I don't stumble upon "[sic]" as I read newspapers. I think it's safe to assume that plenty of those who are quoted in articles have botched their grammar more often than not. Here's what I'm asking:

Are grammatical errors overlooked in the editing process when it comes to quotes? Are they fixed and the errors are swept under the table?

I've seen some related questions asked here on this forum, but they didn't answer my questions adequately.

  • I think you're overly hung up on avoiding "misquoting". It's not exactly a cardinal sin. If the material is worth quoting in the first place, it's worth tidying up to correct any pointlessly distracting errors. In general, you should only include the original "error" (and [sic] it) if this somehow adds to the information content in your specific context. Otherwise, just correct and forget it. – FumbleFingers Mar 6 '12 at 19:43
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    Is it bothering anyone else that '[sic]' is not being quoted here when it's not being -used-. I read the first sentence (and similar sentences in the answers) as a garden path that somehow 'stumble upon' is being quoted and is non-standard, but it looks standard so I don't get it (until I read it over and over and over). – Mitch Mar 7 '12 at 14:26
  • Good point. I fixed it in my answer. And I did stumble on this entry's heading when it was first posted. – JLG Mar 7 '12 at 18:18
  • possible duplicate of What can I do instead of [sic]? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Mar 7 '12 at 18:52
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    "Obvious typographic errors may be corrected silently (without comment or sic)", says the Chicago Manual of Style in the accepted answer to this question. Also related: Should I fix typos/grammatical errors in quotation? – RegDwigнt Mar 7 '12 at 18:53

Consider this advice from the Chicago Manual Of Style online:

Q: Dear Editor, I am editing a quarterly bulletin for a church, and have run into a problem. “It’s” is confused with “its” in a lengthy article an author quotes in his text. Given your feeling on the overuse of “sic,” I’m wondering how best to handle this. Simply ignore it, or “sic” it? I appreciate your help. Thank you.

A: A bit of quiet copyediting is best in cases like this, where sic would serve only to embarrass the original author and as a result reflect poorly on the current author as well.

Granted, that's only one source but it at least shows that it happens sometimes. I also find the emphasized part interesting.

Also consider that [sic] is not required. It is an aid to the reader to let them know that the mistake was on the part of the original speaker and not the author. I find very commonly that folks just leave the grammatical mistakes in the original quotes with no associated remarks.

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    'Quiet editing' is often the way to go. – Barrie England Mar 6 '12 at 18:02
  • Is there a way to 'quietly edit' without misquoting? – Mr_Spock Mar 6 '12 at 18:16
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    I think it depends on the quality of the mistake. If including it serves to elucidate something about the source or the relevance of the information, then by all means leave it in. For example if the misuse or at least the colloquial use of the language is integral to the character of the speaker (a child, for instance). – Sam Mar 6 '12 at 18:23
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    @Mr_Spock: It may be "misquoting" them in the literal sense of the word, but I'd guess that the situations where someone would be grateful that you fixed their mistake far outnumber the cases where someone would cry foul. – Lynn Mar 7 '12 at 0:21

I think that using '[sic]' is different for a "slip of the pen" than for a "slip of the tongue." If you are reporting what a person speaks, help him out in your transcription. ("Save him from himself," an editor I know often says.) But if you are citing a written work, which was presumably better thought out and maybe even proofread by multiple people, there is less leniency. Also, remember '[sic]' isn't just to point out mistakes, it's to indicate that quoted words have been transcribed exactly as presented in the original. So, technically, you could make the argument that '[sic]' should ONLY be used when quoting written works, and not when transcribing a quote.


It depends on the newspaper and the editors. And what people consider to be "grammatical errors." All of these vary wildly in every dimension possible. So the answer is "Sometimes yes, sometimes no."

  • I see. So, is correcting the English common practice? – Mr_Spock Mar 6 '12 at 17:42
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    For some people. For some editors. Especially if they don't really understand what's "incorrect" or why. Unfortunately. – John Lawler Mar 6 '12 at 18:09

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