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Lately, when I read quotes in the media, I've seen the following styles:

Spoken: "I gotta try harder." Written: "I got to try harder."

Is is just my stupid ear/eye/brain that does a record scratch at this? It feels more consistent to leave the "gotta" if the transcribed quote is going to change "gotta" to "got to." I know "I gotta" isn't grammatically correct but "I got to" sounds so wrong to me, and I feel like the style used to be to change "I gotta" to "I've got to." Am I going crazy?

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    Since I got to try harder is totally non-standard syntax anyway, there's absolutely no point in thinking this represents some kind of "improvement" over I gotta try harder. – FumbleFingers May 9 '19 at 16:20
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    I gotta -> "I've got to" not "I got to" – Jim May 9 '19 at 17:32
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    Who says "gotta" isn't grammatically correct? Seems perfectly grammatical to me. It's just not formal. So context matters. – user91988 May 9 '19 at 19:44
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    If you are repeating someone verbatim in speech, you should attempt to imitate what was said exactly. If, on the other hand, you are trying to write a spoken quotation in English spelling, then you face a political question. Do you represent what they actually said accurately, or do you represent what you think they might have written (if they had been writing instead of speaking). I.e, do you represent them as a good writer, rather than representing their speech. What you do is between you and your editors; "proper" is not an issue. – John Lawler May 10 '19 at 3:23
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    @JohnLawler: You should leave that as an answer, not as a comment. Comments are for asking for clarification, or suggesting improvements to the question itself. – V2Blast May 10 '19 at 4:33
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According to the NY Times Style Guide, the underlying principles of quoting someone are respect for the speaker and the accurate representation of their statement.

People often say things like “gotta” in place of “have got to”, and who can blame them?

However, if you’re going to clean this up grammatically for publication, it would be more respectful of the speaker to clean it up all the way. Leaving it in the halfway state of “I got to” takes away the power of the colloquial spoken form, but leaves the speaker sounding clumsy and inarticulate.

For many speakers, though, “I gotta try harder”, would accurately convey the emotional sense of what was said. Someone who loses a contest of some kind, and comes out with a vow to try again with more effort, deserves to have their sense of persistence conveyed to the reader. This also is a form of respect.

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    The New York Times Style Guide is the gold standard if you are writing for the New York Times. For everyone else, it is one among many standards to choose from. The AP Stylebook, for example, is very clear the writer should never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage and do not use substandard spellings such as 'gonna' or 'wanna' in attempts to convey regional dialects or informal pronunciations. – choster May 9 '19 at 16:18
  • @choster So the AP Stylebook would have it as in the original question, "I got to try harder"? – Chaim May 9 '19 at 16:27
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    @Chaim If I were following the AP Stylebook, I'd say "gotta" and "got to" are NOT the same. "Got to" usually means "was allowed to" and "gotta" is "have to" or "must." – miltonaut May 9 '19 at 17:09
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    Gotta agree with The New York Times on this point. – thb May 9 '19 at 20:27
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    I'd argue that the AP style guide creates statements that can't be quoted, since people will say words that only have nonstandard spellings. They say "gonna" and "wanna" are not allowed, but using "going to" and "want to" are changing their grammar. "I gotta" is worse, as it's actually short for "I've got to." – trlkly May 9 '19 at 21:30
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The Associated Press Stylebook (2018) has the following entry on "Quotations" under News Values on p.520:

Quotes must not be taken out of context. We do not alter quotations, even to correct grammatical errors or word usage. If a quotation is flawed because of grammar or lack of clarity, it may be paraphrased in a way that is completely true to the original quote. If a quote's meaning is too murky to be paraphrased accurately, it should not be used. Ellipses should be used rarely and must not alter the speaker's meaning.

So the journalist could paraphrase or omit the quote if they are unsure. Otherwise, they can leave it unaltered. Then, a paragraph later,

Use of regional dialects with nonstandard spellings should generally be limited to a writer's effort to convey a special tone or sense of place. In this case, as in interviews with a people not speaking their native language, it is especially important that their ideas be accurately conveyed. Always, we must be careful not to mock the people we quote.

The latter paragraph allows for slight wiggle room to represent an expression with "nonstandard spelling" in standard spelling. If "gotta" is equivalent to "got to," and "gonna" is equivalent to "going to," adjusting the spelling is allowed, but further alteration for grammar ("have got to" instead of "got to") isn't. Meanwhile, if gotta is important to capture the "tone or sense of place," use it unchanged.

So the possible responses of an AP writer would be to paraphrase the response and avoid the issue entirely, leave it unaltered (gotta), or adjust only the literal spelling to an obvious standard version (got to).

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    The AP seems to be ignoring the question of the reporter's accuracy in hearing the quotation. I (American South) say something that a Yankee would probably write down as "gotta", but if you asked me to say it slowly I would say "I have got to". The fact that the reporter failed to notice the fleeting 've doesn't make failing to include it correct. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- May 10 '19 at 0:56
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    But, "gotta" is not the same as "got to". Think of Agent J (Will Smith) in MIB who might say "Yea, today I got to use the big gun". To "correct" gotta, I'd write "I've got to" or "I have to". If you're rephrasing "gotta" because it's "nonstandard spelling", then you shouldn't replace it with something that's also "nonstandard spelling", or even just wrong. – Kevin Fegan May 10 '19 at 7:38
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In general, you should not modify a quote. If someone said "gotta" then that's what you write, not a grammatically-corrected version. You do need to be careful to avoid implying that you are making fun of the person's mode of speech, though.

However, you can add a suffix "[sic]" (short for 'sic erat scriptum', 'thus was it written') to indicate that this is specifically what the quoted person said (or wrote), grammatical (or spelling) errors and all.

e.g. "The President tweeted 'I gotta get some covfefe'[sic]"

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    "When some misquotes me it makes me sic[sic]" – bvanlew May 10 '19 at 9:55
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I think this can be treated as alternate pronunciation of "got to", rather than a different phrase. When we quote someone, we normally reproduce their words and meaning, not their pronunciation (unless the intent is to represent dialect -- this is usually only done in literature, not reporting).

As an analogy, many people pronounce "nuclear" as "nucular". But if you were quoting someone like this, you would not use the latter spelling.

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  • This is just opinion, not substantiated facts on the language. – Pablo Straub May 14 '19 at 19:54

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