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MLA Date Format | Dates in the Works Cited & Main Text
Published on July 7, 2021 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on November 15, 2021.
In MLA Works Cited entries, publication dates are presented in day-month-year order. If the name of the month has five or more letters, abbreviate it to the first three.
Sometimes you just list the year (e.g. when citing a book ), but if the source provides a more specific publication date, you should usually include it (e.g. when citing a journal article or web page ). Occasionally you might even list the time of publication in addition to the date (e.g. when citing a timestamped online comment).
- spring 2017
- 5 Mar. 2017
- 5 Mar. 2017, 1:15 p.m.
Table of contents
Abbreviating months, levels of detail in mla dates, when to include an access date, date ranges, approximate or uncertain dates, adding the original publication date, formatting dates in the main text, frequently asked questions about mla citations.
All months with names five or more letters long are abbreviated in Works Cited entries. Abbreviate to the first three letters, followed by a period.
Bear in mind that months are not abbreviated in the main text or the header , though—only in the Works Cited list.
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An MLA Works Cited entry always contains the year of publication, but some source types specify more precise publication dates. For example, journals generally provide a month or season of publication, while newspapers and online articles usually have a specific date. As a general guideline, include the level of detail your source gives.
The level of detail can sometimes vary based on your reasons for citing the source. For example, for an episode of a TV series you’d usually just give the year, but you might give the day and month too if you’re discussing the context in which the episode aired.
The table below indicates the level of detail usually given for each source type. If less detail is available for your source than shown here, just include as much detail as you do have (e.g. just the year for a web page that only lists the year).
For online sources, MLA advises including an access date for
- A source with no publication date listed
- A source that’s continually updated
- A source that may have been deleted since you used it
At the end of the Works Cited entry, write “Accessed” followed by the day, month, and year on which you accessed the source:
But only use access dates with online sources . No access date should be added for, e.g., a printed book without a publication date.
When citing the entirety of a source published over a longer period of time (e.g. a TV series , a book published in several volumes , an event that took place over several days), you’ll have to cite a range of dates rather than just a single date.
Use an en dash (–) with no spaces to specify a range of dates.
Don’t repeat elements that are the same in both dates. For example, if citing a range of dates within one month, don’t repeat the month. In a range consisting only of years, you can omit the first two numbers from the second year if they’re the same as those of the first year.
- 15 Dec. 2019–22 Jan. 2020.
- 19–21 Mar. 2021.
- 27 Apr.–4 May 2018.
If citing a publication that is still ongoing, leave a space after the en dash to indicate this.
Note that date ranges are not needed to cite a single episode in a series, a single volume of a book, or a single issue or article within a journal. They’re only needed when you’re citing the whole longer publication.
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Occasionally, you might only have an approximate or uncertain date for a source. This is sometimes the case with older works, and artworks contained in museums , where the exact year of composition is unknown.
The term “circa” (Latin for “around”) is used for approximate dates, sometimes abbreviated to “c.” Use it in your Works Cited entry when applicable—spelled out, not abbreviated. It may appear with a single year or a range.
Alternatively, a general period such as “late thirteenth century” may be given. Spell out the ordinal number in this case (i.e. “thirteenth,” not “13th”), even if your source doesn’t.
Your source may indicate that the date given is uncertain with a question mark or with qualifiers like “possibly 1819” or “probably 1745.”
In these cases, include a question mark after the year in your Works Cited entry. If a period would usually follow the date, omit it, but retain a comma in addition to the question mark if one would usually appear there.
Classic works are often republished in thousands of different editions . The most important publication date to give is that of the edition you used.
But you might decide in some cases that it’s also useful to give the original publication date. For example, if you’re discussing how a particular writer’s work developed over time, it might be useful to give the original publication date for each text in your Works Cited list.
The original publication date should be added directly after the title of the source it refers to, while the publication date of the edition you used appears later in the usual position of the date element.
In the main text, dates are presented differently. The main difference is that you shouldn’t abbreviate the names of months in the main text. This is done in the Works Cited list to save space, but it’s not appropriate elsewhere.
Additionally, dates don’t have to be presented in day-month-year order in the main text. You can use one of two formats: Month Day, Year, or Day Month Year . Choose one or the other and use it consistently.
- Mary Shelley was born on August 30, 1797, and died on February 1, 1851 .
- Mary Shelley was born on 30 August 1797 and died on 1 February 1851 .
Days and years should always be written as numerals . You can refer to decades either with numerals or spelled out . Use one style or the other consistently.
- Blade Runner is one of the most influential films of the 1980s .
