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Using [sic] Properly

Sic is a Latin term meaning “thus.” It is used to indicate that something incorrectly written is intentionally being left as it was in the original. Sic is usually italicized and always surrounded by brackets to indicate that it was not part of the original. Place [sic] right after the error.

Example: She wrote, “They made there [sic] beds.”

Note: The correct sentence should have been, “They made their beds.”

Why use [sic] at all? Why not just make the correction? If you are quoting material, it is generally expected that you will transcribe it exactly as it appeared in the original.

The word sic is also a command to attack (used especially in commanding a dog). The past tense is either sicced or sicked.

Examples:
Sic ‘em, Fido. Fido sicced (or sicked) the burglar.

Note: With this meaning, the word is not italicized or enclosed in brackets.

Be careful, however, because the word sick, meaning ill, is also a homonym of sic.

Example:
Ananda felt sick with the flu yesterday.

 

Pop Quiz
Place [sic] where needed.

1. I can lend you no more then ten dollars.
2. Who’s turn is it to speak?
3. I don’t know witch way to turn.
4. How did the weather effect your vacation plans?
5. Don’t you think that every one should attend the meeting?

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I can lend you no more then [sic] ten dollars. (than)
2. Who’s [sic] turn is it to speak? (Whose)
3. I don’t know witch [sic] way to turn. (which)
4. How did the weather effect [sic] your vacation plans? (affect)
5. Don’t you think that every one [sic] should attend the meeting? (everyone)

Posted on Sunday, October 7, 2007, at 11:17 pm


56 Comments

56 Responses to “Using [sic] Properly”

  1. Eb Roell says:

    If the same mistake is made several times in a document – in this case eight times in a long paragraph – is it proper to put [sic] behind every one or just behind the first occurrence?

    Thank you.

    • Jane says:

      I don’t know of a rule about this. It would certainly be proper to put [sic] after each quoted error. If the error is not within a quote, you may just correct it entirely in your draft or at least after the first notification of an error in the original.

  2. Cynthia says:

    How do you correct the error. Would it be appropriate as follows: [sic correction]? Do you italicize sic and the corrected word or just sic?
    Thank you.

    • Jane says:

      You do not actually correct the error. You leave the incorrect word and only italicize and put sic in brackets.

      Example: She wrote, “The dogs ate there [sic] food.”

      • steve says:

        You could also make a correction in brackets and leave “sic” out altogether. Example:

        original: The dogs ate there food.

        quotation: The dogs ate [their] food.

        • Jane says:

          In formal writing [sic] alone is preferred. However, informally, you could use your method.

          • ATO says:

            The formal method of correcting is the use of “recte” to indicate the correction. In the example, the error could be noted and corrected as follows: “there [sic] [recte their] food.”

          • Jane says:

            That is interesting. I have not, however, been able to find any major style manuals or grammar sources that recommend the use of “recte” in modern written English. Wikipedia does, however, define the word and acknowledge its use, especially in the field of palaeography (the study of ancient writing). Apparently the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music Style Sheet recommends its use.

          • zar says:

            Scrutinising a poorly-composed document isn’t the most appealing prospect in the first place but the method described above would make traversing one a far more unpleasant, cumbersome experience…

  3. Charles says:

    Your usage is incomplete. Following unquoted text, authors uncommonly may insert sic to indicate ironic use. Quoted or not, sic is used to indicate a surprising or paradoxical word, phrase, or fact that is not a mistake and is to be read as it stands.

    • Jane says:

      Yes, these less common uses are given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. I tend to favor The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook, commonly referenced by writers, which emphasize using sic for misspellings, errors, or peculiar usages.

  4. Haley says:

    How would one correct the following error?

    The message sent to her account read, “Who do you think you are, trader [sic]!”, and was sent three minutes before the message to Joni was sent.

    I have inserted the sic, but am confused as to the exclamatory punctuation of the quoted statement. Should there be a space between the closing bracket and the exclamation mark?

