral citation type... Similary, the students, again in comparison to the published writers, had more frequent use of "verb controlled" integral citations..., whereby the source author took on the "agent" role as the subject of the verb in the student's sentence... rather than just being "named" in a less prominent position in the sentence...

In another study of graduate student's source citations, Pecorari (2006) also used a manual approach, which this time revealed ways that the students' citation language transgressed norms of course use for research genres. Sunny Hyon; Introducing Genre and English for Specific Purposes (2018)

Notwithstanding the long-noted similarities between citation language in early rabbinic midrash and Qumran exegesis, most commonly employing a form of the verbs רמא, and בתכ, we find nothing in Qumranic antecedents to ... Michael Satlow; Strength to Strength (2018)

This emerging interest has given us detailed understanding of specific aspects of citation language, for example verb tense, thematic choice, voice, and the name of the cited author ... Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, Vol. 20, p. 51 (1997) (Snippet View)

Communicating research through an RA

In addition to studies that have analyzed the content and critical thinking aspects of novice history writer's texts, researchers have earmarked the following genre features as signifying competencies of more advanced writers in the the discipline: the use of multiple source texts to support a point...; the use of source texts in multiple ways...; citation language that contextualizes and analyzes the source, and use of organizing structures and causal connecting words that result in causal arguments... Anne Beufort; College Writing and Beyond (2008)

In doing so, they analyzed "how five students responded to four document-based questions over a year, tracing how organization, document use and citation language indicate the degree to which writers transformed and integrated information in disciplinary ways". S. Totten and J. Pederson; Educating Abut Social Issues in the 20th and 21st Centuries (2014)

  • 1
    Are you sure that "citation language" in all of these means the phrasing used when giving attribution in text and not what's in the works cited nor the language the citation is in (eg English)?
    – Laurel
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:17
  • @Laurel I did realize the other uses (including a legal citation for something criminal), but rereading I think you are correct and I removed the ambiguous ones for which I didn't have access to clarifying surrounding text. -- Thank you! I'll try to add others.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:21
  • Yeah, the uses that survived after editing are pretty clear. I'm not sure whether they constitute an established term (the scare quotes might count against it), but they clearly serve the purpose. Dec 13, 2021 at 17:23
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    @AndyBonner That could just be the author introducing a term they think the reader may not be familiar with.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:35

"Attribute" is nice and formal. But I don't think it's ideal for your purposes.

There are other candidates: "credit", "impute", "assign" spring to mind. Or my personal favourite, "ascribe".

"This theory of the ingestion of bleach to cure Covid-19 has been ascribed to a man who is the most orange person to date to have been President of the United States".

So, what is the difference between "attribute" and "ascribe"? According to this page, "ascribe" is used more with people, whereas "attribute" is more commonly used with causes. I'm not sure I agree with that entirely. However, have a look at the citations on that page: it does appear that "attribute" is broader in scope.

Since you say "when someone", I'd say "ascribe" is very marginally preferable.

  • Thanks for contributing! I'm afraid the OP is looking, not for a word that attributes, but for a label for the category of phrases that attribute. It's unfortunate that they haven't provided a sample sentence that would clear this up. Dec 13, 2021 at 17:21

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