- Blade Runner is one of the most influential films of the eighties .
In your MLA Works Cited list , dates are always written in day-month-year order, with the month abbreviated if it’s five or more letters long, e.g. 5 Mar. 2018.
In the main text, you’re free to use either day-month-year or month-day-year order, as long as you use one or the other consistently. Don’t abbreviate months in the main text, and use numerals for dates, e.g. 5 March 2018 or March 5, 2018.
In an MLA Works Cited list , the names of months with five or more letters are abbreviated to the first three letters, followed by a period. For example, abbreviate Feb., Mar., Apr., but not June, July.
In the main text, month names should never be abbreviated.
The level of detail you provide in a publication date in your Works Cited list depends on the type of source and the information available. Generally, follow the lead of the source—if it gives the full date, give the full date; if it gives just the year, so should you.
Books usually list the year, whereas web pages tend to give a full date. For journal articles , give the year, month and year, or season and year, depending on what information is available. Check our citation examples if you’re unsure about a particular source type.
When an online source (e.g. web page , blog post) doesn’t list a publication date , you should instead list an access date .
Unlike a publication date, this appears at the end of your MLA Works Cited entry, after the URL, e.g. “A Complete Guide to MLA Style.” Scribbr , www.scribbr.com/category/mla/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021 .
For offline sources with no publication date shown, don’t use an access date—just leave out the date.
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Caulfield, J. (2021, November 15). MLA Date Format | Dates in the Works Cited & Main Text. Scribbr. Retrieved August 30, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/mla/dates/
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MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics
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MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (9 th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.
Guidelines for referring to the works of others in your text using MLA style are covered throughout the MLA Handbook and in chapter 7 of the MLA Style Manual . Both books provide extensive examples, so it's a good idea to consult them if you want to become even more familiar with MLA guidelines or if you have a particular reference question.
Basic in-text citation rules
In MLA Style, referring to the works of others in your text is done using parenthetical citations . This method involves providing relevant source information in parentheses whenever a sentence uses a quotation or paraphrase. Usually, the simplest way to do this is to put all of the source information in parentheses at the end of the sentence (i.e., just before the period). However, as the examples below will illustrate, there are situations where it makes sense to put the parenthetical elsewhere in the sentence, or even to leave information out.
- The source information required in a parenthetical citation depends (1) upon the source medium (e.g. print, web, DVD) and (2) upon the source’s entry on the Works Cited page.
- Any source information that you provide in-text must correspond to the source information on the Works Cited page. More specifically, whatever signal word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text must be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry on the Works Cited page.
In-text citations: Author-page style
MLA format follows the author-page method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear on your Works Cited page. The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, not in the text of your sentence. For example:
Both citations in the examples above, (263) and (Wordsworth 263), tell readers that the information in the sentence can be located on page 263 of a work by an author named Wordsworth. If readers want more information about this source, they can turn to the Works Cited page, where, under the name of Wordsworth, they would find the following information:
Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads . Oxford UP, 1967.
In-text citations for print sources with known author
For print sources like books, magazines, scholarly journal articles, and newspapers, provide a signal word or phrase (usually the author’s last name) and a page number. If you provide the signal word/phrase in the sentence, you do not need to include it in the parenthetical citation.
These examples must correspond to an entry that begins with Burke, which will be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of an entry on the Works Cited page:
Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method . University of California Press, 1966.
In-text citations for print sources by a corporate author
When a source has a corporate author, it is acceptable to use the name of the corporation followed by the page number for the in-text citation. You should also use abbreviations (e.g., nat'l for national) where appropriate, so as to avoid interrupting the flow of reading with overly long parenthetical citations.
In-text citations for sources with non-standard labeling systems
If a source uses a labeling or numbering system other than page numbers, such as a script or poetry, precede the citation with said label. When citing a poem, for instance, the parenthetical would begin with the word “line”, and then the line number or range. For example, the examination of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” would be cited as such:
The speaker makes an ardent call for the exploration of the connection between the violence of nature and the divinity of creation. “In what distant deeps or skies. / Burnt the fire of thine eyes," they ask in reference to the tiger as they attempt to reconcile their intimidation with their relationship to creationism (lines 5-6).
Longer labels, such as chapters (ch.) and scenes (sc.), should be abbreviated.
In-text citations for print sources with no known author
When a source has no known author, use a shortened title of the work instead of an author name, following these guidelines.
Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites) and provide a page number if it is available.
Titles longer than a standard noun phrase should be shortened into a noun phrase by excluding articles. For example, To the Lighthouse would be shortened to Lighthouse .
