If I'm speaking casually with a friend and quote something I heard, do I need to cite the source of that quote/saying?
"After all, we're no strangers to love."
"Well, when in Rome..."

Does this rule apply to comments on videos, images and message boards (like for YouTube, imgur and online games) as well, or does anything written need to be cited no matter where it's written?

If I fail to cite my quotes in these situations, is it considered plagiarism?

  • It's only considered plagiarism if it is substantial portions of copyrighted text. If you see an article in the New York Times that says the sky is turning green, you can go online or anywhere else and say "Hey, did you hear the sky is turning green?" What you can't do is copy and paste large portions of the article, claiming them as your own. And all direct quotes should be attributed.
    – Robusto
    Dec 2, 2015 at 17:48
  • 1
    Terry Pratchett said “Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.” If I write this in a YouTube comment, do I have to cite him, or is it unnecessary? Dec 2, 2015 at 17:56
  • 1
    I want to know how you're planning on citing. Hold up a little whiteboard with a bibliography and footnotes? Dec 2, 2015 at 20:22
  • 1
    In general, if it's a memorable quote like the Pratchett quote, you SHOULD attribute it. No one's going to do anything about it if you don't. The only exceptions are research papers or journalism.
    – Kitsune
    Dec 3, 2015 at 4:59
  • @LaurenIpsum Like I said before, I was wondering if I need to cite quotes in casual talk and text. No paper, no presentation, no formalities whatsoever. From what Kitsune said, the answer is no. The second part of my question was, if I don't cite a source where I don't have to, is it still technically considered plagiarism? Dec 3, 2015 at 18:32

2 Answers 2


No, no one expects you to cite sources in casual conversation. Nor are you expected to give citations in other casual communications, like a text message or a brief email to a friend.

The only time you need to cite sources is in scholarly writing. It may be considered appropriate in other published writing or media.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I point out the difference between plagiarism and copyright violation.

If you fail to cite your sources in a scholarly paper, that is plagiarism. Plagiarism is an academic violation. If you do it, you can be embarrassed when caught. You might lose your job or find yourself banned from academic publications. But you can't be sued or jailed for it. It's not a crime.

Copyright violation is copying someone else's material without permission. Legally, it is a violation of property rights, like stealing or trespassing. You can be sued for copyright violation.

Note that you could be guilty of plagiarism but not copyright violation, or vice versa.

If you copied fifty pages from someone else's book into your own with no indication that it was not your own work or where it came from, that would be both plagiarism and copyright violation.

If you put it in quotes and gave a proper footnote, it is no longer plagiarism. You have identified your source. But it would still be copyright violation.

If you took fifty pages from someone else's book, reworded it into your own words, and claimed it as your own, that would not be copyright violation. You have not copied someone else's words. But it might well still be plagiarism, as you have copied their information and ideas without giving credit.

  • Thanks for the examples, this information will be carried far. Dec 7, 2015 at 17:35

I assume you mean when you put quotes in writing (otherwise this is such a waste of my time). The rules are different for fiction and nonfiction. The short answer for fiction is no, you don't need to cite, but with nonfiction you do--whether two words or two thousand. Copyright issues are complicated, but fortunately, that's why publishers have lawyers. The comments above are accurate.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.