Language Mistakes in Quotes – Detection & Correction

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. Quoting source material properly is essential in academic writing, but every so often, the original text may contain language mistakes. When a source contains grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, it is imperative to preserve the original text exactly as it is, even the errors. This article delves into intuitively detecting and properly correcting language mistakes in quotes.

Language Mistakes in Quotes – In a Nutshell

  • Quoting useful, relevant sources provides valuable evidence to support a point or argument.
  • 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

Language mistakes in quotes are any grammatical errors, typos, or syntax errors that are identified in the original text being quoted. These mistakes are generally kept in the quotation to preserve the authenticity of the original source. The term “[sic]” is commonly placed instantly after the error in the quoted text to signal that the mistake was already in the original source rather than made by the current author. This may indicate authenticity and credibility, as it allows the reader to understand that the author quoting the text is aware of the apparent error, and it is not a mistake in their writing.

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.”
  • It is usually enclosed in square brackets to set it apart
  • It indicates that has made an obvious spelling or grammar mistake.
  • Use sic only if the mistake was in the original source material.
  • Other techniques are possible to document language mistakes in quotes.
  • Style recommendations depend on the most appropriate options for any given circumstance.
  • There are differences of using ‘[sic]’ in APA style and Chicago styles.

Using [sic] in APA style

According to section 8.29 of the APA publication manual (7th edition), “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 style views “sic” usage as appropriate in scholarly writing, but possibly impolite or condescending 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 vs. 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 aggressive. 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.