    • Jane says:

      “Who do you think you are, trader [sic]!” is correct, though awkward. Since sic is never mandatory, there are other choices, like saying before or after the quotation, “The reader will note that traitor is spelled wrong.” Or you could stop or interrupt the quote before the misspelling and simply tell readers that the message sent to the account called the person a traitor, but misspelled it.

  5. Richelle says:

    can you use [sic] after an italicized title that has an incorrect word in it?

    • Jane says:

      Yes. Use [sic] to indicate that something incorrectly written is intentionally being left as it was in the original. However, it would be clearer to write [sic] in roman if the text is italicized. For example: Gone Width [sic] the Wind.

  6. David says:

    Not trying to be a Nazi, but a homonym is a word that shares the spelling while a homophone is a word that shares the sound. I get them mixed up all the time so I thought I might post this for the benefit of those like me who may confuse the two.

    • Jane says:

      In the sense of strict linguistics, the definition of homonym is “one of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning.” True homonyms are both homographs (spelled alike but different in meaning or pronunciation) and homophones (pronounced alike but different in meaning or spelling). The word homonym is often used, as we did in our blog, to refer to words that are either homographs or homophones. Dictionary.com says, “The more familiar word homonym, heard in classrooms from early grades on, has become an all-inclusive term that describes not only words that are both homophonic and homographic, but words that are either one or the other. In common parlance, then, words that sound alike, look alike, or both, can be called homonyms.”

      One of the definitions of homonym in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is “a homophone.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines homonym as “One of two or more words that have the same sound and often the same spelling but differ in meaning.”

  7. Gay says:

    If a quoted sentence contains the words “a threaded connection elements” is it proper to put sic after the word “a” or should it go after “elements”?

    • Jane says:

      Sic is usually italicized and placed right after the error. If the word a is an error, it should go after a.

      a [sic] threaded connection elements

      • blast0id says:

        to me, it seems the error in “a threaded connection elements” is a missing word [of]. So would the proper correction be “a threaded connection [sic] elements”?

  8. Rich Brown says:

    I am quoting a passage with an error which is that the author has attempted to use a pair of parenthetic commas but done so incorrectly. The result is two commas in the wrong place. Where should [sic] go?

    • Jane says:

      While commonly placed following a misspelled or wrongly used word in an original document or passage, I have never seen [sic] used to indicate punctuation errors. I fear that wherever you place it, readers will assume that the word immediately preceding [sic] is somehow in error. If the passage you wish to quote sufficiently conveys the message you are needing, I would just leave it alone. If you feel it is necessary to point out the incorrect commas, you might try an explanation within brackets, e.g., [note to readers: the pair of commas . . . ].

  9. Hope says:

    What if a quote has more than one misspelled word, do you use [sic] after each misspelled word?

  10. Paul says:

    I am working on cleaning up an unofficial compilation of regulations.

    If there is an incorrect citation to a section number, e.g., 648.5(x) should be 648.5(y), is it appropriate to use [sic] after the incorrect citation with a footnote that says: “The correct citation is 648.5(y).”?

    • Jane says:

      [Sic] is more commonly used to indicate that something incorrectly written is intentionally being left as it was in the original. “Cleaning up” a document as you describe involves correcting the errors and [sic] would not be used.

  11. Katie says:

    If a sentence is unnecessarily capitalized in a quotation, should [sic] be placed afterwards in that situation, as well?

    • Jane says:

      While commonly placed following a misspelled or wrongly used word in an original document or passage, I have never seen [sic] used to indicate capitalization errors. It is possible that wherever you place it, readers will assume that the word immediately preceding [sic] is spelled incorrectly. If the passage you wish to quote sufficiently conveys the message you are needing, I would just leave it alone.

  12. Katie says:

    Should I use [sic] to show that the grammar of the quote is incorrect?

  13. Di says:

    What about the use of [sic] as an indication of irony (amongst others things) as stated above by Charles. I’m interested in how [sic] is used in those situations. Do you have examples?

