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Portuguese Literature and Language



Portugal contributed to the shaping of early modern Europe through voyages along the West African coast beginning in the mid-fifteenth century and by fulfilling oceanic perspectives implicit in Renaissance maps that depicted the Iberian Peninsula as the "head" of Europe and Portugal as its "face." Under Prince Henry the Navigator (13941460) during the late 1400s, African voyages initiated almost two centuries of overseas discoveries and maritime routes that built what historian Charles R. Boxer has termed the "seaborne empire." This vast network of outposts and enclaves, extending from Brazil to Japan, mythologized in the Western imagination by Vasco da Gama's voyage to India (14971499) and the voyage of Fernão de Magalhães (more commonly known as Ferdinand Magellan), who in 15191521 was the first explorer to circum-navigate the globe, shaped subsequent European literature. What particularly influenced those early writers were encounters with other regions and peoples, the linguistic contacts between Portuguese and indigenous languages, and the very materials and vocabulary of maritime travel and reporting. Portuguese travel literature became a principal source of knowledge, and the nature of that literature in its broadest dimensions would largely determine the form and content of knowledge itself well into the seventeenth century. Oceanic perspectives enlarged the European imagination, transformed the meaning of distance and ideas about the sea, and for the first time placed Europe both in dialogue with and in opposition to other peoples, lands, and cultures. Echoing the title of a book by the historian A. J. R. Russell-Wood, Portuguese was "a language on the move" in Brazil, Africa, and Asia from 1450 to 1640.

Historiographical writings followed models of medieval prose. Chivalric and bucolic prose works evolved into moral and doctrinal allegories or long, sentimental monologues, such as Diana (c. 1559), a pastoral fiction by Jorge de Montemor (c. 15201561) incorporating intrigue, devices of classical comedy, and bucolic poetry, and História da Menina e Moça (1554; Story of the maiden and lass) by Bernardim Ribeiro (14821552), a sentimental novel of love and feminine psychology, which relates the tragic love of Binmarder for Aónia and of Avalor for Arima. The narrative cycle Amadis de Gaula (1508) and a cycle by Francisco de Morais (c. 15001572) called the Cronica do famoso e muito esforçado cavalleiro palmerim dinglaterra, filho del rey dõ Duardos, Évora, (15641567) continued the vogue of chivalric novels and ideals of gallantry, service to the monarchy, and crusades against Islam.

The variety of literary and dramatic genres increased rapidly as a result of the voyages, encompassing maps, letters, verses, essays, travel diaries, shipwreck accounts, religious theater, ballads, legends, vocabularies, grammars, routes, descriptions, itineraries, documents, designs, blueprints of forts, and portraits of viceroys and governors. Navigational and natural science were represented in travel routes and charts, such as the Primeiro roteiro da costa da Índia desde Goa atéDiu by D. João de Castro (15381539; pub. 1843) and the log of Vasco da Gama's voyage in 14971499 (pub. 1838). Garcia da Orta's horticultural treatise, the Coloquios dos simples, e drogas he cousas mediçinais de India . . . (pub. 1563; Colloquies on the simples and drugs of India), was the third book printed in Goa. The great mass of religious literature included letters from the religious orders and biographies (for example, História da vida do Padre Francisco de Xavier by João de Lucena, 1600).

The oral tradition, consisting of ballads, folk tales, popular and religious verses, aphorisms, riddles, and so forth, spread throughout the empire, at times becoming creolized with the contact languages. The Cancioneiro geral (1516; General songbook) compiled by Garcia de Resende (c. 14701536) is a collection of poetry by three hundred poets in regional Iberian forms, including redondilhas, vilancetes, and cantigas. Francisco de Sá de Miranda (14811558), who contributed to the Cancioneiro, later brought the Italian forms of the dolce stil nuovo to Portugal after a prolonged visit to Italy (15211526). His poetryin Spanish and in Portuguesetreats Petrarchan love themes, applying a classical erudition critical of the court and praising the values of rural life. The lyrical works of poet Luís Vaz de Camões (c. 15251580) include traditional Iberian forms while perfecting the Italianate forms, particularly his sonnets, which remain among the best-known poems in the Portuguese language.


The early development of Portuguese historiographical prose, beginning with the vivid chronicles of Fernão Lopes (c. 1380c. 1460), was decisive in the evolution of the modern Portuguese language, which reached its modern form well before English did. Renaissance grammarians emphasized the close relationship between Portuguese and classical Latin. João de Barros (c. 14961570), for example, composed poetry that could be read as either language. During the sixteenth century, Latin dictionaries and grammars were compiled by Estêvão Cavaleiro (1516) and Jerónimo Cardoso (1570), and Portuguese literary language underwent a lexical and syntactical Latinization. The first Portuguese grammars, by Fernão de Oliveira (1536) and Barros (1539), as well as the orthographies by Magalhães de Gândavo (1562) and Duarte Nunes do Leão (1576), demonstrate that the Portuguese language was fully developed by the mid-1500s.

