William Strunk, Jr.

The Elements of Style

N EW YORK 1918


1 3 3 4 4 6 7 8 9 10 13 13 15 18 20 21 23 24 25 27 28 31 35 45


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause . . . . . . . 5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Do not break sentences in two . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Divide words at line-ends, in accordance with their formation and pronunciation .



9. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic . . . . 10. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11. Use the active voice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12. Put statements in positive form . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13. Omit needless words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16. Keep related words together . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17. In summaries, keep to one tense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .







Asserting that one must first know the rules to break them, this classic reference is a must-have for any student and conscientious writer. Intended for use in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature, it gives in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.



Interlude on Jargon. in connection with Chapters III and V. Extracts from the Style-Book of the Government Printing Office (United States Geological Survey). The Art of Writing (Putnams). The writer’s colleagues in the Department of English in Cornell University have greatly helped him in the preparation of his manuscript. George McLane Wood. The book covers only a small portion of the field of English style. George McLane Wood. George McLane Wood has kindly consented to the inclusion under Rule 11 of some material from his Suggestions to Authors. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials. Author and Printer (Henry Frowde). Suggestions to Authors (United States Geological Survey). Chicago University Press. Howard Collins. Correct Composition (The Century Company).). Foresman and Co. especially the chapter. The following books are recommended for reference or further study: in connection with Chapters II and IV. but the experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials. 1 . which he prefers to that offered by any textbook.). Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. F. Mr. Manual of Style. It aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. James P. Workmanship in Words (Little. English Usage (Scott. John Leslie Hall. Brown and Co. L. Rules for Compositors and Printers (Oxford University Press). the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated. Kelly. Horace Hart. De Vinne.Chapter I I NTRODUCTORY This book is intended for use in English courses in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature. and that each instructor has his own body of theory. T. The numbers of the sections may be used as references in correcting manuscript. students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work.

however. Unless he is certain of doing as well. When they do so. attained at the cost of the violation. he will probably do best to follow the rules. the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit. to the study of the masters of literature. . to write plain English adequate for everyday uses. INTRODUCTORY It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric.2 CHAPTER I. by their guidance. for the secrets of style. let him look. After he has learned.

Thus write. But such forms as Achilles’ heel. and such forms as for conscience’ sake. and oneself have no apostrophe. its. 3 . Moses’ laws. the possessive Jesus’.Chapter II E LEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE 1. Isis’ temple are commonly replaced by the heel of Achilles the laws of Moses the temple of Isis The pronominal possessives hers. Charles’s friend Burns’s poems the witch’s malice This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press. theirs. for righteousness’ sake. yours. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is.

is indefensible. Such punctuation as Marjorie’s husband. My brother you will be pleased to hear. is now in perfect health. is or is not parenthetic. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE 2. it is frequently hard to decide whether a single word. even if only a single term comes before it. Colonel Nelson paid us a visit yesterday. the writer may safely omit the commas. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas The best way to see a country. use a comma after each term except the last Thus write. This rule is difficult to apply. If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is but slight. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction. he must never omit one comma and leave the other. read it and made a note of its contents. In the names of business firms the last comma is omitted. unless you are pressed for time. is always preceded by a comma.. energetic. 3. as Brown. but headstrong He opened the letter. But whether the interruption be slight or considerable. . and blue honest. red. white.4 CHAPTER II. such as however. or a brief phrase. This is also the usage of the Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press. is to travel on foot. Shipley and Company The abbreviation etc.

Restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas. The candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place. statements supplementing those in the principal clauses. set off by commas. Nether Stowey is only a few miles from Bridgewater. Similar clauses introduced by where and when are similarly punctuated. and where are non-restrictive. The audience. but add. In this sentence the relative clause restricts the application of the word candidate to a single person. became more and more interested. Unlike those above. Corsica had but recently been acquired by France. they do not limit the application of the words on which they depend. where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. is a few miles from Bridgewater. and except at the end of a sentence. In 1769. are always preceded by a comma. The abbreviations etc. In these sentences the clauses introduced by which. The audience was at first indifferent. parenthetically. Each sentence is a combination of two statments which might have been made independently. which had at first been indifferent. Napoleon was born in 1769. At that time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France. . Nether Stowey. when Napoleon was born. and jr. in accordance with this rule. followed by one. Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Nether Stowey. Later it became more and more interested. the sentence cannot be split into two independent statements.5 Non-restrictive relative clauses are. when.

may seem to be in need of rewriting. the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed. Further. and. 6. Although the situation is perilous. In this perilous situation. The situation is perilous. but there is still one chance of escape. and 18 should afford sufficient guidance.6 CHAPTER II. 16. . the second clause has the appearance of an after-thought. 7. and unaware that we had learned of his treachery. He saw us coming. not after it. Or the subordinate clauses might be replaced by phrases: Owing to the disappearance of the early records of the city. Sentences of this type. it indicates only that a relation exists between them without defining that relation. the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed. The sentences quoted in this section and under Rules 4. As they make complete sense when the comma is reached. isolated from their context. In the example above. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause The early records of the city have disappeared. and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed. 5. place the first comma before the conjunction. 4. greeted us with a smile. is the least specific of connectives. The two sentences might be rewritten: As the early records of the city have disappeared. the relation is that of cause and result. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE Similar in principle to the enclosing of parenthetic expressions between commas is the setting off by commas of phrases or dependent clauses preceding or following the main clause of a sentence. there is still one chance of escape. there is still one chance of escape. Used between independent clauses. If a parenthetic expression is preceded by a conjunction.

