Language Mistakes in Quotes – What You Should Pay Attention To

02.02.23 Improving your academic writing Time to read: 3min

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If you are a student, dealing correctly with language mistakes in quotes will maintain the standard of your written work and reflect in the marks or grades you achieve. Below, we explain language mistakes in quotes and how to cite errors properly.

Language Mistakes in Quotes – In a Nutshell

  • Quoting useful, relevant sources provides valuable evidence to support a point or argument.
  • However, it is essential to attribute the sources correctly and preserve the accuracy of the original wording.
  • To handle language mistakes in quotes, one option is to use the term ‘[sic].’
  • Recommendations vary between different style guides.

Definition: Language mistakes in quotes

Direct quotations must match the original spelling, wording and punctuation, even if incorrect in the source. The only exception is when paraphrasing.
Tip: always double-check against the source to ensure no discrepancies.

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Language mistakes in quotes: Using ‘[sic]’

  • The Latin word, sic means so or thus. We can use it – usually in square brackets to set it apart – to quote someone who has made an obvious spelling or grammar mistake. Use sic only if the mistake was in the source material.
  • Other techniques are possible to document language mistakes in quotes. Style recommendations differ slightly, as do the most appropriate options for any given circumstance.
  • Next, we cover using ‘[sic]’ in APA style and Chicago styles. You will also find examples and other options to deal with language mistakes in quotes.

Using [sic] in APA style

According to section 8.29 of the APA publication manual (7th edition)1, sic immediately follows the error.


Quotation using [sic]: "The guidance is unchanged form [sic] the sixth edition."
Mistake: Wrong word, even though correctly spelled.
Correction: The guidance is unchanged from the sixth edition.
Quotation using [sic]: In their 2020 study, Horvath & Kovacs argued that plagiarism was often a matter of confusion rather than discretion [sic].
Mistake: The last word of the sentence (discretion) does not match a quoted source.
Correction: In their 2020 study ... rather than deception.
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Language mistakes in other styles

Chicago citation style views sic usage as appropriate in scholarly writing but possibly impolite or condescending2 when outside academia. Nonetheless, writers should properly handle language mistakes in quotes to minimize distractions for the reader(s).

Using sic would not befit a typographical mistake, for instance. Also, it may be relevant to maintain antiquated spellings in examples of archaic language.


“Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer…”

‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe (1845).

Similarly, we do not change the differences between British English and American English.


British English: They marvelled at the centre of the theatre.

American English: They marveled at the center of the theater.

If uncertain, double-check before using sic or changing text.


Punctuation and spelling errors are surprisingly common. Classic examples include their versus there, it’s versus its etc.

Outside academic and legal environments, corrections with square brackets appear less aggressive3. Alternatives include rephrasing or editing.

Sic usually appears in square brackets, but some conventions prefer parentheses or an italicized sic. Tip: check locally for preferences between [sic], (sic) and sic.


1 American Psychological Association. “Quotations That Include Errors.” APA Style. August, 2022.

2 The Chicago Manual of Style Online. “Manuscript Preparation, Copyediting, and Proofreading.” Accessed January 16, 2023.

3 Sentence first. “The pedantic, censorious quality of “sic”.” April 29, 2014.