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Basically, I am somewhat confused when a quotation should be capitalized. My understanding is that if a) one quotes the full original sentence and b) this quotation is set off by a colon, semi-colon or comma one keeps the beginning of the quotation capitalized. This is my understanding from reading the Turabian and other relevant books. Is this correct?

The Turabian explains:

In most disciplines, you may change the initial letter of a quoted passage from capital to lowercase or from lowercase to capital without noting the change. If you weave the quotation into the syntax of your sentence, begin it with a lowercase letter. Otherwise, begin it with a capital letter if it begins with a complete sentence, with a lowercase letter if it does not.

The Turabian gives the following examples [labelling added to facilitate discussion]:

Original: As a result of these factors, the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.

[b] Fernandez claims, “The Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.”

[c] Fernandez claims that “the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.”

[d] Fernandez points out that “as a result of these factors, the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.”

[e] “The Mexican people,” notes Fernandez, “were bound to benefit from the change.”

However, I am still not sure whether there are any other instances (particularly if the quotation is not set off by a colon, semi-colon or comma) when the beginning of a quotation is capitalized.

Moreover, I am not quite sure what "complete sentence" means in the Turabian explanation. Does it mean the complete original sentence or a grammatically intact sentence. So there is one further specific question I have:

When I do not quote the full original sentence but the quote is still a grammatically intact sentence, would I still capitalize the beginning of the quotation? In other words, is it ever the case that if the word that starts the quotation is not capitalized in the original I would still capitalize it in my writing (except, of course, if it follows a colon or semi-colon. In these cases I understand that capitalization is needed in any case)? I always though that as long as I only quote parts of the original sentence and weave it into my own sentence no capitalization is necessary.

Addendum: I should add that the original sentence the Turabian gives is for its examples is as follows: “As a result of these factors, the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.” Here I don't quite understand then why we should say “Fernandez claims, ‘The Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.” "The" is not capitalized in the original, so is this capitalization optional?

P.S.: I asked a somewhat similar question here: Academia SE: When to capitalize the beginning of a quotation?

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  • Welcome to ELU.SE! A couple of examples would help enormously, I think. Could you edit you question to include a specific instance or two that you're asking about, please?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 7:24
  • 1
    A sentence always begins with a capital letter; it would be odd not to do so just because it is a quotation. Commented May 2, 2023 at 7:24
  • Sorry about that. I have now added examples.
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 7:30
  • {One has to assume that the 'original' is straight from the mouth / printer... of 'Fernandez'.} One major complication here is that only [d] faithfully renders Fernandez's complete statement. A second is that the report or quotative verb chosen indicates editorial choice (note/point out/claim). Another is that traditionally, 'that' followed by direct speech is unacceptable ... and while it's logical to see exhaustive direct speech as not being exactly equivalent to (especially part-)quotes, the inverted commas don't distinguish. // I'd use [d] with a colon instead of 'that', and capital A[s]. Commented May 2, 2023 at 13:58
  • ... But I'd not be too worried if I saw say [c'] Fernandez claims that “... the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.” It relays a valid point even if some information is suppressed (and report/quotative structures are becoming more frequently melded. See Punctuation following along the lines of). Commented May 2, 2023 at 14:06

3 Answers 3

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Otherwise, begin it with a capital letter if it begins with a complete sentence, with a lowercase letter if it does not.

Here, it is clear that he is referring to the grammar of the quoted material as quoted rather than how it appears in the source. That is to say, if your quote begins with a complete (grammatically correct) sentence it falls into this guideline, regardless of whether or quote the complete (entire) source sentence. This is indicated by the guideline referring only to the beginning of the quote and by example [b].