precedes the second independent clause. It is nearly half past five. If a conjunction is inserted. the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon. the proper mark is a comma (Rule 4). no comma is needed after the conjunction. are to form a single compound sentence. Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by as (in the sense of because). The situation is perilous. we cannot reach town before dark. They are full of exciting adventures. or an introductory phrase requiring to be set off by a comma. Consequently. Do not join independent clauses by a comma If two or more clauses. We cannot reach town before dark. nor. replacing the semicolons by periods.7 But a writer may err by making his sentences too uniformly compact and periodic. for. there is still one chance of escape. It is nearly half past five. loose sentences of the type first quoted are common in easy. It is of course equally correct to write the above as two sentences each. For two-part sentences connected by an adverb. and an occasional loose sentence prevents the style from becoming too formal and gives the reader a certain relief. they are full of exciting adventures. But a writer should be careful not to construct too many of his sentences after this pattern (see Rule 14). Stevenson’s romances are entertaining. 5. Stevenson’s romances are entertaining. unstudied writing. Stevenson’s romances are entertaining. but if we are prepared to act promptly. If a dependent clause. or. see the next section. . and while (in the sense of and at the same time) likewise require a comma before the conjunction. for they are full of exciting adventures. grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction.

I had never been in the place before.8 CHAPTER II. and are alike in form. A simple correction. so. In general. so I had difficulty in finding my way about. and we cannot reach town before dark. to avoid using so in this manner. therefore. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE It is nearly half past five. it is best. a comma is usually permissible: Man proposes. and not by a conjunction. 6. The gate swung apart. in writing. Do not break sentences in two In other words. the portcullis was drawn up. A man who had traveled all over the world. the semicolon is still required. and lived in half a dozen countries. such as accordingly. is to omit the word so. He was an interesting talker. the first period should be replaced by a comma. however. do not use periods for commas. Note that if the second clause is preceded by an adverb. and the following word begun with a small letter. and begin the first clause with as: As I had never been in the place before. If the clauses are very short. I had difficulty in finding my way about. then. usually serviceable. In both these examples. God disposes. . besides. there is danger that the writer who uses it at all may use it too often. the bridge fell. or thus. I met them on a Cunard liner several years ago. Coming home from Liverpool to New York.

4. and 6 cover the most important principles in the punctuation of ordinary sentences. If the writer wishes to make it refer to the woman. they should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature. I thought the task easy. A soldier of proved valor. Without a friend to counsel him. accompanied by two children. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject Walking slowly down the road. however. On his arrival) in Chicago. adjectives. nouns in apposition. he saw a woman accompanied by two children. they entrusted him with the defence of the city. and that he will not be suspected of a mere blunder in punctuation. 5. Young and inexperienced. When he arrived (or. A soldier of proved valor. walking slowly down the road. he found the temptation irresistible. be certain that the emphasis is warranted. Young and inexperienced. the task seemed easy to me. On arriving in Chicago. Without a friend to counsel him. . he must recast the sentence: He saw a woman. Rules 3. he was entrusted with the defence of the city. not to the woman.9 It is permissible to make an emphatic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly: Again and again he called out. The writer must. Participial phrases preceded by a conjunction or by a preposition. and adjective phrases come under the same rule if they begin the sentence. his friends met him at the station. No reply. 7. his friends met him at the station. the temptation proved irresistible. The word walking refers to the subject of the sentence.

unless this involves cutting off only a single letter. Divide the word according to its formation: know-ledge (not knowl-edge) Shake-speare (not Shakes-peare) de-scribe (not des-cribe) atmo-sphere (not atmos-phere) B. or cutting off only two letters of a long word. No hard and fast rule for all words can be laid down. but not for the whole word. Divide between double letters. Divide “on the vowel:” edi-ble (not ed-ible) ordi-nary reli-gious regu-lar deco-rative propo-sition espe-cial oppo-nents classi-fi-ca-tion sions possible) presi-dent (three divi- C. 8. in accordance with their formation and pronunciation If there is room at the end of a line for one or more syllables of a word. unless they come at the end of the simple form of the word: Apen-nines refer-ring Cincin-nati tell-ing The treatment of consonants in combination is best shown from examples: . Divide words at line-ends.10 CHAPTER II. Being in a dilapidated condition. divide the word. I was able to buy the house very cheap. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE Sentences violating this rule are often ludicrous. The principles most frequently applicable are: A.

.11 for-tune presump-tuous sub-stan-tial (either division) instruc-tion incen-diary pic-ture illus-tration indus-try sug-ges-tion The student will do well to examine the syllable-division in a number of pages of any carefully printed book.


The extent of subdivision will vary with the length of the composition. Critical discussion. For example. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic If the subject on which you are writing is of slight extent. Ordinarily. 13 . a short notice of a book or poem might consist of a single paragraph. a brief summary of a literary work. there may be no need of subdividing it into topics. to aid the reader. a narrative merely outlining an action. each of which should be made the subject of a paragraph. The object of treating each topic in a paragraph by itself is. a subject requires subdivision into topics. a brief account of a single incident. After the paragraph has been written. Thus a brief description. any one of these is best written in a single paragraph. B. however. the setting forth of a single idea. The beginning of each paragraph is a signal to him that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached. Account of the work. One slightly longer might consist of two paragraphs: A.Chapter III E LEMENTARY COMPOSITION PRINCIPLES OF 9. it should be examined to see whether subdivision will not improve it. of course. or if you intend to treat it very briefly.

