This style manual offers practical advice on improving writing skills. Throughout, the emphasis is on promoting a plain English style. This little book can help you communicate more effectively by showing you how to enliven your sentences.
I devoted some of my grammar thesis to criticizing this book, and it was time well spent.
Geoff Nunberg may have said it best: "The weird thing is to see rules like these passed down as traditional linguistic wisdom. Take that edict that you ought to say "10 persons" rather than "10 people." You can still find it in the recent editions of Strunk and White's revered Elements of Style, along with antique admonitions against saying "contact us" or calling something "worthwhile." The linguist Arnold Zwicky calls these zombie rules. Somebody should have run them through a wood chipper long ago, but here we are in 2010 assigning students a style guide that tells them that correct English requires them to write, "There were 5,000 screaming persons at the Lady Gaga concert." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...
Lisa of Troy Takes on Two Prestigious Literary Heavyweights
When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher frightened me to the point where I wouldn’t speak. It was one of those situations where you internally plead, “Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me.” Of course, disaster struck. During one class, I got something in my eye. Tears were streaming down my face. The other students noticed and essentially crowd-surfed me up to the front of the class, explaining the situation in rapid fire Spanish. After nearly 20 years, I still remember this experience so vividly.
This fear-based environment profoundly impacted my Spanish skills in a negative way.
Do you want to know when I learned the most Spanish?
When I was at university, I met two native Spanish speaking students – one from Mexico and one from Venezuela. We would learn from each other. We would talk in a mixture of Spanish and English, discussing things like to how order from Subway when you didn’t know the name of all of the toppings (ultimately, we settled on using words like “this”, “that”, and pointing). My learning extended beyond dated textbooks, and I learned slang, swear words, and listened to music in Spanish for fun. Soon I even started dreaming in Spanish. There wasn’t a person of authority, no “I’m-better-than-you.” We learned from each other, and we unlocked worlds by doing so.
This book transported me back into Spanish class.
If Charlotte’s Web is a hug, The Elements of Style is a punch in the face.
Although the authors have passion and enthusiasm, this book lacks kindness, basic respect, and empathy. The authors write in such a conceited tone as if they are talking to peasants.
Shall we look at some examples? Strunk/EB White in italics below.
Colloquialisms. If you use a colloquialism or slang word or phrase, simply use it; do not draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks. To do so is to put on airs, as though you were inviting the reader to join you in a select society of those who know better.
Enthuse. An annoying verb growing out of the noun enthusiasm. Not recommended.
I am not enthused by the authors’ pompous demeanor.
Finalize. A pompous ambiguous verb.
Is this the author’s favorite word then?
Meaningful. A bankrupt adjective. Choose another, or rephrase.
Prestigious. Often an adjective of last resort. It’s in the dictionary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.
He says that you are illiterate if you don’t know that inflammable means combustible.
The truth is…The fact is…A bad beginning for a sentence. If you feel you are possessed of the truth, or of the fact, simply state it. Do not give it advance billing.
Extreme disagree! The truth is always perks up my ears. What is the truth? What is the point?
This shame-based education should be a thing of the past.
Do not affect a breezy manner.
Terrible advice. What I loved so much about Project Hail Mary is that I felt like one of my nerdy friends was having a conversation with me. Rick Riordan in the Percy Jackson series took some classic Greek mythology, modernized the language, and retold the myths in an unpretentious, interesting way, making them his own.
In ordinary composition, use orthodox spelling. Do not write nite for night, thru for through, pleez for please, unless you plan to introduce a complete system of simplified spelling and are prepared to take the consequences.
Stay in your lane, Strunk, telling me what I can and cannot write! This paper is my canvas. As the painter, there are no limits. My creativity isn’t bounded. If I want to say, “Good nite, my readers!” who cares? Maybe it will wake some people up. Why can’t I use magic in my writing? Why can’t I make up words or spelling, stretching myself, pushing readers to think outside the box?
Overly stuffy and formal writing and expecting strict compliance to a rigid set of rules is paralyzing.
