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'The Elements of Style' (1918), by William Strunk, Jr., is an American English writing style guide. It is the best-known, most influential prescriptive treatment of English grammar and usage, and often is required reading and usage in U.S. high school and university composition classes. This edition of 'The Elements of Style' details eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, "a few matters of form", and a list of commonly misused words and expressions.
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William Strunk, Jr.
THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE
2017 © Book House Publishing
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 — Introductory
Chapter 2 — Elementary Rules of Usage
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding '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 a conjunction introducing a co-ordinate 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.
Chapter 3 — Elementary Principles of Composition
8. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic.
9. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence, end it in conformity with the beginning.
10. Use the active voice.
11. Put statements in positive form.
12. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
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.
Chapter 4 — A Few Matters of Form
Chapter 5 — Words and Expressions Commonly Misused
Chapter 6 — Spelling
Chapter 7 — Exercises on Chapters 2 And 3
2. Explain the difference in meaning
3. Explain and correct the errors in punctuation
4. Point out and correct the faults in the following sentences
This book aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated. In accordance with this plan it lays down three rules for the use of the comma, instead of a score or more, and one for the use of the semicolon, in the belief that these four rules provide for all the internal punctuation that is required by nineteen sentences out of twenty. Similarly, it gives in Chapter III only those principles of the paragraph and the sentence which are of the widest application. The book thus covers only a small portion of the field of English style. The experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory, which he may prefer to that offered by any textbook.
The numbers of the sections may be used as references in correcting manuscript.
The writer's colleagues in the Department of English in Cornell University have greatly helped him in the preparation of his manuscript. Mr. George McLane Wood has kindly consented to the inclusion under Rule 10 of some material from his Suggestions to Authors.
The following books are recommended for reference or further study: in connection with Chapters II and IV, F. Howard Collins, Author and Printer (Henry Frowde); Chicago University Press, Manual of Style; T. L. De Vinne, Correct Composition (The Century Company); Horace Hart, Rules for Compositors and Printers (Oxford University Press); George McLane Wood, Extracts from the Style-Book of the Government Printing Office (United States Geological Survey); in connection with Chapters III and V, The King's English (Oxford University Press); Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, The Art of Writing (Putnam), especially the chapter, Interlude on Jargon; George McLane Wood, Suggestions to Authors (United States Geological Survey); John Lesslie Hall, English Usage (Scott, Foresman and Co.); James P. Kelley, Workmanship in Words (Little, Brown and Co.). In these will be found full discussions of many points here briefly treated and an abundant store of illustrations to supplement those given in this book.
It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.
Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,
the witch's malice
This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.
Exceptions are the possessive of ancient proper names in -es and -is, the possessive Jesus', and such forms as for conscience' sake, for righteousness' sake. But such forms as Achilles' heel, Moses' laws, Isis' temple are commonly replaced by
the heel of Achilles
the laws of Moses
the temple of Isis
The pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours, and oneself have no apostrophe.
red, white, and blue
gold, silver, or copper
He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents.
This is also the usage of the Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.
In the names of business firms the last comma is omitted, as,
Brown, Shipley & Co.
The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.
This rule is difficult to apply; it is frequently hard to decide whether a single word, such as however, or a brief phrase, is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is but slight, the writer may safely omit the commas. But whether the interruption be slight or considerable, he must never insert one comma and omit the other. Such punctuation as
Marjorie's husband, Colonel Nelson paid us a visit yesterday,
My brother you will be pleased to hear, is now in perfect health,
If a parenthetic expression is preceded by a conjunction, place the first comma before the conjunction, not after it.
He saw us coming, and unaware that we had learned of his treachery, greeted us with a smile.
Always to be regarded as parenthetic and to be enclosed between commas (or, at the end of the sentence, between comma and period) are the following:
(1) the year, when forming part of a date, and the day of the month, when following the day of the week:
February to July, 1916.
April 6, 1917.
Monday, November 11, 1918.
(2) the abbreviations etc. and jr.
(3) non-restrictive relative clauses, that is, those which do not serve to identify or define the antecedent noun, and similar clauses introduced by conjunctions indicating time or place.
The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested.
In this sentence the clause introduced by which does not serve to tell which of several possible audiences is meant; what audience is in question is supposed to be already known. The clause adds, parenthetically, a statement supplementing that in the main clause. The sentence is virtually a combination of two statements which might have been made independently:
The audience had at first been indifferent. It became more and more interested.
Compare the restrictive relative clause, not set off by commas, in the sentence,
The candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place.
Here the clause introduced by who does serve to tell which of several possible candidates is meant; the sentence cannot be split up into two independent statements.
The difference in punctuation in the two sentences following is based on the same principle:
Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater.
The day will come when you will admit your mistake.
Nether Stowey is completely identified by its name; the statement about Coleridge is therefore supplementary and parenthetic. The day spoken of is identified only by the dependent clause, which is therefore restrictive.
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