Subject. E. might consist of seven paragraphs: A. What led up to the event. B. single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphs. Purpose. or would indicate what points in the narrative are chiefly emphasized. that is. Usually. B. paragraph C would indicate the actual or imagined circumstances of the poem (the situation). D. the writer would probably find it necessary to subdivide one or more of the topics here given. An exception may be made of sentences of transition. a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker. F. if these call for explanation. when . Wherein characteristic of the writer. Characters. metrical form. As a rule. In treating either of these last two subjects.14 CHAPTER III. D. C. The application of this rule. and would then state the subject and outline its development. written for a class in literature. Treatment of subject. If the poem is a narrative in the third person throughout. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION A report on a poem. B. Plot. Setting. C. even if only a single word. For what chiefly remarkable. each speech. Account of the event. Facts of composition and publication. A historical event might be discussed under the heads: A. Relationship to other works. indicating the relation between the parts of an exposition or argument. G. What the event led up to. In dialogue. The contents of paragraphs C and D would vary with the poem. Kind of poem. is a paragraph by itself. paragraph C need contain no more than a concise summary of the action. A novel might be discussed under the heads: A. C. Paragraph D would indicate the leading ideas and show how they are made prominent.

he may carry out several of these processes. and C. For this reason. it is something else and more in the nature of a picnic. Ending with a digression. it is expedient to precede the topic sentence by one or more sentences of introduction or transition. 1 Now. to be properly enjoyed. is particularly to be avoided. B. 2 If you go in a company. 10. or he may develop it by showing its implications and consequences. 1 Topic sentence. According to the writer’s purpose. the object is to aid the reader.15 dialogue and narrative are combined. the most generally useful kind of paragraph. or with an unimportant detail. relate the body of the paragraph to the topic sentence in one or more of several different ways. it is generally better to set apart the transitional sentences as a separate paragraph. or even in pairs. In a long paragraph. end it in conformity with the beginning Again. may need to be expressed. its relation to what precedes. as indicated above. the final sentence either emphasizes the thought of the topic sentence or states some important consequence. for the same reason) in the topic sentence. is that in which A. by denying the converse. therefore. and to retain the purpose in mind as he ends it. he may. a walking tour should be gone upon alone. is best learned from examples in well-printed works of fiction. 2 The meaning made clearer by denial of the contrary. If more than one such sentence is required. by defining its terms. begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. the succeeding sentences explain or establish or develop the statement made in the topic sentence. As a rule. it is no longer a walking tour in anything but name. He may make the meaning of the topic sentence clearer by restating it in other forms. particularly in exposition and argument. Sometimes. or its function as a part of the whole. If the paragraph forms part of a larger composition. This can sometimes be done by a mere word or phrase (again. The practice here recommended enables him to discover the purpose of each paragraph as he begins to read it. however. . the topic sentence comes at or near the beginning. he may establish it by proofs. by giving illustrations or specific instances.

and ends in a peace that passes comprehension.” says Hazlitt. in paraphrase. stated in still another form. stated in two forms. 5 The same reason. and because you must have your own pace. in abridged form. . Stevenson. I wish to vegetate like the country. 3 The topic sentence repeated. 6-7 The same reason as stated by Hazlitt. because you should be able to stop and go on. 9 And so long as a man is reasoning he cannot surrender himself to that fine intoxication that comes of much motion in the open air. 6 “I cannot see the wit.16 CHAPTER III. “of walking and talking at the same time. because freedom is of the essence. nor mince in time with a girl.” 7 When I am in the country. 4 A fourth reason. 8 There should be no cackle of voices at your elbow. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION 3 A walking tour should be gone upon alone. 4 And you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take colour from what you see. which is the gist of all that can be said upon the matter. the meaning of the third (“you must have your own pace”) made clearer by denying the converse. 9 Final statement of the fourth reason. Walking Tours. in language amplified and heightened to form a strong conclusion. of the quotation from Hazlitt. and neither trot alongside a champion walker. as the freak takes you. to jar on the meditative silence of the morning. that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggishness of the brain. 8 Repetition. and supported by three reasons. and follow this way or that. 5 You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon.

The Political Value of History. all the conditions of national wellbeing became the subjects of their works. 6 They undertook to study in the past the physiology of nations. and hoped by applying the experimental method on a large scale to deduce some lessons of real value about the conditions on which the welfare of society mainly depend. and modification of political constitutions. the changes that take place in manners or beliefs. 2 The meaning of the topic sentence made clearer. the new conception of history defined. to explain or illustrate the successive phases of national growth. 6 Conclusion: an important consequence of the new conception of history. 4 The definition explained by contrast. 5 They looked especially in history for the chain of causes and effects. and of art. the dominant ideas that prevailed in successive periods. in a word. . 4 They sought rather to write a history of peoples than a history of kings. 3 The definition expanded. -Lecky. and adversity. prosperity.17 1 It was chiefly in the eighteenth century that a very different conception of history grew up. 2 Historians then came to believe that their task was not so much to paint a picture as to solve a problem. of intellect. 3 The history of morals. the rise. 1 Topic sentence. of industry. 5 The definition supplemented: another element in the new conception of history. fall.

would become a mannerism. and they emerged on the roof. Use the active voice The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive: I shall always remember my first visit to Boston. This is much better than My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me. The break between them serves the purpose of a rhetorical pause. The latter sentence is less direct. comprehensive statement serving to hold together the details that follow. The campaign opened with a series of reverses. are often without even this semblance of a topic sentence. throwing into prominence some detail of the action. The next ten or twelve pages were filled with a curious set of entries. . Another flight of steps.” My first visit to Boston will always be remembered. The breeze served us admirably. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION In narration and description the paragraph sometimes begins with a concise. He picked up the heavy lamp from the table and began to explore. 11. if too often used. More commonly the opening sentence simply indicates by its subject with what the paragraph is to be principally concerned. and less concise. At length I thought I might return towards the stockade. But this device. The brief paragraphs of animated narrative. If the writer tries to make it more concise by omitting “by me.18 CHAPTER III. however. less bold.