The truth is that plot, character, and setting as well as using appropriate sentence and paragraph length are more important than using a few words correctly. In fact, I have already violated several of the rules of The Elements of Style in this review.
Avoid foreign language. It is a bad habit. Write in English.
What about carpe diem? Seize the day? Readers are smart. Treat them as such.
Avoid fancy words. Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready, and able.
Isn’t that one of the beauties of reading? Ordinarily, our vocabulary is limited to a certain set of words in our everyday usage; however, when you read you get to dust off those fancy words, words that you recognize but you don’t often use when you speak. When I encounter a fancy word, I feel like when I am walking along a beach and find an amazing seashell. The fancy words are beautiful treasures.
For example, take the first sentence from His Dark Materials by my favorite author, Philip Pullman:
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
Darkening is not a word that I normally say out loud, but I really enjoyed it in this sentence. Of course, fancy words should be balanced. If I attempted to use the thesaurus to change every single word into something more sophisticated, the sentence would sound ridiculous and take away from the storytelling.
Do not inject opinion.
Is this guy joking? This is classic, “Do as I say and not as I do.”
No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.
Who proofread this? The entire book is distrustful of the reader and is patronizing. Also, you don’t need a comma between “intelligence” and “or.” What kind of grammar book is this?
Time for street justice. Who won: Lisa of Troy or Strunk/EB White? Put your “two cents” in the comments!
I remember, my Freshman year, sitting in the Music Building lounge waiting for my next class when Maryanne came crashing in, with an appropriate amount of chaos, announcing to all “Oh crap, I can’t find my Strunk and White.” Everyone else in the room apparently knew what she was talking about, but I sat with a blank stare. A few weeks latter my required English 101 professor insisted we hit the bookstore and buy ‘The Elements of Style.’ We were to treat it like the Holy Grail of grammar, carry it with us at all times, sleep with it, and consider it our eternal faithful lover. This would become the first of many copies of Strunk & White that have come and gone in my life. I think at one time I actually had four copies. Maryanne, made a similar pontification in the same lounge a month later “Oh no, I have lost my Boosey & Hawkes”* which I did understand. It may have sounded more erotic than Strunk & White but certainly less dramatic. For me Boosies and Hawksies came and went, but Strunks and Whites have remained constant.
This year, for my birthday, I received yet another copy. Only this edition is hardback and Illustrated! At first I thought: how queer can this be? It has got to be a mistake. It’s a grammar book! This had to be a novel, a book on fashion, or something sharing a name. Nope. Same Strunk & White – only this time with pictures.
Over the years, I have acquired other books on grammar (even one on Pittsburgh diction—go figure) but none can compare. The Elements of Style is concise, easy to understand and practically perfect. It’s the best. Ever.
And a very clever artist has figured out how to illustrate sentence fragments, misused words, the hyphen, participle phrases and lots of other teeth gritting English stumbling blocks—in a very Magritte sort of way.
Yet, there is one thing, even the most excellent book, won’t be able to do, as, my friends will attest, and this, would be, comma abuse, of which, I am the Master.
There must be some structure to language. We must agree on some aspects of it, and creating rules and definitions around those mutual agreements helps to foster intelligibility throughout the language.
Likewise, this agreement to abide by these rules means that we can teach communication. This does not mean only in the case of children, but it certainly simplifies it for them. This also means that writers can continue to learn, to interact, and to write understandably and not wastefully.
We take these rules from traditions, but also from common sense. Strunk's rulings on word use (especially amongst words with similar meanings) are based on the root words, and the original meanings. Strunk means to separate these similar words so that instead of synonyms, we have two similar but precise words.
This also prevents confusion, as various English dialects may take these words in different ways, but all share the same roots.
However, language changes constantly, so regulating it and placing rules on it is difficult. Many feel that it stifles creativity, or that it places hegemonic power in the hands of the elite. One benefit of this regulation is that we can read Shakespeare today with little trouble.
Dictionaries came into popularity around the time of Shakespeare, as did the study of philology. We have more trouble reading Chaucer, even though only two-hundred years separate Chaucer and Shakespeare, while twice that length separates Shakespeare from us.
