If it is okay to quote then how should i quote it. For example,

"Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions." - Frank Lloyd Wright (1868-1959)

Now if i don't know the writer, how should i quote it in an essay?

One way that come to my mind is:

As someone once said, "Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions."

Can anybody suggest some other effective ways to do the same.


In these days of googling, it's sloppy to not find the source of a quotation.

That said, there are quotes that have unclear origins, and for those, I guess you have some wiggle room. I think the "as someone once said," formulation is less than ideal because it feels casual and suggests that you just haven't bothered to investigate the origins of the quotation. This may be a time for the passive voice, ie. "It has been said that", or it may be more appropriate to directly acknowledge the ambiguity, with a line like "It is unclear who first said "Yabba Dabba Do," but the words have been repeated often enough to suggest that they express a universal truth."

  • While googling for a quotation can sometimes be effective for quotes which were encountered in published sources, it's less effective for turns of phrase which get exchanged in conversation. Many brilliant turns of phrase get coined spontaneously in conversations, but many others involve perhaps-imperfect recollections or adaptations of something the speaker heard previously. In some cases, a joke that was rough when first created may be refined by people who pass it along. If one hears a great joke, and upon googling finds that what appears to be its original form isn't as funny... – supercat Nov 2 '15 at 18:58
  • ...or as applicable to what one needs to describe, how should one best attribute it? The original person should receive credit for originating the idea, but it would seem unfair to attribute things the person didn't actually say. – supercat Nov 2 '15 at 19:01

I agree with Kate Sherwood, you should be able to attribute most quotes these days by simple fact checking. I also like her suggestions for introducing the text, but you can also consider other, formal methods of citation and attribution.

In those cases where it's ambiguous as to who said it (for example, there's disagreement or debate over the true source), provide a citation using the title of a known work that references the quote, or debates who said it. Likewise, if the author is completely unknown, attribute it to the title of a work that has this saying in it, because obviously you must have used the quote from some existing source. (This would be in accordance with MLA guidelines. See "Citing an Unknown Author" for an example.)

As a last resort, perhaps attribute it to "Anonymous", and provide the estimated year the saying seems to have come into use e.g. (Anonymous, ca. 1400).

If the saying is so common as to be widely known, then the MLA guidelines state that "[y]ou do not need to give sources for familiar proverbs, well-known quotations or common knowledge. Remember, this is a rhetorical choice, based on audience. If you're writing for an expert audience of a scholarly journal, for example, they'll have different expectations of what constitutes common knowledge."

  • 3
    +1. Context is very important here - in plenty of contexts, it's not expected or required that a humorous quote be attributed (mostly in informal, non-academic settings). – Standback Jun 27 '11 at 8:55
  • The context could suggest also to omit the whole "it has been said that" part and just write e.g. «"Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions", and so it was for John Smith, who in all his life took care of xyz without being able to use it...». I appreciate notes if the citation is indeed living part of the sentence and attribution is necessary. – ShinTakezou Jul 2 '11 at 22:07


It's been said that "Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions.".


This idea reminds me of the famous quotation, "Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions.".


With regards to this particular idea, it reminds me of a certain quotation - "Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions." - to which particular person I should attribute this quote to escapes me now.


This idea, that "many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions" is perfect for this particular situation. I would like to give particular attribution to the quote - maybe someone can Google that for me?

  • 1
    Your last two are pretty rough - those had better be for VERY casual settings. – Kate S. Jun 27 '11 at 10:07

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