Modern readers have little esteem for the dramatists of the Restoration. It was not long before he was very sorry that he had said what he had. but in writing of any kind. which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary. Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is. The first would be the right form in a paragraph on the dramatists of the Restoration. The dramatists of the Restoration are little esteemed to-day. He soon repented his words. Failing health compelled him to leave college. The sound of the falls could still be heard. It was forbidden to export gold (The export of gold was prohibited). makes for forcible writing. determine which voice is to be used. The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired.19 it becomes indefinite: is it the writer. Dead leaves the ground. avoid making one passive depend directly upon another. that will always remember this visit? This rule does not. however. The need of making a particular word the subject of the sentence will often. . or the world at large. mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice. As a rule. as in these examples. The habitual use of the active voice. Gold was not allowed to be exported. or could be heard. This is true not only in narrative principally concerned with action. covered The sound of the falls still reached our ears. There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground. in a paragraph on the tastes of modern readers. or some person undisclosed. of course. the second.

nor does Bianca remain long in memory as an important character in Shakespeare’s works. These reports be confirmed.” in which the predicate “was prohibited” expresses something not implied in “export. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis. leaving to the verb no function beyond that of completing the sentence. Bianca insignificant. “The export of gold was prohibited. A survey of this region was made in 1900. A common fault is to use as the subject of a passive construction a noun which expresses the entire action. the word properly related to the second passive is made the subject of the first. Put statements in positive form Make definite assertions. Confirmation of these reports cannot be obtained. hesitating. Katharine is disagreeable. It has been proved that he was seen to enter the building. before correction. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION He has been proved to have been seen entering the building. The Taming of the Shrew is rather weak in spots. In both the examples above.” 12. He did not think that studying Latin was much use. The women in The Taming of the Shrew are unattractive. Shakespeare does not portray Katharine as a very admirable character. Avoid tame. never as a means of evasion. cannot Compare the sentence. . He thought the study of Latin useless. He usually came late. The army was rapidly mobilized. He was not very often on time. This region was surveyed in 1900. non-committal language. colorless.20 CHAPTER III. Mobilization of the army was rapidly carried out.

but simple justice. Negative words other than not are usually strong: The sun never sets upon the British flag. is indefinite as well as negative. he wishes to be told what is. The corrected version. not honest not important did not remember did not pay any attention to did not have much confidence in dishonest trifling forgot ignored distrusted The antithesis of negative and positive is strong: Not charity. 13. but that every word tell. Hence. as a rule. is simply a guess at the writer’s intention. a paragraph no unnecessary sentences. before correction. the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not. or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline. Omit needless words Vigorous writing is concise. but Rome the more. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words. Many expressions in common use violate this principle: the question as to whether there is no doubt but that used for fuel purposes whether (the question whether) no doubt (doubtless) used for fuel . All three examples show the weakness inherent in the word not. for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. it is better to express a negative in positive form. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short.21 The last example. consequently. Consciously or unconsciously. Not that I loved Caesar less.

nature. and the like are often superfluous. which was Nelson’s last battle His brother. who is a member of the same firm Trafalgar. character. In especial the expression the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs. Nelson’s last battle As positive statement is more concise than negative. a member of the same firm Trafalgar.22 CHAPTER III. which was. . system in Chapter V. Who is. many of the examples given under Rules 11 and 12 illustrate this rule as well. His brother. he hastily this subject His story is strange. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION he is a man who in a hasty manner this is a subject which His story is a strange one. and the active voice more concise than the passive. owing to the fact that in spite of the fact that call your attention to the fact that I was unaware of the fact that the fact that he had not succeeded the fact that I had arrived since (because) though (although) remind you (notify you) I was unaware that (did not know) his failure my arrival See also under case.

while the latter proved itself fully deserving of its high reputation. these last in non-restrictive senses (see under Rule 3). the second introduced by a conjunction or relative. (26 words. He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king. Edward Appleton was the soloist. This led him to wish to become king of Scotland. or in any piece of good English prose. and while. those consisting of two co-ordinate clauses. and it is planned to give a similar series annually hereafter. in a series of sentences which might to advantage be combined into one. and a large audience was in attendance. The interest aroused by the series has been very gratifying to the Committee. (55 words. and the Boston Symphony Orchestra furnished the instrumental music. with their mechanical symmetry and sing-song. An unskilful writer will sometimes construct a whole paragraph of sentences of this kind. Avoid a succession of loose sentences This rule refers especially to loose sentences of a particular type. Encouraged by his wife.23 A common violation of conciseness is the presentation of a single complex idea. Contrast with them the sentences in the paragraphs quoted under Rule 10. . but. step by step. and less frequently. Macbeth achieved his ambition and realized the prediction of the witches by murdering Duncan and becoming king of Scotland in his place. a series soon becomes monotonous and tedious. as the preface (Before the Curtain) to Vanity Fair.) Encouraged by his wife. The king of Scotland at this time was Duncan.) 14. using as connectives and. when an equally attractive programme will be presented. when. Macbeth was very ambitious. The former showed himself to be an artist of the first rank. who. Apart from its triteness and emptiness. the paragraph above is bad because of the structure of its sentences. The fourth concert will be given on Tuesday. Mr. where. The third concert of the subscription series was given last evening. Although single sentences of this type may be unexceptionable (see under Rule 4). Macbeth murdered Duncan. The witches told him that this wish of his would come true. May 10. which.