The work of Strunk and White is not to close off language, nor to set it absolutely free, but to make a linguistic analysis of its forms, meanings and changes, but one that the layman can appreciate. The work is somewhat dated by today's standards, but this actually provides the perfect example for many of the book's observations on the mutability of language.
It likewise supports the assertion that language may change, but not as much as you might think. Strunk and White is just as useful to an author today as it was when it was compiled.
It is light-hearted and often humorous, and presents language and communication in a thoughtful way. Any writer should come away from this book with a new respect for language, and with a keener eye for seeing their own writing.
While the book sometimes seems severe in its regulations, this is only because misuse is so rampant and so ugly. Similarly, someone might tell you "under no circumstances should you balance on a chair on the edge of the roof of a ten story building". This rule is perfectly reasonable, despite the fact that some well-trained, adventurous individuals are quite capable of this feat.
The fact remains that for the majority, violating these simple rules will result in an unsightly mess. A talented and experienced writer can flaunt and even break the rules when it suits him. The greatest writers do, and this book gives examples of how and why they do it.
However, rules are how we create meaning. Whether you follow them or break them, you must know them and understand how they work in order to communicate to your reader. You cannot subvert and idea unless you understand it, and you cannot communicate anything to your reader that doesn't have a basis in their experiences and understanding.
There is no impressive act of creation that is not conscious and considered, because rebellion cannot happen in a void. It's the rule that proves the exception.
In her charming essay, "Insert a Carrot", Anne Fadiman describes a trait shared by everyone in her family - a heightened sensitivity to the flaws in other people's writing. The Fadimans all belong to that tribe whose members cannot read without simultaneously copy-editing. When dining out, they amuse each other by pointing out typos on the menu. It might seem obnoxious, but really they just can't help it. If you're blessed with the copy-editing gene you can't just switch it off.
I have the same problem. When I read, typographical and grammatical errors leap off the page, assailing my eyeballs, demanding to be noticed. A distraction that I am incapable of ignoring, they hijack my attention and diminish my respect for the author. I want my own writing to be free of such distractions; it should be forceful and persuasive. I welcome constructive advice that helps me attain that goal. My copy of "Modern American Usage" is grubby and well-thumbed. I think its author, Bryan A. Garner, has accomplished something quite remarkable. He has written a usage guide that gives writers clear, concrete, reasoned advice, without being overly dogmatic or erring on the side of sloppiness. I hate sloppy writing.
I also hate Strunk and White. Its popularity is inexplicable to me. Here are just a few of my objections:
1. Their famous motto, "Omit needless words", is fatuous and has absolutely no practical value. (If I knew how to do this, I'd already be some kind of great communication guru.) Repeating this essentially vapid advice in similarly empty formulations like "Be clear" and "Don't explain too much" is of no practical help to anybody, and suggests that even the authors have difficulty in deciphering their own admonitions.
2. The stylistic tips that are not simply platitudinous are often just silly, hopelessly vague, or reflective of the long outdated prejudices of a couple of old white dudes.
For example -
Do not inject opinion. Prefer the standard to the offbeat. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good. Write with nouns and verbs. Don't construct awkward adverbs. Avoid fancy words. Use figures of speech sparingly. Do not overwrite.
Having trouble figuring out whether your ear is "good", your adverb is "awkward", or your writing is "over"? Good luck with that. S & W will be of no help whatsoever. Why not?
3. The examples used to illustrate "bad" style in the book are generally ludicrously bad. The need for correction is so glaringly obvious that the examples have little instructive value. The authors are well able to demolish straw men, but if you want advice on a subtle point, they are unlikely to be of any practical help.
4. The fetishistic obsession with avoiding the passive voice is (a) baffling (b) profoundly irritating when some freaking paperclip starts to lecture you about it (c) so obviously idiotic that the authors themselves ignore it throughout the book.
Other questionable decrees include the ukase that "none" should always take a singular verb, the prohibition on starting a sentence with "however", and the pointless "which/that" discussion.
