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date: 22 February 2024

How to use this work

Oxford Essential Quotations

How to use this work


The quotations are grouped together by author and by subject.

Author entries

Authors’ names are given in the form by which they are best known: usually by surname but where appropriate by forename, pseudonym, or nickname.

The author’s dates of birth and death are given, together with a short description including nationality and occupation.

Where appropriate, links follow to quotations about the author elsewhere in the work.

Quotations from films appear under the names of the authors of the film.

Anonymous works known by their title, such as the Book of Common Prayer, are included in the alphabetical sequence.

Order within author entries

Within each entry, the quotations are grouped by literary form (novels, plays, poems, etc.) and within each group arranged by alphabetical order of title.

Quotations from diaries, letters, and speeches are given in chronological order.

The form for which the author is best known takes precedence. So for political figures, speeches appear first, and poetry quotations precede those in prose for poets.

Undated quotations are arranged in alphabetical order of quotation text.

Quotations in the special category entries are arranged alphabetically according to the first word of the quotation.

Within the quotation

Foreign-language text is given where the quotation is likely to be encountered in the language of origin.

Spellings have been Anglicized and modernized except in those cases, such as Burns or Chaucer, where this would have been inappropriate.

Contextual information regarded as essential to a full appreciation of the quotation is included in a note preceding the text; information seen as providing useful amplification is given in a note following the text.

About the sources

A bibliographical note of the source is given for each quotation. Titles of published volumes appear in italics; titles of short stories and poems not published in their own right, and individual song titles, are given in roman type inside inverted commas.

All numbers in source references are given in arabic, with the exception of lower-case roman numerals denoting quotations from prefatory matter, whose page numbering is separate from the main text. The numbering itself relates to the beginning of the quotation, whether or not it runs on to another stanza or line in the original.

A date in brackets indicates first publication in volume form of the work cited. Unless otherwise stated, the dates thus offered are intended as chronological guides only and do not necessarily indicate the date of the text cited; where the latter is of significance, this has been stated. Where neither date of publication nor of composition is known, an approximate date may indicate the likely date of composition. Where there is a large discrepancy between date of composition (or performance) and publication, in most cases the former only has been given.

Quotations which are in general currency but which are not at present traceable to a specific source are described as ‘attributed’; quotations which are popularly attributed to an author but whose authenticity is doubted include a note such as ‘perhaps apocryphal’.


Links to specific quotations are used to direct the user to another related item.

Links are given to authors who have their own entries in the dictionary where such authors are mentioned in context notes or author descriptions.

Subject entries

In the subject entries, quotations about topics such as Food or Love are grouped together. Some subjects cover related topics such as Circumstance and Situation, and others cover opposites such as Similarity and Difference. Quotations about rather than by an author are grouped under a heading including their dates. So William Shakespeare is the entry containing quotations by Shakespeare, William Shakespeare 1564–1616 is the entry containing other people’s words about Shakespeare.

Within each theme, quotations are given in alphabetical order of author surname. After the text of the quotation the author is given, followed by a note of its source.

After each heading, cross references are given to any related subjects which may also be relevant: for example ‘Business see also Management’.

Finding a quotation

If you know a few words from the quotation, but not the exact wording:

  1. 1. Type or paste them in the Search box.

  2. 2. Select the subject specialization Quotations.

  3. 3. Click on the Search symbol or press enter.

  4. 4. The entries containing matching results are listed.

If you know an exact phrase from the quotation:

  1. 1. Type or paste it in the Search box.

  2. 2. Enclose it in inverted commas (e.g. “to thine own self be true”).

  3. 3. Select the subject specialization Quotations.

  4. 4. Click on the Search symbol or press enter.

  5. 5. The entries containing matching results are listed. This will give much more accurate results, but a small error in the phrase, such as searching for “to thy own self be true” will mean the quotation is not found.