. the Italians. second. by sentences of two clauses joined by a semicolon. science was taught by the textbook method. by sentences. but. the Italians. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION If the writer finds that he has written a series of sentences of the type described. For illustration. Formerly. The French. he should recast enough of them to remove the monotony. not. the panish. The unskilful writer often violates this principle. The right-hand version shows that the writer has at least made his choice and abided by it. he should follow the principle of parallel construction. third. or. The left-hand version gives the impression that the writer is undecided or timid. and the like) should be followed by the same grammatical construction. first. or in winter) In spring. and the Portuguese In spring. loose or periodic. but also. of three clauses-whichever best represent the real relations of the thought. The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function. Many violations of this rule can be corrected by rearranging the sentence. from a mistaken belief that he should constantly vary the form of his expressions. the Beatitudes. summer. It is true that in repeating a statement in order to emphasize it he may have need to vary its form. and Portuguese The French. or in winter Correlative expressions (both. Spanish. science was taught by the textbook method. Formerly. in summer. either. Familiar instances from the Bible are the Ten Commandments. and. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form This principle. 15. By this principle. requires that expressions of similar content and function should be outwardly similar. not only. he seems unable or afraid to choose one form of expression and hold to it. by periodic sentences of two clauses. summer. and the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. now it is taught by the laboratory method. that of parallel construction. while now the laboratory method is employed. an article or a preposition applying to all the members of a series must either be used only before the first term or else be repeated before each term. But apart from this.24 CHAPTER III. replacing them by simple sentences. or winter (In spring. see the paragraph from Stevenson quoted under Rule 10.

The ceremony was both long and tedious. is changed into steel. It may be asked. however. that are related in thought. The writer must therefore. My objections are. so far as possible. Cast iron. first. Otherwise he had best avoid the difficulty by putting his statements in the form of a table.25 It was both a long ceremony and very tedious. that it is unconstitutional. bring together the words. when treated in a Bessemer converter. 16. This objection. By treatment in a Bessemer converter. in the fifth book of The Excursion. A time not for words. does not usually hold when the order . My objections are. In the fifth book of The Excursion. be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning. first. say twenty? Must he write twenty consecutive sentences of the same pattern? On closer examination he will probably find that the difficulty is imaginary. The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not. that it is unconstitutional. A time not for words. Keep related words together The position of the words in a sentence is the principal means of showing their relationship. and groups of words. but for action You must either grant his request or incur his ill will. and keep apart those which are not so related. the injustice of the measure. Wordsworth gives a minute description of this church. that the measure is unjust. gives a minute description of this church. second. second. what if a writer needs to express a very large number of similar ideas. that his twenty ideas can be classified in groups. See also the third example under Rule 12 and the last under Rule 13. and that he need apply the principle only within each group. cast iron is changed into steel. as a rule. but action Either you must grant his request or incur his ill will. Wordsworth. The objection is that the interposed phrase or clause needlessly interrupts the natural order of the main clause.

grandson of William Henry Harrison. to amend the Sherman Act A proposal to amend the muchdebated Sherman Act William Henry Harrison’s grandson. if possible next to the word they modify. The relative pronoun should come. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION is interrupted only by a relative clause or by an expression in apposition. which has been variously judged. who A noun in apposition may come between antecedent and relative. who was regarded with hostility by the Whigs Modifiers should come. which were published in Harper’s Magazine. If the antecedent consists of a group of words. who A proposal to amend the Sherman Act. This is a portrait of Benjamin Harrison. unless this would cause ambiguity. The Duke of York. because in such a combination no real ambiguity can arise. grandson of William Henry Harrison. In his eye was a look that boded mischief. He published in Harper’s Magazine three articles about his adventures in Spain.26 CHAPTER III. immediately after its antecedent. Benjamin Harrison. He wrote three articles about his adventures in Spain. This is a portrait of Benjamin Harrison. who A proposal. the relative comes at the end of the group. who became President in 1889. If several expressions modify the same word. . which has been variously judged The grandson of William Henry Harrison. as a rule. The Superintendent of the Chicago Division. He became President in 1889. There was a look in his eye that boded mischief. they should be so arranged that no wrong relation is suggested. Nor does it hold in periodic sentences in which the interruption is a deliberately used means of creating suspense (see examples under Rule 18). his brother.

meanwhile. though he may use the past if he prefers. on “My Experiences in Mesopotamia” at eight P. In presenting the statements or the thought of some one else. Not all the members were present. by the past perfect. and then waste no words in repeating the notification.” or the like. But whichever tense be used in the summary. On Tuesday evening at eight P. whichever tense the writer chooses. that what follows is summary. with the result that Balthasar informs Romeo of her supposed death before Friar Lawrence learns of the nondelivery of the letter. He found only two mistakes. The Legate inquires who struck the blow. 17. Shifting from one tense to the other gives the appearance of uncertainty and irresolution (compare Rule 15). as in summarizing an essay or reporting a speech.27 All the members were not present.” The public is invited. Joyce will give a lecture on Tuesday evening in Bailey Hall.M. he should preferably use the present. to which the public is invited.” “the speaker then went on to say.” “he stated. If the summary is in the present tense. once for all. He should indicate clearly at the outset. Joyce will give in Bailey Hall a lecture on “My Experiences in Mesopotamia.. antecedent action should be expressed by the perfect. In summaries. He only found two mistakes. Apart from the exceptions noted. keep to one tense In summarizing the action of a drama. the writer should always use the present tense. story. In summarizing a poem. has been compelled to drink the potion on Tuesday night. .” “the author also thinks. E. An unforeseen chance prevents Friar John from delivering Friar Lawrence’s letter to Romeo.M. the writer should avoid intercalating such expressions as “he said.” “the speaker added. or novel. Major R. if in the past. Major R.E. Juliet. he should use throughout. owing to her father’s arbitrary change of the day set for her wedding. a past tense in indirect discourse or in indirect question remains unchanged.