These exemplify one of the book's biggest problems, which - to be fair - is not necessarily the authors' fault. It has achieved the status of a kind of sacred text, with all of the problems that result. People become blind to the internal inconsistencies within the text, it gets quoted with the kind of self-righteous zeal characteristic to "true believers" and to similar ends. Instead of stimulating thoughtful discussion, S & W is wielded as a weapon to end it. Which might not be so terrible if the advice it contains were not so vague, idiosyncratic and frequently inconsistent. Probably the most infuriating aspect of writing our book was my co-author's continual invocation of Strunk and White as the final arbiter. One can only wonder by whose authority these two gentlemen were anointed God.
In a cunning marketing gimmick, the latest edition of Strunk and White has been jazzed up by including illustrations by Maira Kalman. Ms Kalman is a delightful artist, whose work elsewhere I greatly admire. But she really should have said no to this particular project. Her illustrations are occasionally pretty, sometimes baffling, but generally pointless. They add no particular insight, though some readers may find them a welcome distraction from the barked eccentricities of the book's two main authors.
“It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric”, says professor Strunk. The old fart was probably referring to his students at Cornell University. The Elements of Style is indeed a dusty textbook (1918), but still widely in use today. It aims at providing a set of rules and tips on how to write properly, if not elegantly. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, strongly recommends this book to any aspiring fiction writer.
In truth, such rules as, for instance, the pre-eminence of the active over the passive voice, or the superiority of the positive over the negative mode in a sentence (which, at the time, were perhaps not as evident), have become the sesame of communication, advocated at school, in business and even in spelling and grammar software.
Some of Strunk’s remarks are amusing, sarcastic even, like this one on the use of the word Nature: “Often vaguely used in such expressions as “a lover of nature;” “poems about nature.” Unless more specific statements follow, the reader cannot tell whether the poems have to do with natural scenery, rural life, the sunset, the untracked wilderness, or the habits of squirrels.”
While this hodgepodge of rules is at best a bit arbitrary and, at worst, quite outdated, the core of it all is to prompt students to write boldly, confidently, legibly, with crispness and vigour, and avoid fizzling out with sloppy writing — nothing wrong about that.
The gold standard. No more need be said than to quote Mr. Strunk's thoughts under the headline "Omit Needless Words":
"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the reader make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
And every word of Mr. Strunk's (as updated and expanded by the brilliant and self-effacing E.B. White) indeed does tell.
Don't touch your keyboard without reading this book!
I still remember, and will always remember, my 11th grade English class. Before that year, English class had meant little more than vocabulary tests, book reports, and those five-paragraph (hamburger) essays. But this class was different. Our teacher was not interested in getting us to pass a standardized test; instead, she wanted to really teach us how to read and write.
To my astonishment, I realized that nobody had ever done that before. I had been taught how to write a five-paragraph essay, but not how to write. I had been taught how to pass tests on books, but not how to read them. Writing formulaic essays and passing multiple-choice tests requires certain skills: brute memorization and learning by rote. But reading and writing require something much different: a sensitivity to the written word. Integral to developing this sensitivity was reading this slim volume.
The Elements of Style is normally billed as a kind of guidebook or instruction manual—these are the rules of grammar; these are the rules of style: follow them and you will produce good writing. And, indeed, this is how the book is formatted. But half of Strunk’s rules of grammar and usage are hopelessly outdated; the other half will probably be outdated in another fifty years. What’s more, how can anyone hope to encapsulate ‘good style’, since highly respected authors have written an enormous variety of styles?
No; the value of this book lies neither in its rules of grammar nor of style. It is valuable because Strunk and White cherish language. Consider this quote: “The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.” Now, this may or may not be true; I’m not saying it isn’t. My point is that, regardless, what’s important is Strunk’s attitude—that he cared deeply enough about writing to sit down and describe the feelings evoked by punctuation. To my high school self, this was beyond belief.
Strunk felt that writing was about communication—getting your point across fully without wasting the reader’s time. Say what you will about him, he was not a hypocrite; this little book can be read in one sitting. In fact, so fully does this book live up to its author’s ideals, that the reader gets a full dose of his personality. When reading Strunk's taut bullet points—“Put statements into positive form!” “Omit needless words!”—you can almost hear him yelling them in a crowded classroom—his voice harsh and nasal, his skin pale, his face cleanly shaven, wearing a tweed jacket and tapping the lectern with an open palm.
