Before I begin, I just want to mention that my first question is not a duplicate of Should the first word after a colon be capitalized? The accepted answer to the aforementioned query states that “[i]f you are starting a complete sentence that represents a summation of what came before, you are certainly entitled to capitalize the sentence.” Despite this, though, some people still argue against doing it this way.

I’m typing up an argumentative essay that was assigned in an English course. I’ve been having a really hard time trying to figure out the correct orthography for this sentence, however:

In this particular instance, she is referring specifically to moral nihilists: “‘morality’ is just part of a fairy tale we tell each other in order to keep our innate, bestial selfishness (mostly) under control. Belief in objective ‘oughts’ and ‘ought nots,’ they say, must fall away once we realize that there is no universal enforcer to dish out rewards and punishments in the afterlife.”

My first question is this: Should I capitalize the M, as it is (technically) the start of a new sentence, and refer to the change in punctuation with square brackets? Or should I instead leave it de-capitalized? Maybe I should use an ellipsis character prior to that? I’m not entirely sure, so I finally decided to just ask for feedback on here.

Another thing that I’m uncertain about is how to correctly indicate omitted text, specifically those words within the parentheses. I realize that words removed from quotes, for the purposes of making said quotes more succinct, are signified by ellipses, which makes complete sense. But I simply don’t know the “acceptable” syntax in dealing with this.

Ideally, the quote would be shortened to something like this:

“‘[M]orality’ is just part of a fairy tale we tell each other [in an effort] to keep our selfishness under control. Belief in objective ‘oughts’ and ‘ought nots’ must fall away once we realize that there is no universal enforcer to dish out rewards and punishments in the afterlife.” (Ellipses ignored.)

I will add in the ellipsis characters after I decide what to do. As you can see above, I am planning on removing some of the more superfluous text—particularly the “(mostly)”, as it’s kind of redundant if I'm being honest. So I’m wondering: Should I leave the parentheses and put the ellipsis within them, like ( . . . ), or should I omit the parentheses entirely?

I do understand that StackExchange prefers inquiries capable of being answered, but I am honestly doubtful that either of these has a definitive answer. So all I’m really asking for is somebody else’s input, based on their best judgement.

Thanks, in advance, for any comments or answers that you all give me. Anything at all will help!

closed as primarily opinion-based by choster, curiousdannii, Skooba, JonMark Perry, Nigel J Jun 28 '18 at 12:49

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Since you are quoting an entire sentence I see no reason not to capitalise 'Morality' for that sole reason - the capitalisation of a quote. – Nigel J Jan 24 '18 at 16:39

As tempting as it may be, the purpose of ellipsis is not to edit a block citation into tighter prose, but to omit material irrelevant to your argument. Instead, you can use in-line pull quotes — snippets of the citation giving key concepts — which you then stitch together with your own, tighter paraphrase — or you bite the bullet and block quote all or part of the citation, warts and all.

In-line quotes usually can remove the necessity of a bracketed capital, depending on how you introduce the cited material.


I would want to start that quote with a capital letter. The two ways I can see to justify that are (1) introducing a blockquote with a colon and not using the double quotation marks and (2) introducing it as a common-or-garden quote with a comma.
Also, there are some style guides which suggest adding a space between single and double quotations marks, as in, " 'Morality' ...
I prefer the way that looks.


The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) offers a fairly detailed discussion of the intial-capped-first-word-versus-lowercased-first-word and bracketed-initial-cap-versus-capped-without-acknowledgment issues that you raise. Here are Chicago's relevant comments:

13.14 Initial capital or lowercase—run-in quotations. When a quotation introduced midsentence forms a syntactical part of the sentence, it begins with a lowercase letter even if the original begins with a capital.

Benjamin Franklin admonishes us to "plough deep while sluggards sleep."


On the other hand, if a quotation that is only a part of a sentence in the original forms a complete sentence as quoted, a lowercase letter may be changed to a capital if appropriate. In the example that follows, "those" begins midsentence in the original (see 13.15).

Aristotle put it this way: "Those who are eminent in virtue usually do not stir up insurrections, always a minority."


Aristotle believed that "those who are eminent in virtue usually do not stir up insurrections, always a minority."

13.15 Initial caps or lowercase—block quotations. The consideration of whether to lowercase a capital letter beginning a block quote is exactly the same as it is for a run-in quotation (see 13.14): the initial letter of a block quotation that is capitalized in the original may be lowercased if the syntax demands it.


On the other hand, the capital should be retained—or a lowercase letter should be changed to a capital—if the syntax requires it.


13.16 Brackets to indicate a change in capitalization. In some legal writing, textual commentary, and other contexts, it is considered obligatory to indicate any change in capitalization by brackets. This practice, easy enough to apply in any context but unnecessary in most, must be practiced consistently throughout a work.

So Chicago gives authors and editors its approval to capitalize or lowercase the beginnings of quotations if the syntax "demands" or "requires" it. But who decides whether the syntax demands or requires any such thing? I think the author or editor does.

In any event, Chicago seems to endorse capitalizing the m in morality at the beginning of the quotation that you ask about, on the ground that the quoted wording "forms a complete sentence as quoted." As for whether to enclose the capital M in brackets, Chicago seems to view that measure as a superfluous nicety unless you are engaged in (for example) "textual commentary"—which you may be. (I would use the brackets myself, but I'm a fussy person.)

With regard to the other question that you raise—about making various editing changes visibly or silently—I concur wholeheartedly with KarlG's opinion, as expressed in the first paragraph of his answer: if you're going to quote someone directly, do it faithfully; if the original is too long-winded or otherwise ungainly to tolerate, take it out of quotation marks and paraphrase it.

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