Sometimes I quote in my writing sombody else, but I do not know the exact words the other person had used. What is a concise and positive(*) phrase to describe this? I found different options on the net:

  • I quote keeping with the sense: "..."
  • I quote in spirit: "..."
  • I quote conceptually: "..."

or even:

  • I paraphrase: "..."

However I am not sure what's the normal/standard way to phrase this.

(*) With positive I mean I want to avoid a phrase like I quote not to the letter or I quote not word for word.


7 Answers 7


My suggestion:

I quote in my own words.

This doesn't have either a positive or a negative connotation, just that you don't remember it precisely and will attempt to reconstruct it as best you can from memory.

  • I reckon that’s exactly what I was after: "I quote in my own words:...” So it is still the act of quoting just not to the dot of the i.
    – halloleo
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 10:26
  • I feel the edit did more harm than good. The edit added the OP's solution above "I quote…" but the original answer was "in my own words" and I find this turn of phrase far more natural and acceptable. If you are quoting someone, that's what you do, you repeat their exact words you don't change the line.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 5:44

Paraphrase is the perfect word.

To paraphrase Churchill, we will fight them everywhere.


Paraphrasing Churchill, we will fight them everywhere.

There are plenty of examples at Lexico.

Or, less formally, you could use gist:

He said, "We will fight them everywhere." That, at least, was his gist.


He said, "We'll fight them all over the place," or words to that effect.

  • 14
    We don't say quoting in spirit. No, you can't mix "quote" and "paraphrase": it's one or the other. If you quote someone you need to do it accurately. If it's not verbatim then you can't use quote or quoting. What have you got against paraphrase? Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 3:44
  • 7
    You can say “loosely quoted.”
    – Xanne
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 4:22
  • 3
    I have nothing against paraphrase. :-) The I quote probably sticks in my head, because in German we say "Ich zitiere" even if we modify it with something like "loosely/true to the sense/words to that effect"...
    – halloleo
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 5:30
  • 1
    Thanks for the comments, @Xanne and OldBrixtonian. Makes all sense.
    – halloleo
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 5:30
  • 1
    @halloleo: You're welcome! (What have you got against All makes sense? :-) Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 13:08

Paraphrase is perfectly good here, and probably the most natural choice in most written contexts e.g.

Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, "truth isn't pure or simple"

You could also caveat the word "quote" with suitable hedges. The suggestions in the question ("keeping with the sense", "in spirit", and "conceptually") don't feel right to me though, and seem somewhat of an oxymoron together with the word "quote". I would expect something like "loosely" or "roughly" e.g.

Loosely quoting Oscar Wilde, "truth isn't pure or simple"

Indirect speech is also generally assumed to be paraphrased, and often summarised e.g.

Oscar Wilde said that truth wasn't pure or simple

In especially informal contexts, quotative "like" indicates that speech is paraphrased, often with subtext drawn to the surface, and often for dramatic or humorous effect especially with a slightly exaggerated tone e.g.

Oscar Wilde was like, "that's rubbish, truth isn't pure or simple!"

There are also lots of phrases that can be used with direct speech to show that it's been paraphrased, but these generally only work with the verb "to say", and not "to quote" (which has the strong implication that the words that follow are verbatim). They can also often occur both immediately before or after the quote often with slight changes in the wording of the hedge e.g.

Oscar Wilde said, "truth isn't pure or simple", or words to that effect

Oscar Wilde said words to the effect of, "truth isn't pure or simple"

  • (For more on Churchill's relationship with Oscar Wilde go here.) Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 15:24

As others have said, "to paraphrase" is perfectly apt. An alternative with a slightly broader meaning is "to borrow", as in:

Borrowing from Seneca, luck is a function of preparation and opportunity.

  • This seems to me too broad to be considered as a phrase for quoting approximately.
    – halloleo
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 20:24

As spotted in Tristan's answer, "summarise" could also be used in some contexts.

Indirect speech is ... often summarised e.g. ...

I've'd [sic] to face this in a book I am writing, chronicling our community (Uganda Asians/Indians)'s history. I have to bring in materials from written texts. If it's a quote it's a quote and quote marks have to be used. But I also have to summarize/paraphrase often in which case I say at the start of an extraction: >>In their own words but often extrapolated, except when an exact quotation is used in which case I use quote marks.<< "Exact quote" itself is a difficult thing to adhere to. Often you add something in which case square brackets are used and omit something in which case ellipses are used.


You can always use "If I recall correctly" which is frequently abbreviated to IIRC so examples might be:

  • If I recall correctly Fred said "Yabba Dabba Who"
  • Fred said "Yabba Dabba Who" (IIRC)

The other common phrase is "Words to the effect of..." e.g.: Maggie said words to the effect of "they can make an effort to find work".

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