The dissemination of the Portuguese language in Asia and its contact with African and Asian languages has constituted one of the principal topics of research in linguistics. The Portuguese language contributed extensive vocabulary to contact languages in Africa and Asia, also making possible the development of creoles based on Portuguese. Portuguese-related works printed in Asia include grammars, vocabularies, dictionaries, etymologies, glossaries, phrase books, and dialogues. The production of Portuguese grammars and vocabularies in various foreign lands from Brazil to Japan resulted in the creation of comparative linguistics, placing Portuguese alongside indigenous or local languages such as Konkani and Malay, or major languages of Asian cultures such as Tamil, Chinese, or Japanese. Important early works include the Arte da grammatica da lingoa, mais vsada na costa do Brasil by Joséde Anchieta (Coimbra, 1595); Arte da lingoa canarim by Tomás Estevão (Rachol, Goa, 1640); Cartilha . . . em lingoa Tamul e Portugues by Vicente Nazareth, Jorge Carvalho, and Thomé Cruz (Lisbon, 1554); and the Arte da lingoa de Iapam by João Rodrígues, S. J. (Nagasaki, 1604). A trilingual Portuguese-Latin-Japanese dictionary was published at the Jesuit press in Nagasaki before 1600.

The first comprehensive study of the vocabulary that passed from Portuguese to other languages is the Vocabulário (1913) by priest and Goan linguist Sebastião Dalgado (18551922). In 1919 Dalgado published the Glossário Luso-Asiático, in two volumes, in which he registered the terms in Asiatic languages that were absorbed into Portuguese and/or into other European languages. Derived from the study of more than fifty Asiatic languages, Dalgado's work was characterized as a monument of erudition. The bibliography includes more than five hundred works that he consulted on Asia, from sixteenth-century historiographical works to contemporary linguistic studies. The vocables and Anglo-Indian etymologies studied in the glossary of Anglo-Indian expressions by Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, popularly known as the Hobson-Jobson (1886), reveal the extensive and extraordinary penetration of Asiatic Portuguese. The Portuguese language in Brazil quickly incorporated vocabulary from African languagesparticularly Yorubaand Brazil's indigenous Tupi language.


The celebration in Portugal of the five-hundredth anniversary of the overseas discoveries of Vasco da Gama, which included the publication of a substantial library of primary and secondary texts by the National Commission for the Commemoration of the Portuguese Discoveries, has brought the historical, literary, and intercultural perspectives of the Portuguese voyages to the forefront of Portuguese society. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Portuguese ships and overseas outposts were manned by writerswhether scribes, priests, soldiers, or administratorswho reported to Lisbon or left valuable manuscripts about different areas of knowledge. Travel and knowledge were interrelated, just as writing, languages, cultures, historiography, religion, and early cultural anthropology coexisted in texts, experience, and the imagination of voyagers. Through Portuguese, Europe encountered its "other," exemplified by such "exotic" visitors to Lisbon as indigenous Brazilians, Africans, South Asians, and Japanese, many of whom stayed. Emigration and settlement throughout the far-flung maritime routes created diverse racial, cultural, and linguistic communities; those that have survived in Sri Lanka, Malacca, and Korlai (the Kolaba District in India) are the recent subjects of ethnographic, ethnomusicological, and linguistic studies (by Jackson, Sarkissian, Clements). Contacts with previously unknown geographies, peoples, and cultures brought about by the maritime discoveries had a profound impact on literature, linguistics, and learning. A substantial literary tradition developed in Portuguese India.

Historiography drew on early chronicles of the nation's historical past and its literary traditions to compose epic relations of the voyages, writing characterized by a renewed assimilation and influence of Greco-Latin culture. The voyages to India and the Far East marked the life and works of many of the most prominent intellectuals, clerics, writers, and soldiers of the sixteenth centuryAfonso de Albuquerque, Diogo do Couto, Gaspar Correa, Garcia da Orta, Fernão Mendes Pinto, St. Francis Xavierculminating in the epic poem Os Lusíadas (1572; The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões, who spent seventeen years in Portuguese Asia, as well as Camões's lyrical poetry (including the meditation on exile, "Babel e Sião") and his letters. All incorporated a vision of the Orient and a dimension of personal experience in their works, preserving the impact of the voyages on European writing and anticipating modern currents of orientalism and exoticism in Western literature.

