Verbs of Attribution

by Craig Shrives

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Using Verbs of Attribution in Academic Writing

Verbs of attribution (also known as "reporting verbs" or "lead-in verbs") are used to quote or paraphrase another source. For example:

Quoting Another Source

  • Charles Q Choi argues that "most of Earth's water came from asteroids, not comets."
  • (Quoting someone means using their exact words.)

Paraphrasing Another Source

  • According to Charles Q Choi, it was asteroids, not comets, that filled the Earth's oceans.
  • (Paraphrasing someone means using your own words to offer a close repeat of their words. Do not use quotation marks when paraphrasing.)
So, verbs of attribution are used to cite other people's views, findings, or information.

Citing others is a key skill for students and academics, who are routinely required to evaluate the quality of other people's ideas in order to frame their own. Using the right verb to introduce an idea is the starting point for applying your Critical Thinking skills.
verbs of attribution

Choosing the Right Verb

The verb you choose for the citation is important because it establishes the context for your observation, either via its meaning or its connotation. Such contexts include:
  • agreement, disagreement, support, explanation, argument, suggestion, examination, emphasis, conclusion
Of course, you could use the verbs "agrees," "disagrees," "supports," "explains," "argues," "suggests," "examines," "emphasizes," and "concludes" to establish these contexts, but these are generally verbs that express neutrality, which might be a missed opportunity to fine-tune your readers to your idea. There are other, more-nuanced verbs of attribution that can help express positivity (e.g., accuracy, wide support, confidence) or negativity (e.g., inaccuracy, suspicion, lack of confidence). For example:

Verbs That Express Neutrality

  • accepts, agrees, concludes, describes, expresses, recognizes, reports, thinks

Verbs That Express Positivity

  • accentuates, affirms, clarifies, convinces, discovers, proves, reveals, stresses, supports

Verbs That Express Negativity

  • accuses, alleges, claims, confuses, doubts, hopes, maintains, insinuates, intimates, speculates
The wider context of your paragraph also plays a role in determining whether a verb is neutral, positive, or negative. So, if you disagree with how any of the verbs above have been categorized, that it is fine. It almost certainly means that you're scrutinizing the connotations of these verbs accurately.

Verbs of Attribution by Category

explanation

  • announces, articulates, clarifies, comments, confuses, defines, describes, estimates, explains, identifies, illustrates, implies, informs, instructs, lists, mentions, notes, observes, outlines, points out, presents, remarks, reminds, reports, restates, reveals, shows, states, tells

argument

  • alerts, argues, assures, contends, convinces, emphasizes, exhorts, insists, interprets, proves, reasons, warns

agreement

  • acknowledges, accepts, admits, agrees, applauds, concedes, concurs, confirms, extols, praises, recognizes, supports

disagreement

  • accuses, challenges, contradicts, criticizes, discards, dismisses, disputes, disregards, opposes, questions, reasons, refutes, rejects

supports

  • asserts, believes, claims, declares, expresses, feels, holds, insists, maintains, professes, thinks, upholds

suggestion

  • advises, advocates, alleges, asserts, comments, hypothesizes, intimates, posits, postulates, proposes, recommends, speculates, suggests, theorizes

examination

  • analyzes, appraises, assesses, compares, considers, contrasts, critiques, discusses, evaluates, examines, explores, investigates, scrutinizes

emphasis

  • accentuates, emphasizes, highlights, stresses, underscores

conclusion

  • concludes, discovers, finds, infers, realizes

Using Verbs of Attribution

Choosing the Tense

Verbs are attribution are usually written in the present tense, most commonly in the third person singular. For example:
  • Albert Einstein agrees that...
  • (The verb "to agree" is in the present tense, third person singular.)
Obviously, if you're citing two or more people, you need the third person plural:
  • Albert Einstein and Arthur Patschke agree that...
  • (The verb "to agree" is in the present tense, third person plural.)
Do not stick brainlessly to the present tense! If you're citing past research, for example, use the past tense.
  • After these observations, Albert Einstein and Arthur Patschke concluded that...

Using Quotation Marks with "That"

Remember! Quotation marks are only used to cite the actual words spoken or written. Watch out for the word "that."
  • Albert Einstein claims that "the environment is everything that isn't me." correct tick
  • (Notice the word "that" is not part of the quotation. Einstein did not use the word "that." It is part of your sentence structure, not his.)
  • Albert Einstein claims "that the environment is everything that isn't me." wrong cross
  • (Including "that" in the quotation is wrong.)
Of course, not every quotation is introduced with "that." For example:
  • Albert Einstein claims "The environment is everything that isn't me."
The most common convention when "that" is omitted is to use no punctuation before the quotation and to start the quotation with a capital letter (provided it's a capital letter in the original quotation, of course.)

There is more about this subject in these lessons:

Identifying the Author

If you think it helps your readers, tell them who the author is by using an appositive offset with commas.
  • Charles Q Choi, an American science reporter for the New York Times, argues that "most of Earth's water came from asteroids, not comets."

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See Also

List of reporting verbs in academic writing Using square brackets to edit a quotation. Using ellipsis (...) to edit a quotation.

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