    • Jane says:

      As mentioned in January 2012, such other uses are uncommon. You may wish to look at the discussion in Wikipedia, Sic, especially sections 2.4 Wordplay and puns, 2.5 Form of ridicule, and 4.1 Insensitivity.

  14. Beth says:

    I often must include large pertinent sections from contracts in the briefs I type. These contracts are so full of grammatical errors, that I’m embarrassed typing them. Is there a way to put “sic” at the end of each error-filled section?

    • Jane says:

      [Sic] is used after each individual error. Instead, you might consider placing a disclaimer before the contract sections, such as: “The following sections from the ABC contract contain grammatical errors but are included here exactly as they appear in the contract since they do not impact the legal issues at hand,” or something to that effect. However, if there’s any chance the grammatical errors have led to any part of what is being disputed by the parties, you may be better off identifying every error with [sic].

  15. Dara says:

    I am writing a piece using UK english but quoting a lot of American writers – should I keep the American spelling in the quote and put [sic] after each word that uses the American spelling?

    • Jane says:

      Since [sic] is usually used to indicate something that is incorrectly written, and the spelling in the quotes is not incorrectly written in American English, I do not recommend using [sic]. You may want to mention in your article that American spellings may differ from those used in UK English.

      • zar says:

        The piece is in UK English & therefore [sic] can be used to denote the USA English spellings as it is certainly incorrect in the former idiom.

        • The term [sic] indicates that something contains an error in the language it was written in. It should not change based on the reader’s native language. In a global society, it may be necessary to advise the reader that some of the spellings are different, rather than labeling the words as “errors.”

  16. Gordie says:

    “Example: Ananda felt sick with the flu yesterday.”

    Correction:

    “Example: Ananda [sic] felt sick with the flu yesterday.”
    (should be Amanda?)

    Humor:
    “Example: Ananda phelt [sic] with the flu yesterday.”
    or
    “Example: Ananda felt sic [sic] with the flu yesterday.”

  17. Fred says:

    I have seen some texts use [sic] when quoting politically incorrect quotes, such as:

    “If a teacher wanted to set a child extra homework, he [sic] would need the permission of the principal.”

    Is this common? And should I put the [sic] into the above quote in my own writing? I can see both sides of the argument here…

    • Jane says:

      We do not consider this use of [sic] common. There is a similar question in the Q&A section of the Chicago Manual of Style:

      Q. An author has insisted on placing a “sic” after quoting authors who use “him” or “himself” to refer in general to persons rather than using gender-inclusive language. We think this is a bit pretentious and that the quoted material should stand on its own. Do the wise editors have any advice?

      A. The wise editors agree. “Sic” is used to clarify that an error appeared in the original and was not introduced by the writer quoting it. No one reading “him” or “himself” would think it was a typo.

  18. jmhdsn says:

    May [sic] be used to indicate a word has been left out?

    Ex.: “In my opinion has sufficient vision to drive.”

    It should read, “In my opinion he has sufficient vision to drive.” Should I put [sic] in? I have been told not to make any corrections or additions, except for the use of [sic].

    • Jane says:

      It is strange that you have been told not to make any corrections or additions. Most editors would do this: “In my opinion [he] has sufficient vision to drive.”

  19. Claire says:

    If the text the error is in is already italicised, do you unitalicise the [sic] or leave it italicised?

  20. don dillman says:

    Does Chuck do the work himself? “He do.” Bad choice of verb. Watching a recent postgame interview with a famous athlete, I counted twenty such “wrong verb” mistakes. If the reporter would have written a newspaper account of that interview, would [sic] have been appropriate to indicate each of those twenty, or has our society changed to a point where such grammar has become acceptable and somewhat the norm?

    • Jane says:

      The reporter would be obligated to quote the athlete’s exact words. Even if the athlete said “He do,” it would not be necessary to use [sic].

  21. S says:

    If there is a spelling error rather than a grammar error, do you still use [sic]?

  22. K v Subbarao says:

    Excellently explained. Thank you.

  23. C says:

    Whoever made the use of “sic” possible, why did he/she use “sic” when it sounds like “sick”? Or does it evolve from Latin?

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