Frequently, I have situations where I am in need of the ability to quote an individual who has written something verbatim that has some type of grammatical error. Although I would like to write it down verbatim, I do not want the spirit of the comment lost to the reader on the basis of an obvious grammatical error or short form.

Here's an example:

"lking forward to seeing more gbl etfs"

Now, I know that this individual is saying "I'm looking forward to seeing more global exchange traded funds". However, this may not be clear to my reader without changing the text to reflect it.

I've seen in newspapers, where they use some nomenclature "(...)","[x]" or rules for showing where they have changed a quotation in order to fit or clarify the quotation (most of the time, in context).

My question is, where can I find these rules? What are they called?

Clarifying my Question:

I'm looking for rules for making the changes. I guess you would call it syntax. For example, how do you use [], (), ..., within a quotation to identify that a change has been made.

  • 1
    The generally safe practice is to include the editor's version in parentheses, with an appropriate comment, or at least "-Ed") after quoting verbatim. "lking forward to seeing more gbl etfs" (I'm looking forward to seeing more global exchange traded funds. -Ed.)
    – Kris
    Oct 11, 2012 at 4:08
  • @Kris I like this convention, but I've never seen it before. Do you have any examples? Oct 11, 2012 at 5:24
  • I cannot cite off-hand though I've seen it used quite a few times, in formal writing and in news reporting.
    – Kris
    Oct 11, 2012 at 5:33
  • I've seen it often, but it seems very clunky to me. I don't disagree that it is conventional, but if I were doing this, in the very least I would not abbreviate "editor". I think I would give the "translation" into complete English in parentheses and outside of quotation marks, and leave it at that. If I needed to explicitly state that it's an editor's note, I'd put that fact in a footnote. It always seemed horribly ugly to me to sign something "-Ed." in the middle of a parenthetical note. This is based only on aesthetics, which I always treat more highly than style guides when possible.
    – iconoclast
    Oct 30, 2012 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


In Section 13.7, "Permissible changes to punctuation, capitalization, and spelling," the Chicago Manual of Style says:

Although in a direct quotation the wording should be reproduced exactly, the following changes are generally permissible to make a passage fit into the syntax and typography of the surrounding text.


Obvious typographic errors may be corrected silently (without comment or sic; see 13.59), unless the passage quoted is from an older work or a manuscript source where idiosyncrasies of spelling are generally preserved. If spelling and punctuation are modernized or altered for clarity, readers must be so informed in a note, in a preface, or elsewhere.

The sort of correction that you're proposing is covered by this guideline. For a more extensive paraphrase, it would probably be best to quote the person indirectly.

This type of editing is generally referred to as formatting a quotation; the MLA Style Guide has a number of guidelines for formatting quotations to indicate elided or added text.

  • 1
    +1 Covered certainly, but by exclusion: "lking", "gbl", and "etfs" are not misspellings or archaic spellings; they are abbreviations. As such, the advice you cite requires them to be reproduced verbatim.
    – MetaEd
    Oct 11, 2012 at 2:31
  • 1
    @MετάEd, I disagree. Reproducing these words verbatim does not serve your audience very well. I would consider them misspellings, as much textese is.
    – JLG
    Oct 11, 2012 at 3:44
  • @MετάEd I'd say that they're more shorthand than actual abbreviations; they look like something you'd get if you conducted an interview with someone via text messaging.
    – Gnawme
    Oct 11, 2012 at 3:47
  • @JLG I am skeptical that Chicago Manual means an abbreviation, no matter how unfortunate, to be considered a typographic error.
    – MetaEd
    Oct 11, 2012 at 3:47
  • 1
    I extended my answer to address your expanded question.
    – Gnawme
    Oct 11, 2012 at 6:01

These matters are usually settled by a publisher’s house style. Some will have you write “[sic]” everywhere, some will have you annotate with parentheses, and some will let you freely edit, so long as you preserve the “spirit” of the quote. There are questions on this site about “[sic]” and how to use it correctly.

In the particular case you gave, all you’re doing is expanding abbreviations, so you are, in a sense, still quoting verbatim:

He said, “I’m looking forward to seeing more global exchange-traded funds”.

Many publications include a disclaimer that interviews, quotations, &c. may be edited for length, content, and other pressures of publishing. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can always just rephrase to make the quotation implicit:

He said he’s looking forward to seeing more global exchange-traded funds.

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