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  • Thanks! Interesting! I have checked a few quotations in my field (humanities) and people don't usually seem to capitalize words that are not capitalized in the original even if the quotation is a complete sentence. For instance: “As Bolinger put it, ‘any word which a language permits to survive must make its semantic contribution’ (1977, p. ix).” --> The quotation is a grammatically complete sentence but in the original "any" is not capitalized/the beginning of a sentence, so the author didn't capitalize it in his quote either.
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 17:15
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    @IbnZubeira Yes, that makes sense since Turabian is just describing her style guidelines and I assume many authors do not adhere to here guidelines or follow different guidelines. Given the content of the quote, I assume the author is discussing the use of language and so would be wise to adhere very closely to the sources it quotes as such syntactic differences may be meaningful to the discussion. Commented May 2, 2023 at 17:21
  • But the quote in [c] comprises a complete sentence: << the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change. >> Yet Turabian sanctions the small 't'. Commented May 2, 2023 at 18:17
  • @EdwinAshworth That is complete on its own but in context is part of the complete sentence "Fernandez claims that the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.” Therefore, in context, it is an independent clause within a complete sentence. Commented May 2, 2023 at 19:09
  • How can << [b] Fernandez claims, “The Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change.” >> be given a different analysis? I'd say the Turabian explanation needs to be clearer. Commented May 3, 2023 at 13:20
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In Turabian and Chicago, you generally capitalize the first letter of quotes that function as complete sentences [as you've quoted them, not necessarily as they appear in the original] and are not part of the syntax of the sentence.

I include Chicago because Kate L. Turabian's A Manual for Writers 9th edition is based on The Chicago Manual of Style 17th edition, as the preface to Turabian acknowledges. Thus I will cross-reference what both guides say.

The "Complete Sentence" Is What You Excerpt, Not the Original

Turabian acknowledges implicitly that sometimes what you quote will function as a complete sentence in your text even if it is not the whole sentence in the original source. When Turabian carves out an exception for literary studies, she explains:

In literary studies and other fields concerned with close analysis of texts, indicate any change in capitalization by putting the altered letter in brackets. (For the use of ellipsis dots in literary studies, see 25.3.2.3.)

... [T]he Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change," argues Fernandez.

Fernandez points out that "[a]s a result of these factors, the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change." (p. 365)

In other words, the full original sentence is this: "As a result of these factors, the Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change." In the examples you quote, even though [b] only uses part of the sentence, the first letter is capitalized because the resulting excerpt (not the original) is a complete sentence.

Chicago 13.19 reaffirms focusing on the status of the result (not the original) with a quote that began midsentence in the original:

On the other hand, for a quotation that is only a part of a sentence in the original but 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 13.20).

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

Is the Quote Introduced Midsentence in Your Writing and Part of the Syntax of Your Writing? Lowercase

Chicago 13.19 expands on this practice:

When a quotation introduced midsentence forms a syntactical part of the sentence (see also 13.15), it begins with a lowercase letter even if the original begins with a capital.

Benjamin Franklin admonishes us to “plough deep while sluggards sleep.”

With another aphorism he reminded his readers that “experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other”—an observation as true today as then.

Is the Quote Not Worked into the Syntax of the Sentence? Uppercase

In Chicago 13.19, the criterion for capitalization is "a more remote syntactic relation to the rest of the sentence," which is usually direct speech but can take another form (see the second example):

When the quotation has a more remote syntactic relation to the rest of the sentence, the initial letter remains capitalized.

As Franklin advised, “Plough deep while sluggards sleep.”

His aphorism “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other” is a cogent warning to people of all ages. (See also 6.41.)

Direct speech preceded by a subject and verb ("Franklin advised," "Fernandez claims") has the first letter capitalized. In addition, 6.41, "Commas with quoted or italicized titles and expressions," gives examples showing that expressions cited as such (a motto, a proverb) are capitalized, distinct from most quoted material:

The motto “All for one and one for all” appears over the door.

Tom’s favorite proverb, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” proved wrong.

Chicago chapter 13 is all about quotations and dialogue, so if there are further details you want answered, you'll most likely find them there.