João de Barros, reflecting the range of a Renaissance man of letters, and perhaps influenced by his post in the Casa da India in charge of all commerce arriving from the overseas possessions, planned a monumental project: a geographical, economical, and historical account of Portugal's overseas expansion, to be called the Décadas da Ásia (Decades of Asia). He first wrote a chivalric novel, Crónica do Imperador Clarimundo (1522), celebrating the genealogy and aristocratic virtues of the heroes of the Portuguese monarchy, then a grammar, Gramática da língua Portuguesa (1539) and several moral dialogues, such as the colloquy Ropica pnefma (1532; Spiritual merchandise), which are comparable to works by Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives (14931540). In Ropica pnefma, Reason defends orthodox doctrine amid the questioning of heretical voices and the calming reflections of Time, Understanding, and Will. Barros is most widely known as the chronicler of Portuguese expansion in Asia in the early sixteenth century. In the four volumes of the Décadas da Ásia that he completed (15521563), Barros refined the historiographical style that was established by Fernão Lopes in the first half of the fifteenth century and continued by Gomes Eanes de Zurara (c. 1420c. 1474) and Rui de Pina, by placing this tradition in a broader perspective of regions and continents, linking history to geography, using the heroic and epic frames of classical rhetoric.

Humanist, scholar, and chronicler Damião de Góis (15021574) spent twenty-two years outside of Portugal, first as the representative of commercial interests in Antwerp and later as a student in Italy and France, a humanist and friend of Erasmus, and the author of Latin essays on topics including rituals of the faith. On his return to Portugal in 1545 as chief archivist of the Torre do Tombo, Portugal's national archive, Góis was denounced by the Inquisition, before which he defended humanist orthodoxy.

Francisco de Holanda (15171584), the son of a Dutch painter in Portugal, studied in Italy, as did Damião de Góis. Trained by his father as an illuminator, Holanda went to Rome in 1538 and became a friend and disciple of Michaelangelo. Holanda wrote a series of essays, Da pintura Antiga (1548), the first treatise on painting in the Iberian Peninsula, in which he considered the painter as an original creator, guided by divine inspiration.

Portuguese literature treated the history of the dramatic voyages and documented maritime, commercial, and military life in the empire. India became the center of attention, in the four volumes of Décadas da Ásia by Barros and the nine additional volumes by Diogo do Couto (the last one written in 1616); the História do descobrimento & conquista da Índia pelos Portugueses (1540) by Fernão Lopes de Castanheda (c. 15001559); and the Chronica do felicissimo Rei Dom Emanuel (15661567) by Damião de Góis, the Commentarios (1557) of Afonso de Albuquerque (14531515), and numerous works on the conquests of Diu and Goa. The description of lands, peoples, and cultures encountered by the Portuguese produced a literature of its own, including the Livro das coisas da India (1510, pub. 1889; an account of the countries bordering on the Indian Ocean) by Duarte Barbosa (14801521); the Lendas da Índia (1518, pub. 1858; Indian memoranda) by Gaspar Correia (14951561), with ink engravings by the author. The Portuguese wrote early descriptions of China (Tratado das cousas da China by Gaspar da Cruz, 1569) and were the first Westerners to enter Japan, producing a significant body of historical and descriptive literature (Relação . . . de Iapam, 1590), by Father Luís Fróis; writings of João Rodrigues Tçuzzu, S.J.).

Voyage literature included dramatic narratives of shipwrecks, documenting the tragic fate of one-third of the India fleets between 1552 and 1604, which were later collected in the História trágicomarítima (pub. 1735). The major prose work of the discoveries is Fernão Mendes Pinto's Peregrinação (pub. 1614; The travels of Mendes Pinto), a fantastic first-person account of his travels and adventures throughout Portuguese Asia and one of the most widely read books of the seventeenth century. The constant encounter between the Portuguese narrator and Asians, amounting to an early form of anthropology, enabled the narrator to objectify himself and the Portuguese from the other's critical point of view. Long considered to contain fabrications and intentional exaggerations, the Peregrinação has proved to be substantially accurate in the light of recent investigations. The novel contributed to the development of the picaresque or self-conscious hero and to narrative style.