“Omit needless words!” he says again, this time with a slight grin. And with that grin, you both realize the obvious: that he’s secretly thankful for all the writers who don’t abide by his principles; otherwise, he would have nothing to be grumpy about.
The point is not that you write this way or that; the point is that you care about the way you choose.
This is a wonderful book for beginning writers to use as a guide. It cleary spells out the rules of English grammar, and provides examples to explain each guideline. I highly recommend this little gem! I bought this book at special price from here: https://www.amazon.com/Elements-Style...
It is very good for what it does, which is advise on how to write clearly and concisely. But generations of writers have completely misunderstood its purpose and used it as a Bible of Good Writing. It's not. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum has famously gone on something of a crusade against The Elements of Style, and while he makes good points, it may be a little unfair to blame S&W for the fact that writers don't realize the original authors were addressing an audience of barely-literate college students. If you are a fiction writer, S&W's advice should be taken with a very large grain of salt — if you try to write novels using The Elements of Style as your guide, you will probably write very cleanly and correctly but very badly.
Many other books on writing are not as directly helpful as this one. I have made every mistake a human being can make while writing. I'm making mistakes right now. Improvement is a lifelong process. This readable and referenceable book is one to keep in the desk drawer, to peruse before and after writing.
Aside from the argument that the English language is sliding toward less standardization, many editors, agents, publishers and readers demand or expect PhD-level grammar (whatever that equates to). But it really should not take years of reading and diagramming sentences to put words together in a satisfactory fashion.
If you have tried other how-to-write books, I'd set them aside until you've finished this one. This may contain all you need to know in a much smaller bundle. As a rule, I am not a fan of criticism. I could pick apart most pieces of writing. You could pick apart most of what I write. It's human nature to seek out flaws. In order to write competitively, writers must arm themselves against critics. But even more than that, communication benefits from clarity and articulation. I feel that a close study of this book will elevate a writer's awareness of certain flaws. These flaws pass most of us by without notice. But they can also undermine an otherwise excellent piece of writing.
Wouldn't we all like to write at a level where grammar is no longer part of the equation, where each sentence unfurls from the pen with the pithy lightning strike of Oscar Wilde's polished prose, on the first draft of course, where we can excavate the furthest reaches of our imagination and mind without regard to "should the comma go here, or here?" But I am not sure if such a state of nirvana exists. Revision never ends.
In summary, I recommend picking up this book. I trust it much more than those bloggers (paid by the word) posting "Helpful Tips."
This book is not perfect so of course it's got some errors. However, there are reasons this is considered one of the most important books on writing. The fact that it stands the test of time since its first publication in 1918 also goes to show how helpful it's been to a lot of people.
I based my review on my own experiences and observations. From what I can see, the main lesson for most people I know who have read this book is 'omit needless words' which is good and might be music to an editor's ears but it's more than that to me! It shows how clear thinking will produce clear writing which is a great deal in communicating a message to others.
Every time I revisit it, I'm reminded of not only how much I can learn from my past mistakes but also how much more I need to know in order to improve myself. It's a very humbling learning experience! The playful and vibrant illustrations by Maira Kalman in this edition also make learning from this book more enjoyable and fun.
Knowing the elements of our writing style will help us express our voices better. Like someone dear to me used to say: To live is to serve. In the end, if the expression of our voices is clear, so much so that it can help others find their voices as well? Then that's all that matters!
Write to-day, to-night, to-morrow (but not together) with hyphen.
Write any one, every one, some one, some time (except the sense of formerly) as two words.
Thanking you in advance. This sounds as if the writer meant, "It will not be worth my while to write to you again." Simply write, "Thanking you," and if the favor which you have requested is granted, write a letter of acknowledgment.