thrusting away all private aims. Four centuries ago. Similarly. or the opening situation. of the work he is discussing. He may find it necessary to devote one or two sentences to indicating the subject. But in the criticism or interpretation of literature the writer should be careful to avoid dropping into summary. summaries of one kind or another may be indispensable. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end The proper place for the word. to devote yourselves unswervingly and unflinchingly to the vigorous and successful prosecution of this war. The word or group of words entitled to this position of prominence is usually the logical predicate. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION In notebooks. that is. the new element in the sentence. in newspapers. since that time. as it is in the second example. With these hopes and in this belief I would urge you. but it has hardly advanced in fortitude. lighted on America. .28 CHAPTER III. or group of words. and for children in primary schools it is a useful exercise to retell a story in their own words. Because of its hardness. though it has advanced in many other ways. which the writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end of the sentence. Humanity. Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time. he will as a rule do better not to take them up singly in chronological order. not a summary with occasional comment. but to aim from the beginning at establishing general conclusions. because of its hardness. But he should aim to write an orderly discussion supported by evidence. Christopher Columbus. laying aside all hindrance. he may cite numerous details to illustrate its qualities. seeking for Spain a westward passage to the Indies as a setoff against the achievements of Portuguese discoverers. has advanced in many other ways. 18. The effectiveness of the periodic sentence arises from the prominence which it gives to the main statement. one of the Italian mariners whom the decline of their own republics had put at the service of the world and of adventure. in handbooks of literature. This steel is principally used for making razors. if the scope of his discussion includes a number of works. this steel is principally used in making razors.

other than the subject. So vast and rude. Any element in the sentence. The principle that the proper place for what is to be made most prominent is the end applies equally to the words of a sentence. Great kings worshipped at his shrine. A subject coming first in its sentence may be emphatic. and to the paragraphs of a composition. fretted by the action of nearly three thousand years. the emphasis upon kings arises largely from its meaning and from the context. but hardly by its position alone. Through the middle of the valley flowed a winding stream. the subject of a sentence must take the position of the predicate. In the sentence.29 The other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. the fragments of this architecture may often seem. To receive special emphasis. like works of nature. to the sentences of a paragraph. . Deceit or treachery he could never forgive. becomes emphatic when placed first. at first sight.


On succeeding pages. outside of the marks of parenthesis. begin on the first line. Write them in figures or in Roman notation. are introduced by a colon and enclosed in quotation marks. (When a wholly detached expression or sentence is parenthesized. August 9.” 31 . 1918 Rule 3   Chapter XII 352d Infantry Parentheses.)   Quotations.   Numerals. I went to his house yesterday (my third attempt to see him). The provision of the Constitution is: “No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state. exactly as if the expression in parenthesis were absent. except that the final stop is omitted unless it is a question mark or an exclamation point. as may be appropriate. He declares (and why should we doubt his good faith?) that he is now certain of success. or its equivalent in space. cited as documentary evidence. Leave a blank line. if using ruled paper. the final stop comes before the last mark of parenthesis. but he had left town. Do not spell out dates or other serial numbers. after the title or heading of a manuscript. Formal quotations.Chapter IV A   FEW MATTERS OF FORM Headings. The expression within is punctuated as if it stood by itself. A sentence containing an expression in parenthesis is punctuated.

not in the body of the sentence. Keats declares that beauty is truth. simply insert III. Omit the words act. page. I recall the maxim of La Rochefoucauld.32 CHAPTER IV. He lives far from the madding crowd. In the second scene of the third act In III.” Quotations of an entire line. ii. Proverbial expressions and familiar phrases of literary origin require no quotation marks. volume. “Gratitude is a lively sense of benefits to come. are begun on a fresh line and centred.ii in parenthesis at the proper place in the sentence) After the killing of Polonius. The same is true of colloquialisms and slang. In scholarly work requiring exact references. These are the times that try men’s souls. give the references in parenthesis or in footnotes. . line. A FEW MATTERS OF FORM Quotations grammatically in apposition or the direct objects of verbs are preceded by a comma and enclosed in quotation marks. Wordsworth’s enthusiasm for the Revolution was at first unbounded: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.   References. 14). As a general practice. Hamlet is placed under guard (IV. Punctuate as indicated below. giving the full forms in an alphabetical list at the end. or more. scene. “Art is an imitation of nature.ii (still better. book. abbreviate titles that occur frequently. truth beauty. but not enclosed in quotation marks. except when referring by only one of them.” Aristotle says. But to be young was very heaven! Quotations introduced by that are regarded as in indirect discourse and not enclosed in quotation marks. of verse.

iii. Use italics (indicated in manuscript by underscoring). A Tale of Two Cities. some using italics with capitalized initials. scholarly usage prefers italics with capitalized initials. Omit initial A or The from titles when you place the possessive before them.33 2 Samuel i:17-27 Othello II. others using Roman with capitalized initials and with or without quotation marks. The usage of editors and publishers varies. 264-267. To a Skylark. the Odyssey. III. The Iliad.iii. except in writing for a periodical that follows a different practice. For the titles of literary works. As You Like It. 155-161   Titles. Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities. . The Newcomes.


It has rarely been the case that any mistake has been made. The Concise Oxford Dictionary begins its definition of this word: “instance of a thing’s occurring. Few mistakes have been made. but the replacement of vague generality by definite statement. Bid.” In these two senses.” or “Go ahead. the commonplaces of careless writing. or better (if not better). Expressions of this type should be corrected by rearranging the sentence. the rooms were poorly ventilated.) All right. 35 Many of the rooms were poorly ventilated. The past tense is bade. As illustrated under Feature. Idiomatic in familiar speech as a detached phrase in the sense. . the proper correction is likely to be not the replacement of one word or set of words by another. the word is usually unnecessary.” In other uses better avoided. “Agreed. Takes the infinitive without to. Always written as two words. see under Rule 13. In many cases. My opinion is as good as his.Chapter V W ORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED (Many of the words and expressions here listed are not so much bad English as bad style. Case. As good or better than. usual state of affairs. Whether is sufficient. As to whether. My opinion is as good or better than his.

