The two word families "quote", "to quote" and "citation", "to cite" seem to be synonyms to me as a German native speaker, if we look at their meaning to reproduce information somebody else published.

Are they really? Or is there a slight difference in their meaning? If yes, when would I use one and when should I chose the other?

As the problem I have seems to be unclear for people who don't speak German: In German we only have one word for both of them! We say "zitieren" if we say/write/... something that was originally published by someone else and reproduce it word by word, as well as with giving a reference. From what I already learned, those two aspects are the main differences, but my language does not make any difference here. I hope this helps you to understand that it is not really possible for a German native speaker to easily distinguish those two words with a simple dictionary.

  • 2
    To quote is to repeat someone else's words verbatim, whether or not you attribute their words to them. To cite is to repeat information presented by someone else, not necessarily verbatim, and to attribute the information to that person.
    – talrnu
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 19:53
  • I disagree with the close votes, because looking "cite" and "quote" up in a dictionary (e.g. dict.leo.org/ende) both words give me the German translation "zitieren" and a few other entirely different meanings that have nothing to do with reproducing information and therefore don't help in this case. I was not able to find any distinction between those words according to word-by-word reproduction or giving the source. Please consider reopening this question! Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 11:58
  • @ByteCommander - for a native German speaker this is a tough one as we have only one word for two different concepts of reproducing information. I doubt that this question will be re-opened...
    – Stephie
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 21:06
  • I voted to reopen, although I think it would be helpful to include the definitions that you looked at and explain from your perspective why they seem very similar.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 16:11
  • 1
    I agree that "quote" and "cite" are often used as synonyms in English, but that is sloppy usage. When I write "quote," I mean to give someone else's words verbatim. When I write "cite," I am giving a reference where information can be found or confirmed. I believe many careful writers make that distinction. I have forgotten almost all my German, but the distinction can almost certainly be made in German by using a modifier (adjective or adverb as the case may be). A quotation gives the exact words of someone. A citation gives a reference. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 18:14

4 Answers 4


The meanings can overlap.

To "quote" is to repeat someone else's words, in a way that indicates that you are repeating someone else's words, as opposed to incorporating them into your own work without any explicit identification that they are copied. (This could be plagiarism or it could be an allusion, but that's a different issue.)

To "cite" is to reference some other work. You may be quoting it word-for-word or you may simply be referring to it. "Cite" can be used to mean "quote", but it would rarely be used if you gave a quote without a reference, and it can be used when you give a reference without a quote.

Examples: "As Winston Churchill said, 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.'" This is unquestionably a quote. It might be called a citation.

"According to Barclay's Famous Quotations, Winston Churchill once said, 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." This is both a quote and a citation.

"In his History of Britain, Charles Stover says that Churchill called on the British people to be willing to make sacrifices." This is a citation but not a quote. It is not a quote because we are not repeating any exact words.

And to be complete: If I wrote a novel, and at some point in the novel I write, "General Framnitz urged his soldiers to fight on. 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and the billions of dollars of loot that we will get when we take the city'", that would be an allusion and not a quote, because I am not making any clear reference to Mr Churchill, and because I'm adapting the quote for my own purposes.

A citation can be informal like my examples here, "As he said in ...", or it could be a more formal reference, like "See Stover, Charles. History of Britain. Fwacbar Publishing, 1964, pp 85-86" (The exact formatting varying depending on what style guide you're using, if any.)

  • So both quote and citation might mean word-by-word reproduction of something someone said, whereas it should only be called citation if only the content is reproduced in other words, but still with giving a reference to the person who said it? Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 14:38
  • If the content is reproduced in other words, it can be called a citation but not a quote. I think that's a "yes".
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 17:29

The above answers are correct, but it is also important to point out that in academic and professional settings they have a difference with substantial consequences.

In these settings, when we cite someone, or write a citation, we are listing exactly where we got our information from, giving enough detail that someone reading our work would be able to find that source and confirm that the information we claim to have gotten from there is actually there.

So in an academic setting, to quote someone is to exactly reproduce their words, while to cite them is to acklnowledge them as the source of your information. Quoting someone without citing them is plagiarism and can have significant negative consequences.

  • 1
    I would also add that citations are necessary even without direct quotation. Paraphrasing and other summary research also requires citation.
    – ryanyuyu
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 19:01

The nouns quote and citation/the verbs quote and cite are synonyms and can be used interchangeably if:

  1. You want to refer to the exact words from a book or the speech or writing of a person such as "He cited/quoted a passage from the President's speech.

  2. You mention something as an example or reason to support your answer such as "He quoted/cited personal reasons for not attending the party.

However, these words are also used in different senses where they are not interchangeable. For examples:

  1. The verb cite is also used to officially praise someone, especially in the armed forces such as "He was cited for his bravery.

  2. The verb quote is also used to give the price for doing something such as the contractor has quoted $ 2000 for painting the house.

If you look up these words in a dictionary, you will find more meanings in which the words are used.

  • 2
    I'm not sure I agree that these words are synonyms. "I can quote something without citing it," and I can cite something without quoting (Lincoln 1864). Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 19:18
  • Chris Bouchard, Thanks for your comments. My answer is based on what modern dictionaries say.
    – Khan
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 3:25

To quote is to reproduce someone else's words exactly. The noun quotation means something a piece of text that was quoted. Technically, the noun quote refers to punctuation marks ("", '') placed around a quotation, but most people use quote and quotation as synonyms.

To cite is to indicate a source for a fact or quotation. In academic or formal settings, there is often a specific format for citing, but it really just means to give a source.

The reason they seem similar is that most quotations are accompanied by a citation, because to reproduce someone else's words without including a source is plagiarism. However, it is possible to cite something that is not a quotation. For example:

According to Nicolaus Copernicus, the Earth orbits the Sun.

Here, "According to Nicolaus Copernicus" is a citation. In an academic paper, it might appear as:

The Earth orbits the Sun. (Copernicus, 1543)

  • Presentation of the fact or quotation is part of the citation, which is why it can be confused with quotation. For example, you could say "Citing John Doe's essay Trees, trees are made of wood," or if you were quoting the essay you could say "To quote a famous essay about trees, 'The tree is primarily composed of wood.'"
    – talrnu
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 19:57

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