As a couple of reviewers have mentioned, Elements of Style has become somewhat out of style. There are plenty of people who stand by it as a trusted source for all things grammar, but I imagine even diehard supporters will grudgingly admit that the standards it established have led to some truly convoluted sentences.
Even so, I still recommend it as a handy pocketbook for anybody who's interested in the craft of writing. When I originally read it a number of years ago, I was a little strict in following the rules it outlined. It had a negative impact on my writing. But as I outgrew some of the habits it taught me, I began to think of it more as a leap off point for amateur wordsmiths, a sturdy foundation for beginners to build their own style on.
Yes, there are probably more up to date guides on grammar and writing, but I haven't read those, so my rating for this book exists in a vacuum of sorts: It's a good manual if you take it as the beginning of wisdom, not the end. Most importantly, the material is simple and engaging. The examples and logic are straightforward. And at the very least it will get you playing with the English language.
I never thought I would say this about a book, but every writer needs to read this book. Hell, if you plan on writing anything you should read this book. The title is very misleading. Anyone who came across it for the first time might think it was a book about "style" as an artform. For those who are worried about the pedantry of writing, this book is mostly about grammar and what can be more effective in using the English language. This needs to be in the curriculumn for high schools, especially now when grammar is being forgotten so that people can e-mail and sound stupid on myspace. I only had two bones to pick with this book: First, I thought a comment E.B. White made in terms of using only "he" instead of "she" as a universal antecedent for sentences that may begin, "One must watch his/her step," is a bit off for somebody who studies language. On one hand we have someone in love with language who agrees with Strunk that student body should be replaced with studentry, and on the other hand White is giving in to gender roles within language. A bit silly, and as many readers might have picked recognized, writing books have "she" in a lot of them. Second, White made a comment about not using a foreign language in a work which, though I agree can be confusing, can still be pulled off. The way it came across was distasteful. But those are perhaps just comments on what I might feel about White as a person and not as a writer or teacher. Get this book!
I find it very impressive that this was written almost one hundred years ago and still remains so relevant and revered today.
The book does exactly what the title suggests – covers stylistic elements of the English language. Each rule covered has multiple examples attached to it for proficient understanding and it managed to be both highly informative, whilst offering me nothing new. This is certainly of great practical help in academic writing, but I found it rather lacking for my current desires.
I listened to this in audiobook form and I don't think it was really suited towards that format. The information was relayed in a dry and uninspiring style that felt a little repetitive and I could feel my attention dwindling as I attempted to process the over-abundance of information. The grammatical advice was not new to me, which allowed my attention to drift further, and I think I would have more appreciation for this if I had discovered it sooner.
This covers the basic grammatical and stylistic principles of good academic writing and I feel it is a good starter manual for any budding writer. Unfortunately, I was expecting something different going into this and it wasn't exactly what I was currently looking for.
All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation — it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.
To review, the book is an amazingly curated edition that has scored well in the attempt of presenting vital things in a concise and clear manner.
And, here are some of my prime takeaways from the book.
• Unnecessary emphasis of a sentence is never the demand. • The word but when trailed after doubt or help turns needless. • Data is and always were data. • Avoid however at the start of a sentence, they tend to fit better when placed in between. • The habit of adding the suffix -ize into a noun in order to create a verb is responsible for making one ignorant regarding the already present words. • “One of the” is a feeble writing formula. Cut it and find a precise orientation. • Facts require no advance billing. • Do not be tempted by a fancy word when there is already a handy word. • The best spelling is the one that is regarded as orthodox today. • Writing style matters as it is what overpowers emotions into the words. • Revise & Rewrite, but do not overwrite.
It's a little prescriptive, but this book's advice is solid. The fourth chapter was actually fun to read because parts of it came across as a long, pompous rant.
"To say, "Hopefully I'll leave on the noon plane" is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you'll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you'll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven't said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of many others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense."
Hopefully I don't run into Strunk or White on the street; they would really hate how I usually talk and write. There is some great advice about writing forcefully and concisely in this book, and at a hundred pages it's well worth the time.
What a great book - a classic. I loved the funny examples (of yore), sentences most of us would not write any longer. Then again, because we would not write them anymore we pay attention, we are tempted to analyze them. Is the book still relevant? You bet!