If the title cannot be easily shortened into a noun phrase, the title should be cut after the first clause, phrase, or punctuation:
In this example, since the reader does not know the author of the article, an abbreviated title appears in the parenthetical citation, and the full title of the article appears first at the left-hand margin of its respective entry on the Works Cited page. Thus, the writer includes the title in quotation marks as the signal phrase in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader directly to the source on the Works Cited page. The Works Cited entry appears as follows:
"The Impact of Global Warming in North America." Global Warming: Early Signs . 1999. www.climatehotmap.org/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2009.
If the title of the work begins with a quotation mark, such as a title that refers to another work, that quote or quoted title can be used as the shortened title. The single quotation marks must be included in the parenthetical, rather than the double quotation.
Parenthetical citations and Works Cited pages, used in conjunction, allow readers to know which sources you consulted in writing your essay, so that they can either verify your interpretation of the sources or use them in their own scholarly work.
Author-page citation for classic and literary works with multiple editions
Page numbers are always required, but additional citation information can help literary scholars, who may have a different edition of a classic work, like Marx and Engels's The Communist Manifesto . In such cases, give the page number of your edition (making sure the edition is listed in your Works Cited page, of course) followed by a semicolon, and then the appropriate abbreviations for volume (vol.), book (bk.), part (pt.), chapter (ch.), section (sec.), or paragraph (par.). For example:
Author-page citation for works in an anthology, periodical, or collection
When you cite a work that appears inside a larger source (for instance, an article in a periodical or an essay in a collection), cite the author of the internal source (i.e., the article or essay). For example, to cite Albert Einstein's article "A Brief Outline of the Theory of Relativity," which was published in Nature in 1921, you might write something like this:
See also our page on documenting periodicals in the Works Cited .
Citing authors with same last names
Sometimes more information is necessary to identify the source from which a quotation is taken. For instance, if two or more authors have the same last name, provide both authors' first initials (or even the authors' full name if different authors share initials) in your citation. For example:
Citing a work by multiple authors
For a source with two authors, list the authors’ last names in the text or in the parenthetical citation:
Corresponding Works Cited entry:
Best, David, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations , vol. 108, no. 1, Fall 2009, pp. 1-21. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1
For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al.
Franck, Caroline, et al. “Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine , vol. 45, no. 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 327-333.
Citing multiple works by the same author
If you cite more than one work by an author, include a shortened title for the particular work from which you are quoting to distinguish it from the others. Put short titles of books in italics and short titles of articles in quotation marks.
Citing two articles by the same author :
Citing two books by the same author :
Additionally, if the author's name is not mentioned in the sentence, format your citation with the author's name followed by a comma, followed by a shortened title of the work, and, when appropriate, the page number(s):
Citing multivolume works
If you cite from different volumes of a multivolume work, always include the volume number followed by a colon. Put a space after the colon, then provide the page number(s). (If you only cite from one volume, provide only the page number in parentheses.)
Citing the Bible
In your first parenthetical citation, you want to make clear which Bible you're using (and underline or italicize the title), as each version varies in its translation, followed by book (do not italicize or underline), chapter, and verse. For example:
If future references employ the same edition of the Bible you’re using, list only the book, chapter, and verse in the parenthetical citation:
John of Patmos echoes this passage when describing his vision (Rev. 4.6-8).
Citing indirect sources
Sometimes you may have to use an indirect source. An indirect source is a source cited within another source. For such indirect quotations, use "qtd. in" to indicate the source you actually consulted. For example:
Note that, in most cases, a responsible researcher will attempt to find the original source, rather than citing an indirect source.
Citing transcripts, plays, or screenplays
Sources that take the form of a dialogue involving two or more participants have special guidelines for their quotation and citation. Each line of dialogue should begin with the speaker's name written in all capitals and indented half an inch. A period follows the name (e.g., JAMES.) . After the period, write the dialogue. Each successive line after the first should receive an additional indentation. When another person begins speaking, start a new line with that person's name indented only half an inch. Repeat this pattern each time the speaker changes. You can include stage directions in the quote if they appear in the original source.
Conclude with a parenthetical that explains where to find the excerpt in the source. Usually, the author and title of the source can be given in a signal phrase before quoting the excerpt, so the concluding parenthetical will often just contain location information like page numbers or act/scene indicators.
Here is an example from O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.
WILLIE. (Pleadingly) Give me a drink, Rocky. Harry said it was all right. God, I need a drink.
ROCKY. Den grab it. It's right under your nose.