Tensions and conflicting perceptions in the Portuguese world, heightened by the establishment of the Inquisition in 1536, promoted the early development of mannerist and baroque qualities in art and literature there, as manifested in the Manueline style, named for Portugal's king Manuel I (ruled 14951521). Humanistic and commercial perspectives made possible by the voyages conflicted with an ecclesiastical and orthodox social and religious background. "The Old Man of the Restelo" by Camões (The Lusiads, IV, 94104) and the Diálogo do soldado prático (written 1590, published 1790; The experienced soldier) by Diogo do Couto (15421616) defended a humanistic outlook, questioning the ethics and the philosophy of a militant mercantile colonial system. In shipwreck narratives, Couto criticized the hubris of officials who threw their slaves and servants into the sea in a vain attempt to save themselves. The contrasts, oppositions, and impasses of this period shape the subsequent early modern development of Portugal. What Camões called the "disconcert of the world" in fact described a new epistemology. Diversity and change made possible new forms of knowledge through cross-cultural contacts in such fields as horticulture, pharmacology, and linguistics, whereas tendencies toward authority, conformity, and centralization dictated exclusion and inquisition. Throughout the maritime empire, satire became an antidote to doctrine and expansiveness to the locus of authority. Among the issues that Portugal faced as part of early modern Europe that remain pertinent today are the policy of miscegenationpromulgated in India in 1510 by Afonso de Albuquerque (14611515), which produced mixed-race peoples throughout the Portuguese settlementsand emigration, which has led millions of European Portuguese to the communities spread around the globe today. Portugal granted full citizenship rights throughout its empire, and movement throughout its possessions created one of the first modern global cultures.

Sixteenth-century Portuguese theater featured religious allegories staged on board ship, while court theater drew on popular characters and moral conceits. In the Comedia eufrosina (1560) by Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcellos (15151585), a letter from Goa was read onstage, representative of many true letters commenting on the vicissitudes of life in India. Gil Vicente (c. 1465c. 1536) wrote and produced some forty-four plays for the Lisbon court from 1502 to 1536, publishing only a few in chap-books before the incomplete and defective edition compiled and published in 1562 by his son, who divided them arbitrarily into the categories of devotion, farce, comedy, tragicomedy, and lesser works. Characterized by poetic versatility, complexity, and variety of dramatic structure, Vicente's plays satirize the clergy and nobility, as well as local administrators and artisans. The Auto da Índia (1509; Play of India) portrays a soldier's wife who enjoys a free life in his absence, while in the farce Quem tem farelos? (1508; Who has bran?) the village girl Inês Pereira tries to change her condition through marriage to a feckless squire. In Juiz da Beira, an ignorant, half-mad peasant judges normal people, arriving at decisions that are the reverse of the law and the customs of the day.

António Ferreira (15281569) represents the apogee of literary classicism and humanism through his use of Italian poetic forms and his defense of the Portuguese language and historical themes. Ferreira's tragedy Castro (1587) dramatizes the assassination in 1355 of Inês de Castro who, as lady-inwaiting to her cousin Constance, began an affair with Constance's betrothed, Prince Peter, secretly married him after Constance died, and had four children with him; she was murdered for political reasons by the advisors of his father, King Alfonso IV. Ferreira recast this story with the classical dialogues and choruses of Greek tragedy.

Camões's epic poem in ten cantos, The Lusiads (1572), draws together major conflicting forces in Portugal's Renaissance in one of the classic works of Western literature. The theme is drawn from the history of Portugal, recited by Vasco da Gama during his voyage to India. Gama's voyage becomes the advancing line of present time. Progess depends on intrigues among classical gods who observe the voyage, with Venus as protector of the Portuguese and Bacchus opposed. Action is advanced by magical devices, dreams, and intercession of the gods. The poem's interior episodes of "Inês de Castro," "Adamastor," and the "Island of Venus" carry historical action to a pan-erotic plane, suggesting a journey to paradise through sensual desire. The voyage assumes universality as Tethys (wife of Oceanus) and Gama survey the known and future world of the Portuguese from a mountain peak. Full of observation and prophecy, The Lusiads is also a naturalist encyclopedia of unusual phenomena. The poetry is dense in musical rhythm and imagery, recalling the visual richness of naturalist painters such as Albrecht Dürer (14711528). Achieving unity through diversity, Camões synthesizes the conflicts of a civilization in which he lived as a soldier-poet in Asia and that he incorporated into the ideals of his poetic art.


