Examples of Signal Phrases and How to Use Them

, Staff Writer
Updated May 27, 2020
Woman writing a signal phrase for a story
    Woman writing a signal phrase for a story
    JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty

Use signal phrase examples like “according to” and “indicates” to introduce quotes and paraphrased text in your writing. Learn more about signal phrases and how to use them effectively in essays and papers with different style guides. You’ll find that having a variety of signal phrases lets you vary the sentence structure in your writing, making your work sound more polished.

What Is a Signal Phrase?

Signal phrases serve an important role in writing. When you quote someone or paraphrase something you’ve read, you need to attribute the idea or quote to the person who said it. The way you do that is by using a signal phrase.

Think of signal phrases as academic alternatives to “said.” These words and groups of words tell the reader that what he or she is about to read comes from a specific source.


40 Signal Phrase Examples to Use in Your Writing

Add variety and a professional tone to your writing by using a variety of signal phrases. These examples can help you expand your repertoire. Often, choosing the right signal phrase is about knowing how you plan to use it.

General Signal Phrase Examples

The following signal phrases work in a variety of situations in your writing, whether you are quoting directly or paraphrasing:

  • according to
  • acknowledges/acknowledged
  • adds/added
  • addresses/addressed
  • argues/argued
  • asserts/asserted
  • comments/commented
  • concedes/conceded
  • concludes/concluded
  • confirms/confirmed
  • contends/contended
  • declares/declared
  • defines/defined
  • draws attention to/has drawn attention to
  • emphasizes/emphasized
  • explains/explained
  • finds/found
  • mentions/mentioned
  • notes/noted
  • observes/observed
  • points out/pointed out
  • professes/professed
  • proposes/proposed
  • puts forth/put forth
  • reasons/reasoned
  • recognizes/recognized
  • reports/reported
  • reveals/revealed
  • shows/showed
  • states/stated
  • writes/wrote

Signal Phrases Indicating Uncertainty or Opinion

Some signal phrases indicate uncertainty on the part of the source, a personal belief of the source, or an interpretation you are making based on the words of the original source. These signal phrases are a bit more ambiguous or opinion-based than the general examples:

  • believes/believed
  • cautions/cautioned
  • claims/claimed
  • endorses/endorsed
  • estimates/estimated
  • implies/implied
  • indicates/indicated
  • recommends/recommended
  • speculates/speculated
  • suggests/suggested
  • surmises/surmised
  • thinks/thought
  • warns/warned

Signal Phrases Indicating Disagreement

Some signal phrases work only for situations in which the source disagrees with something or someone else. Use one of the following if you are writing about this type of situation:

  • counters/countered
  • denies/denied
  • disputes/disputed
  • refutes/refuted
  • rejects/rejected
  • retorts/retorted

How to Use Signal Phrases

Using a variety of signal phrases is helpful, but it’s also important to use them properly. Keep these tips and guidelines in mind as you write.

Refer to Your Style Guide

Style guides like MLA and APA have different rules for how to use signal phrases. MLA uses signal phrases in the present tense, while APA uses past tense. You can see the difference in these examples:

  • MLA: Smith confirms that broccoli has significant nutritional value.
  • APA: Smith confirmed that broccoli has significant nutritional value.

Consider the Tone of the Signal Phrase

Before you decide on a signal phrase to use, consider its tone. Many signal phrases indicate something about the source. Some tell the reader the quote or paraphrase is the source’s opinion. Others show that the source did research to come up with a conclusion. When you choose a phrase, make sure it matches the meaning you intend. If you’re in doubt, read it aloud to make sure it makes sense.


Vary the Placement of Signal Phrases

Although signal phrases usually come at the beginning of the quote or paraphrase, it can also come in the middle or at the end. Vary the placement of the phrase to make your writing more professional. Consider these examples of varying the placement:

  • According to Smith, broccoli has significant nutritional value.
  • Broccoli has significant nutritional value, according to Smith.
  • Broccoli has significant nutritional value, according to Smith, but not everyone likes this vegetable.

Give Credit to Your Sources With Style

Using a signal phrase helps avoid plagiarism by properly attributing information to the correct source. Signal phrases also give you a chance to make your writing more polished and professional by varying your sentence structure. With practice, your essays and academic writing will give credit to your sources with style and variety.

Use these 40 signal phrases examples to help give credit for quotes and paraphrases. Make your writing more professional by using signal phrases correctly.