GrammarPhile Blog

When and How to Use [sic]

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Aug 30, 2019 7:30:00 AM

aggressive dog?Let’s be honest. Not many of us know exactly what [sic] means, or how to write it and use it correctly. Do we write sic, (sic), or [sic]? And where exactly do we put [sic] in a sentence or excerpt? Are there multiple meanings of sic or multiple uses for [sic]?

If we do know how to use [sic], some might even argue that using it can make us look a little pompous. Or they might laugh off its use as unnecessary or extraneous. Check out these comments about [sic], published by The Guardian.

Well, here’s most of what you need to know about [sic].

What Does [sic] Mean or Indicate?

According to the Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary, [sic] as an adverb is defined as intentionally so written — used after a printed word or passage to indicate that it is intended exactly as printed or to indicate that it exactly reproduces an original. As a verb, it means chase or attack, or to incite or urge to an attack, pursuit, or harassment. In yet its third form it is a Scottish variant of such.

In its adverb form, sic can be written in italics or included in parentheses or brackets when it’s used, although including sic inside brackets is the most common option. But sic is not included in parentheses or brackets when it’s used as a verb or instead of other words like “thus” or “such.”

Most often we see [sic] used in quoted text, next to a typo or mistake made by an original author. For example, a researcher might want to quote text from a study that has a grammatical error in it, and will use [sic] to indicate that the error was not his or her own: “This anthropological study relies on data collected over the past decade and does not include more historical data in it’s [sic] findings. ”

The actor John Wilkes Booth famously yelled, “Sic temper tyrannis!” after shooting Abraham Lincoln, revealing another way sic can and is used. The Latin phrase translates to “Thus always to tyrants!” in English. Of course, individuals don’t always speak in Latin phrases in the modern world, but they do still sometimes use “sic” instead of “thus” or “such.”

People also use sic as a verb, especially when encouraging a dog to attack. For example, it’s not too uncommon to hear a phrase like “Rufus, sic him!” And Baylor University sports fans know the popular school charge “Sic ’em, Bears!”

When to Use [sic]

Journalists often use [sic] when quoting text from other stories or resources that have typos in them. Nowadays, it’s especially common for them to use [sic] when quoting Tweets and comments on Facebook posts in their articles.

Also, [sic] should be used when writing academic papers and quoting text from original documents. Typos and grammatical errors are especially important to identify in academic writing when such typos or errors call into question the integrity or meaning of certain research findings or conclusions.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are and can be different spellings for words and terms, according to different time periods, cultures, languages, etc. For example, words in British English are often spelled differently than they are in American English (e.g., colour, endeavour). So, if you do use [sic], make sure that it’s necessary.

Overall, many writers, editors, and readers can also agree that it’s important not to be pedantic or petty when using [sic]. This post published by Columbia Journalism Review explains advice from Garner’s Modern American Usage:

“Using [sic], though, can come off as snarky, giving a sense of ‘we know better,’ at the expense of the original author. If President Obama sent an email discussing a serious topic, and misspelled “trial” as “trail,” putting [sic] in the text points out his mistake and distracts from the original message.

Sometimes you do want to do that, to make a point. To do it routinely, though, as Garner’s says, ‘may frequently reveal more about the quoter than about the writer being quoted.’”

So, when using [sic] (especially in quoted material), it is important to use it sparingly and only when it’s necessary to do so.

Other Possibilities for Using [sic]

Many writers and editors might not be familiar with how and when to use [sic] because they address certain grammatical errors in another way. But just in case, here are alternatives to using [sic].

  • Ignore the error in your quoted text all together. After all, it is original material that is not your own, so you should naturally be exempt from its mistakes.
  • Don’t include the part of the quoted text that has an error in it.

Quick Quiz

See if you know when and how to use [sic] properly. Take this short quiz and share your answers with us in the comments below.

Place [sic] in the appropriate place in the sentences below.

  • This amount is greater then that amount.
  • Who’s turn is it to read aloud?
  • How did the weather effect your flight plans?


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Topics: sic

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