The age and style of the baroque was decisive for Portuguese literature in view of the diversity of social forms, peoples, and styles in the overseas empire, whose intercontinental spaces, according to Portuguese literary historian Óscar Lopes, gave rise to an aesthetics of perspective, movement, color, ornamental profusion, modulation, pomp, and external grandeur. The gold and diamonds discovered in Brazil financed a society of spectacle, whereas the period of Spanish Habsburg rule (15801640) provided an incentive for popular satires, reaching an apex in the Arte de furtar (fraudulently dated Amsterdam, 1652; Art of thieving), an unmasking of the court of John IV (ruled 16401656), and the Obras do diabinho da Mão Furada, attributed to António José da Silva, the picaresque portrait of a wandering soldier who is tempted by the devil. A cosmopolitan aristocrat, D. Francisco Manuel de Mello (16081666), was one of the most varied and versatile writers of his age, publishing lyrical poetry in Portuguese and Spanish, a narrative of the discovery of Madeira, moral works and guides about the ascetic life and duties of wives, as well as comedies and moral letters. He wrote the first critical review of ancient and modern authors and planned a library of modern authors, which was not produced until the following century. Though imprisoned and exiled to Brazil, he returned to represent Portugal in European diplomatic circles.

António Vieira, S.J. (16091697), the greatest figure of the era, born in Lisbon and raised in Bahia, Brazil, from the age of seven, won renown as a writer, rhetorician, Jesuit, and man of action. His sermons, in some twenty volumes, expound a brilliant formal rationalism based on biblical texts, with a tendency toward prophetic and messianic interpretations. He spoke out against the enslavement of indigenous Americans, yet defended the unity of the Portuguese throne and church. Vieira's deft style was the most significant contribution to the Portuguese language since Camões.

Corte na Aldeia (1619) by Francisco Rodrigues Lobo (15801622) is the principal work on Portuguese baroque style, giving rise to numerous academies as centers of literary endeavor throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as in the Academia dos Singulares (1628). Lively doctrinaire panegyrics and allegorical theater by the nuns Sóror Violante do Ceu and Maria do Céu found their satirical counterpoint in the puppet theater of António José da Silva (17051739), who was condemned by the Inquisition to be burned in 1739. The great national literary collections of the baroque period are to be found in the first general Portuguese bibliography, compiled 17411759 by Diogo Barbosa Machado (16821772), and in two massive poetry anthologies, Afénix renascida (17161728) and Postilhão de Apolo (17611762).


Struggling for liberalization, Portugal turned from its familiar oceanic perspectives to the "foreign" influences of Europe, engendering a new organization of knowledge and pedagogical reforms that pitted Enlightenment against Scholasticism. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1 November 1755 precipitated a massive reorganization and reconstruction of Portuguese letters and society, symbolized by the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759 by Joseph I's chief minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (16991782), better known as the Marquês de Pombal, the de facto ruler of Portugal during that period. The founding of the Arcádia Lusitana in 1756 and the Academia das Ciências in 1779 and the creation of autonomous university chairs throughout the country in 1772 represented principal reforms. Verdadeiro métodode estudar (1746; Truemethod of study) by Luís António Verney (171392; pseudonym Barbadinho), after having been banned by its inclusion on the Holy See's Index librorum prohibitorum (List of forbidden books), arrived clandestinely in Lisbon in a new edition in 1751 to promote pedagogical reform. His ideas included grammatical analysis in Portuguese instead of Latin, abandonment of obsolete vocabulary, the study of modern languages, the opening of elementary schools, and the teaching of women. The heroic-comic satires of Nicolau Tolentino (17411811) were matched by Os burros ou, O reinado da Sandice, a "heroic-comic-satiric poem in six cantos" by José Agostinho de Macedo (17611831), and by the burlesque poem O reino da estupidez (1819) by Francisco de Mello Franco (17571823). Reflexões sobre a vaidade dos homens (1752) by Matias Aires (17051763) addressed a crisis in sensibility and expressed skepticism about human nature. Arcadist poets, including Pedro Antonio Correia Garção (17241772), António Diniz da Cruz e Silva (17311799), and Francisco Manoel de Nascimento, better known as Filinto Elísio (17341819), preceded the Marquesa de Alorna (17501839), a celebrated literary muse in Lisbon during the late 1700s, and Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage (17651805), a poet-wanderer throughout the empire who initiated the modern current of return to the oceanic past.

See also Academies, Learned ; Authority, Concept of ; Camões, Luís Vaz de ; Colonialism ; Dictionaries and Encyclopedias ; Drama: Spanish and Portuguese ; Europe and the World ; Exploration ; Gama, Vasco da ; Index of Prohibited Books ; Inquisition ; Jews, Expulsion of (Spain, Portugal) ; Magellan, Ferdinand ; Missions and Missionaries ; Portugal ; Portuguese Colonies: The Indian Ocean and Asia ; Scholasticism ; Travel and Travel Literature .


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Saraiva, António José, and Óscar Lopes. História da Literatura Portuguesa. 17th ed. Porto, 1996.

K. David Jackson

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