“… show the weakness of the word NOT. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; he wishes to be told what is. Hence, as a rule, it is better to express even a negative in positive form.
Not honest ................................dishonest Not important .............................trifling Did not remember...........................forgot Did not pay attention to...................ignored Did not have much confidence in............distrusted…”
And isn’t it, that we read the words listed on the left side, every day?
Whoops, make that, "the book's importance and relevance is proven in the fact that that most of us get to read and also write the words listed on the left side, too frequently.
I have always wanted to be fluent in English ever since I took to this language. I was inspired by my cousin who was ‘English-era’ and whom I found smart at answering any question I would pose to her. I was even astounded to find out that she always memorized English words with her mini dictionary to be more expressive of her thoughts and feelings. I thought to myself that in doing so could have been the key to becoming proficient in English. Fascinated, I did the same manner; she allowed me to borrow her dictionary, and I committed all the words to memory. When I finished that dictionary, I had proven my hypothesis. Thereafter, not satisfied with the words new to me, I had tried more than two dictionaries until I got nauseated by the words I was trying to take in.
But I was in for a rude awakening when I asked myself how I had to speak as impeccably as grammar Nazis do, the phrase I was not yet aware of . Also, at that time, I was envious of a political icon in the Philippines who was admired for her intelligence and oratorical speeches. For sure, whenever I spoke English with great aplomb because of my crystallized knowledge of vocabulary, I must not have been aware of the fact that those people whom I addressed would cringe at my ” Carabao English”. Thanks to my unconscious thirst for learning; I had persevered in reading more English text books,and English became my favorite subject throughout my school life .
To advance my English skills, I decided to teach Koreans since teaching them seemed like was all the fashion then. Eventually, I got a wrong perception . So, working as an ESL teacher for nine years means I have learned a lot of lessons on English grammar and structures, particularly on effective writing. As a result, I have become confident about my English. My friends would even tag me as a grammar policeman, the title I learned to accept. However, I smashed that delusion because I realized one time that there are people we may not know who suffer from learning disabilities. I believe that disdaining someone’s shortcomings in perfect English is an example of intellectual hubris.
When I first read The Elements of Style ( second edition) during my teaching career in an international language school, I realized that there were a lot of things I still had not known. Also, it dawned on me that not all the information I had learned was correct. Consequently, I had this ” grammatical crisis”, the same as the law term ” constitutional crisis” when a government agency is unable to function effectively because of the ambiguous and illogical application of the law. However, I was not too scholarly to acknowledge the points of the book, for I preferred to believe the authority of the authors whose books I had relied on for so many years. It was as though I had disposed of the book down the gutter and chose to remain incorrigible. intransigent, and denial. It was just as well that I read its pdf.
When I got this book for its third edition, I already felt like looking to a panel of experts on the English language or a faculty of teachers who have been dedicated to teaching English to non-native speakers for some enlightenment . There were some grammar parts I was discombobulated about. ( William Strunk would be shuddering at my using this adjective.) Eventually, I realized that the authors, two versus the authors I look up to, have the method to their madness.
The book is divided into five parts which steered clear of my blissful ignorance: Elementary Usage of Rules, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form , Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style.
The first part Elementary Usage of Rules shattered my world again when I revisited some wrong grammatical information I disregarded before:
# 1. I must not use an apostrophe (‘) if the proper noun ends with s.
Ever since I opened the first English textbook I read (that was a poignant memory), I learned that I can use an apostrophe (‘) even if the proper noun ends with s. That book is even supported by standardized English test books studied by non-native speakers.
#2. No comma should separate a noun from a restrictive form of identification.
I am now too old to remember this basic fact. Punctuation marks like comma and dash used for appositive phrases should be to blame for my confusion.
#3 When the connective is and , the comma should be omitted if the relation between the two statements is close or immediate.
Finally, I am clear about this rule. I had been bothered if I’d rather separate two independent clauses using FANBOYS than combining then with the same subject of the sentences.