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  • Thank you so much! I think I get it now. So apart from the points mentioned in 6.41, usually only direct speech warrants capitalisation of a grammatically intact sentence? And direct speech would involve some sort of reporting verb and a comma? Is my understanding correct?
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 23:56
  • If I may ask one more question? This might seem obvious to people here, but I should keep in mind that these are just conventions and not absolute rules? Because I have seen academic writing that doesn't seem to follow this. For instance: “As Bolinger put it, ‘any word which a language permits to survive must make its semantic contribution’ (1977, p. ix).” Or: “Nevertheless, says Guicciardini, ‘when you are in difficult straits or involved in troublesome affairs, procrastinate, and wait as long as you can. For often time will enlighten or free you’”.
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 23:56
  • A final pair of questions: 1)Is there a set list of reporting verbs? For example, is 'to write' considered a reporting verb? 2) That would mean that even when I have a sentence like "Indeed, 'the government has fallen'", I would not need to capitalize 'the' even though though the quoted sentence is an independent clause because no direct speech is used here?
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 0:21
  • @IbnZubeira To your first question, not every academic writer or publication follows Turabian/Chicago. They may follow MLA, APA, IEEE, AMA, or an in-house style determined by a journal's editor. To the second question, you can find lists of reporting verbs online, but there is not one set list. These lists are usually aids, not absolute rules. Third, yes, though the question with that sentence isn't whether direct speech is used but whether the quote is part of the syntax of the larger sentence. Commented May 3, 2023 at 12:49
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    I learned in school to use square brackets if changing capitalization, e.g. "[T]he Mexican people were bound to benefit from the change." I don't know the precise source of that usage, but I like that it explicitly marks the change from the original text
    – Stephen R
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 17:24
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As a publishing academic, I do what seems to me sensible as I have never heard of Turabian and, regardless of the merits of her advice, I am not aware of any accepted usage.

What I think makes sense is to retain the lower case, but precede it by an ellipsis, e.g.

“…the Mexican people were bound to benefit from this change.”

This also has the virtue of making it clear that the quotation is only partial.

Footnote
@EdwinAshworth, in a comment regarding “The usual way this answer is given here”, includes “…find a style guide that recommends your preferred style choice”. Rather like Satan searching the scriptures, I found this in a blog by Michael Faraday in 'Business Writing':

Not all quotations within a sentence are capitalized, however. When the quote is a sentence fragment or perhaps a part of a bigger quote, capitalization is unnecessary. Note the lack of capitalization in the quote below:

Steve Jobs advocated for fully utilizing the limited time given to each person on this planet, warning against wasting it by “…living someone else’s life.”

So, clearly, it must be the business.

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  • Yes; I've suggested this, but only in a 'comment' as I wasn't confident of finding authoritative support. The question about signalling incomplete quotations has been covered here before. Commented May 2, 2023 at 18:26
  • @EdwinAshworth I’m not surprised it’s come up before. To come clean, in science publishing we don’t do much quoting, so my position is more a result of citing papers as support to posts on SE Biology. But I hate this appeal to “authority”, which on this list generally turns out to be the Chicago style guide. If what I think makes sense is riddled with holes, someone here will put his finger in them. Otherwise, I’ll do what I always told my students to do…
    – David
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 19:05
  • Thanks for this. In my field (history) we usually do not put ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quotation. But your point then is that we do not have to stick fully to these guidelines? For instance, I have seen that historians usually will not capitalize the beginning of a quotation unless in the original the letter is capitalized too.
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 23:38
  • @IbnZubeira — I think it is misleading to capitalize within quotation marks, when one is only quoting the latter part of a sentence. Hence, regardless of what others do, I would use the solution I have proposed. Writing is about communicating, and academia is about thinking for oneself.
    – David
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 10:32
  • @David Thanks! Yes, of course. I guess I am a bit too focused on what 'rules' might be out there. And yes, I also think it would be somewhat misleading, though in my field I generally don't think capitalization is so decisive.
    – IbnZubeira
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 10:44

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