and other arts: “an Oriental effect. to a battle. or owing to.” In correct use related as predicate or as modifier to a particular noun: “This invention is due to Edison. to intensify any and every statement. often loosely used in perfunctory writing about fashions. Incorrectly used for through. it is best restricted to ingenuity displayed in small matters. Certainly. music. to compare with is mainly to point out differences. As noun.” Effect. WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED See Wood. much as others use very. As noun. Suggestions to Authors. trustworthy. Used indiscriminately by some speakers. means result.36 CHAPTER V. accomplish (not to be confused with affect. Thus life has been compared to a pilgrimage. means to bring about. pp.” where “considered” means “examined” or “discussed. which means “to influence”).” “losses due to preventable fires. Congress may be compared with the British Parliament. bad in speech. “The lecturer considered Cromwell first as soldier and second as administrator. Consider. Character.” “effects in pale green. between objects regarded as essentially of different order. is even worse in writing.) Not to be used as a substitute for declare. as verb. 68-71. Due to. With object-noun. Acts of a hostile character Hostile acts Claim. Not followed by as when it means. in adverbial phrases: “He lost the first game. to a drama. pp. vb. painting.” “very delicate . and Quiller-Couch. A mannerism of this kind. 103-106. May be used with a dependent clause if this sense is clearly involved: “He claimed that he was the sole surviving heir.” Dependable. used from a mere habit of wordiness. Compare. Clever. A needless substitute for reliable.” Compare.” “I consider him thoroughly competent. or charge. This word has been greatly overused. Paris has been compared to ancient Athens. between objects regarded as essentially of the same order. means lay claim to. “believe to be. because of. “claimed to be” would be better.” (But even here. due to carelessness. maintain. Often simply redundant. it may be compared with modern London. The Art of Writing. To compare to is to point out or imply resemblances.

” “subtle effects. But such conclusions as that Napoleon was the greatest of modern generals. sang. not of matters of judgment. or immaterial words at the end of a quotation. or any similar expression. As a verb. Etc. that lead melts at a certain temperature. Heavy artillery is playing a larger and larger part in deciding battles. That a particular event happened on a given date. and hence not to be used if one of these would be insufficient. In writing restrict it to its literary senses. At the end of a list introduced by such as. Not to be used of persons. or that the climate of California is delightful. in the advertising sense of offer as a special attraction. and so forth. are facts. Equivalent to and the rest. etc. make firm or immovable. His superior training was the great factor in his winning the match. prepare. to tell something of how she sang. the expressions of which it forms part can usually be replaced by something more direct and idiomatic. . Factor. for example. fasten. A hackneyed word. that is. if the reader would be left in doubt as to any important particulars.37 effects. to be avoided. like factor it usually adds nothing to the sentence in which it occurs. are not properly facts. Least open to objection when it represents the last terms of a list already given in full. Colloquial in America for arrange. (Better use the same number of words to tell what Miss A. or if the programme has already been given.) A feature of the entertainment especially worthy of mention was the singing of Miss A. He won the match by being better trained. Fix. is incorrect. On the formula the fact that. Use this word only of matters of a kind capable of direct verification. Heavy artillery is becoming an increasingly important factor in deciding battles. however incontestable they may be. etc. mend. see under Rule 13. Feature.” “a charming effect was produced by. Fact.” “broad effects. Another hackneyed word.” The writer who has a definite meaning to express will not take refuge in such vagueness.

However. In the meaning nevertheless. The roads were almost impassable. not to come first in its sentence or clause. He had fewer men than in the previous campaign. along these lines. . However discouraging the prospect.” “His troubles are fewer than mine” means “His troubles are not so numerous as mine. particularly in the phrase along these lines. we succeeded in reaching camp. or except in familiar style. Line in the sense of course of procedure. however. However you advise him. Spain is a country which I have always wanted to visit. he never lost heart. is something like a collective noun. fewer to number. for something like (before nouns). to the same effect. Kind of. Restrict it to its literal sense: “Amber is a kind of fossil resin. that a writer who aims at freshness or originality had better discard it entirely. see Rule 13. “His troubles are less than mine” means “His troubles are not so great as mine. Less.38 CHAPTER V. correct to say. WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED He is a man who.” “I dislike that kind of notoriety. Less refers to quantity. it means in whatever way or to whatever extent. thought. B. He is a man who is very ambitious. is allowable. but has been so much overworked. conduct. The roads were almost impassable.” The same holds true of sort of. Not to be used as a substitute for rather (before adjectives and verbs). A common type of redundant expression. “where the round number. Mr. B. When however comes first. Mr.” It is. and less is thought of as meaning a less quantity or amount. However. also spoke. At last. a hundred. also spoke along the same lines. Should not be misused for fewer. he will probably do as he thinks best. He had less men than in the previous campaign. Line. however. I have always wanted to visit Spain. He is very ambitious. “The signers of the petition were less than a hundred. we at last succeeded in reaching camp.

” “Switzerland is . register up. The modern word is often. turn out. One hundred and one. not yet fully accepted as good English. ofttimes. if not better. He is studying French literature. Oftentimes. Adverbial phrase. sign up. One of the most. because of its commonness. The same holds true of try out. Retain the and in this and similar expressions. and others. Archaic forms. each distinguishable in meaning from the simple verb. make up.” Unless more specific statements follow. no longer in good use. though the analogy of close by and hard by seems to justify it. literally. Not to be used for almost. the reader cannot tell whether the poems have to do with natural scenery. A literal flood of abuse Literally dead with fatigue A flood of abuse Almost dead with fatigue (dead tired) Lose out. Not to be used as an adjective. Near. or near at hand.39 He is studying along the line of French literature.” “poems about nature. the untracked wilderness. Lose out is not. as. Often simply redundant. the sunset. Often incorrectly used in support of exaggeration or violent metaphor. Most. Avoid beginning essays or paragraphs with this formula. Near by. use neighboring. run out. but actually less so. Literal. is as good.. out and up form idiomatic combinations: find out. “One of the most interesting developments of modern science is. used like character. etc. Most everybody Most all the time Almost everybody Almost all the time Nature. win out. dry up. With a number of verbs. cheer up. Meant to be more emphatic than lose. Acts of a hostile natureHostile acts Often vaguely used in such expressions as “a lover of nature. or the habits of squirrels. in accordance with the unvarying usage of English prose from Old English times. rural life.