WILLIE. (Avidly) Thanks. (He takes the bottle with both twitching hands and tilts it to his lips and gulps down the whiskey in big swallows.) (1.1)
Citing non-print or sources from the Internet
With more and more scholarly work published on the Internet, you may have to cite sources you found in digital environments. While many sources on the Internet should not be used for scholarly work (reference the OWL's Evaluating Sources of Information resource), some Web sources are perfectly acceptable for research. When creating in-text citations for electronic, film, or Internet sources, remember that your citation must reference the source on your Works Cited page.
Sometimes writers are confused with how to craft parenthetical citations for electronic sources because of the absence of page numbers. However, these sorts of entries often do not require a page number in the parenthetical citation. For electronic and Internet sources, follow the following guidelines:
- Include in the text the first item that appears in the Work Cited entry that corresponds to the citation (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name).
- Do not provide paragraph numbers or page numbers based on your Web browser’s print preview function.
- Unless you must list the Web site name in the signal phrase in order to get the reader to the appropriate entry, do not include URLs in-text. Only provide partial URLs such as when the name of the site includes, for example, a domain name, like CNN.com or Forbes.com, as opposed to writing out http://www.cnn.com or http://www.forbes.com.
Miscellaneous non-print sources
Two types of non-print sources you may encounter are films and lectures/presentations:
In the two examples above “Herzog” (a film’s director) and “Yates” (a presentor) lead the reader to the first item in each citation’s respective entry on the Works Cited page:
Herzog, Werner, dir. Fitzcarraldo . Perf. Klaus Kinski. Filmverlag der Autoren, 1982.
Yates, Jane. "Invention in Rhetoric and Composition." Gaps Addressed: Future Work in Rhetoric and Composition, CCCC, Palmer House Hilton, 2002. Address.
Electronic sources may include web pages and online news or magazine articles:
In the first example (an online magazine article), the writer has chosen not to include the author name in-text; however, two entries from the same author appear in the Works Cited. Thus, the writer includes both the author’s last name and the article title in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader to the appropriate entry on the Works Cited page (see below).
In the second example (a web page), a parenthetical citation is not necessary because the page does not list an author, and the title of the article, “MLA Formatting and Style Guide,” is used as a signal phrase within the sentence. If the title of the article was not named in the sentence, an abbreviated version would appear in a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence. Both corresponding Works Cited entries are as follows:
Taylor, Rumsey. "Fitzcarraldo." Slant , 13 Jun. 2003, www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/fitzcarraldo/. Accessed 29 Sep. 2009.
"MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL , 2 Aug. 2016, owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/. Accessed 2 April 2018.
To cite multiple sources in the same parenthetical reference, separate the citations by a semi-colon:
Time-based media sources
When creating in-text citations for media that has a runtime, such as a movie or podcast, include the range of hours, minutes and seconds you plan to reference. For example: (00:02:15-00:02:35).
When a citation is not needed
Common sense and ethics should determine your need for documenting sources. You do not need to give sources for familiar proverbs, well-known quotations, or common knowledge (For example, it is expected that U.S. citizens know that George Washington was the first President.). Remember that citing sources is a rhetorical task, and, as such, can vary based on your audience. If you’re writing for an expert audience of a scholarly journal, for example, you may need to deal with expectations of what constitutes “common knowledge” that differ from common norms.
The MLA Handbook describes how to cite many different kinds of authors and content creators. However, you may occasionally encounter a source or author category that the handbook does not describe, making the best way to proceed can be unclear.
In these cases, it's typically acceptable to apply the general principles of MLA citation to the new kind of source in a way that's consistent and sensible. A good way to do this is to simply use the standard MLA directions for a type of source that resembles the source you want to cite.
You may also want to investigate whether a third-party organization has provided directions for how to cite this kind of source. For example, Norquest College provides guidelines for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers —an author category that does not appear in the MLA Handbook . In cases like this, however, it's a good idea to ask your instructor or supervisor whether using third-party citation guidelines might present problems.
When should I include an access date for an online work?
Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook . For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook .
The eighth edition of the MLA Handbook does not require that you include a date of access—the date on which you consulted a work—when you cite an online work from a reliable, stable source. However, you may include an access date as an optional element if it will be useful to others. (See the MLA Handbook , eighth edition, pp. 50–53, for more on optional elements.)
Including an access date for an online work may be especially useful if the work lacks a publication date or if you suspect that the work may be altered or removed, which is more common with informal or self-published works. Place the access date at the end of the entry:
“Orhan Pamuk: Un écrivain turc à succès.” Orhan Pamuk Site , İletişm Publishing, orhanpamuk.net/book.aspx?id=10&lng=eng. Accessed 25 Oct. 2015.