#4 .The book points out that it is a blunder when we use a singular verb form in a relative clause following” one of …’
Another grammar point that I have been confused about until now. Basically, most grammar books I have read argue that it is correct to use both singular and plural verb forms. However, they prefer using the singular verb form in a sense that one of…refers to a singular noun excluding itself from the group.
My favorite part of the book is Elementary Principles of Composition. Although I have learned most of the tips on effective writing several times,I am exhilarated by their emphatic significance. Sometimes, I don’t give a hoot when some professional writers are constantly reminding me of them, but now it is about time I took their advice. Besides, there are some bad writing habits I should really break:
#1.Brevity and concise. My writing style is kind of digression most of the time. I believe so.
#2. Statements should be put in positive form. I am in the habit of writing statements with doubt not necessarily because I want to assert my opinions . I always believe that I should not insist something invalid and unreliable since there are many beholders in the universe. I’d rather leave my audience up in the air and find the answers themselves.
#3. Use definite , specific, concrete language. I agree with the authors of the book that the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete. Sometimes, my general statements obscure my main points. Kinda words salad.
# 4 .Omit needless words. Here I am again. I love injecting non-essential clauses.
#5. An article or a preposition applying to all the members of a series must either be used only before the first term of a series must either be used only before the first term or else be repeated before each term.
Gee, I was right when a professor corrected my sentence before because I followed this rule.
#6 . In summaries, keep to one tense
This is the rule I want to share with my friends who have been puzzled by what tense they should use in summarizing dramas, poems, novels, or stories. The book suggests that we use the present tense or the past tense. If we want to make the story or drama sound natural, we can stick to the past tense form.
I also enjoyed A Few Matters of Form. I just learned from this part that most dates and numbers are best spelled out in dialogues. Also, since I am into blogging, I should omit initial A or The from titles when I place the possessive form before them. Awesome!
Words and Expressions Commonly Misused discusses the correct words and expressions I have reviewed several times, and I should not complicate anymore. For example, we can simply use whether instead of as to whether or yet not as yet. The book also suggests the words acceptable to writing which in effect failed to provide justifiable reasons such as at this at this moment not currently; because of not due to ; enthusiastic not enthuse , in regards to not as regards, insightful not perceptive . In addition, the book expresses distaste for our acute habit of using the words and phrases we have thought to be part of normal communication such as one of the most , relate to , respectively , the foreseeable future, utilize , very, finalize , hopefully , importantly and so on. Admittedly, I have used most of them in my blog posts many times. (laughs)
For more lists of words and phrases we must avoid, click here .
An Approach to Style gives a list of reminders on effective writing. I enjoyed this part because I learned that we can have our own styles of writing, but should consider the elements we should use to make our masterpiece acceptable and vigorous.
The Guardian and Time magazine considered The Elements of Style one of the most influential non-fiction of all time. It is sort of like a bible for all English teachers and writers. Thus, the major impacts it had on me , aside from the correct English grammar and structures, are the growing realization that English is not the basis of intelligence at all , but we should never stop learning if we want to be better at this language . Besides, this acts as another catalysts for my insatiable desire for becoming a good writer in the foreseeable future- the time expression repulsed William Strunk Jr. and E.B White. (laughs)
I hated, hated, HATED this book! Talk about literary elitism at its worst. This book annoyed me to no end because the entire tone of this book was, "If you write like this or if you say this, then it's wrong." So much of what was written in the "Improperly used words" section could be completely argued that language has evolved to the point where many of these rules don't apply anymore. I also didn't like the imperative manner in which it was written. Don't order me to do these things; give me encouragement, tell me what's good about writing, don't just tell me what not to do.
The last chapter of the book was much more positive, and I think that's because it was written by E.B. White. I could totally tell where one voice began and the other ended.
I guess what really upsets me most about this book is how discouraging it can be for beginning writers to see so many nit-picky "rules" of writing and find themselves saying, "Why bother?" For people who enjoy writing, maybe this book might be of some use as a way to give you "friendly reminders," but I fear beginning writers getting a hold of this book, saying, "Writing has way too many rules," and then giving up before they even try.