” “so warm. Another phase of the subject Another point other question) (an- Possess. He possessed great courage. He owned Respective. as in geometrical proofs. From the people comes political support or opposition. The one mile and two mile runs were won by Jones and Cummings respectively. respectively. The one mile and two mile runs were won by Jones and by Cummings. He was the fortunate possessor of He had great courage (was very brave).” There is nothing wrong in this. If of “six people” five went away. These words may usually be omitted with advantage.” Not to be used for aspect or topic. but it should not appear in writing on ordinary subjects. Sort of. it may be necessary to use respectively.” “the last phase. WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED one of the most interesting countries of Europe.” On the use of so to introduce clauses. not to be confused with the public. See under Kind of. Works of fiction are listed under the names of their authors. how many “people” would be left? Phase. People. it is simply threadbare and forcible-feeble. from the public comes artistic appreciation or commercial patronage.” “so delightful. see Rule 4. Means a stage of transition or development: “the phases of the moon. Avoid. So. the use of so as an intensifier: “so good. Not to be used as a mere substitute for have or own. in place of persons. The people is a political term. in writing.40 CHAPTER V. . The word people is not to be used with words of number. In some kinds of formal writing. Works of fiction are listed under the names of their respective authors.

the intention being either to avoid the awkward “he or she. A needless and awkward expression. write a letter of acknowledgment. Use this word sparingly. Very. Where emphasis is necessary. “It will not be worth my while to write to you again. either from a mere desire to vary the connective. Not to be used as a mere substitute for say.” Use he with all the above words.41 State. is the use of the plural pronoun with the antecedent anybody. “A friend of mine told me that they. unless the antecedent is or must be feminine. but. Thanking you in advance.” and if the favor which you have requested is granted. Dormitories A student Liked by the students The students passed resolutions. etc. which. Similar to this. In this use it is best replaced by a semicolon. System. Avoid the indiscriminate use of this word for and. “He refused to state his objections. as. Viewpoint. as many do.” Student body. remark. though implying more than one person. many a man. meaning no more than the simple word students. every one. Restrict it to the sense of express fully or clearly. A common inaccuracy is the use of the plural pronoun when the antecedent is a distributive expression such as each. Frequently used without need. . “Thanking you. A member of the student body Popular with the student body The student body passed resolutions. each one. or from uncertainty which of the two connectives is the more appropriate. While. any one. some one.” or to avoid committing oneself to either. everybody. Write point of view. use words strong in themselves. They.” Simply write. but with even less justification. somebody. and although. Some bashful speakers even say. This sounds as if the writer meant. Dayton has adopted the commission system of government. The dormitory system Dayton has adopted government by commission. for view or opinion. but do not misuse this. Many writers use it frequently as a substitute for and or but. requires the pronoun to be in the singular.

the writer will do well to use while only with strict literalness. While I admire his energy. while the rest of the building is devoted to manufacturing. as shown by the paraphrase. at the same time I wish it were employed in a better cause. Its use as a virtual equivalent of although is allowable in sentences where this leads to no ambiguity or absurdity. the nights are often chilly. The paraphrase.42 CHAPTER V. Although the temperature reaches 90 or 95 degrees in the daytime. who he said would send him the money The man who (that) he thought was his friend (whom he thought his friend) . whom he said would send him the money The man whom he thought was his friend His brother. at the same time the nights are often chilly. the rest of the building is devoted to manufacturing. shows why the use of while is incorrect. the nights are often chilly. His brother. when it is really the subject of a following verb. The office and salesrooms are on the ground floor. Often incorrectly used for who before he said or similar expressions. WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED This is entirely correct. I admire his energy. in the sense of during the time that. The temperature reaches 90 or 95 degrees in the daytime. Compare: While the temperature reaches 90 or 95 degrees in the daytime. The office and salesrooms are on the ground floor. I wish it were employed in a better cause. Whom. In general.

and from its brevity. Strictly applicable only to actions: “Is it worth while to telegraph?” His books are not worth reading (not worth one’s while to read. Would. A conditional statement in the first person requires should. Once a year he would visit the old mansion. Once a year he visited the old mansion. . do not repay reading). the past tense. His books are not worth while. is usually sufficient. I should not have succeeded without his help. He predicted that before long we should have a great surprise. The equivalent of shall in indirect quotation after a verb in the past tense is should. Overworked as a term of vague approval and (with not) of disapproval.43 Worth while. not would. without would. not would. The use of worth while before a noun (“a worth while story”) is indefensible. more emphatic. To express habitual or repeated action.


T HE E ND 45 . some one. Write any one. every one. some time (except the sense of formerly) as two words.Chapter VI W ORDS OFTEN MISSPELLED accidentally advice affect beginning believe benefit challenge criticize deceive definite describe despise develop disappoint duel ecstasy effect existence fiery formerly humorous hypocrisy immediately incidentally latter led lose marriage mischief murmur necessary occurred parallel Philip playwright preceding prejudice principal privilege pursue repetition rhyme rhythm ridiculous sacrilegious seize separate shepherd siege similar simile too tragedy tries undoubtedly until Write to-day. to-night. to-morrow (but not together) with hyphen.

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