About the Author
William Strunk, Jr. first used his own book, The Elements of Style, in 1919 for his English 8 course at Cornell University. The book was published in 1935 by Oliver Strunk.
E. B. White was a student in Professor Strunk's class at Cornell, and used "the little book" for himself. Commissioned by Macmillan to revise Strunk's book, White edited the 1959 and 1972 editions of The Elements of Style.
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Chapter 2: Elementary Principles of Composition12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing. Writers Will in part follow this design, in part deviate from it, according to their skills, their needs, and the unexpected events that accompany the act of composition. Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. This calls for a scheme of procedure. In some cases, the best design is no design, as with a love letter, which is simply an outpouring, or with a casual essay, which is a ramble. But in most cases, planning must be a deliberate prelude to writing. The first principle of composition, therefore, is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape.
A sonnet is built on a fourteen-line frame, each line containing five feet. Hence, sonneteers know exactly where they are headed, although they may not know how to get there. Most forms of composition are less clearly defined, more flexible, but all have skeletons to which the writer will bring the flesh and the blood. The more clearly the writer perceives the shape, the better are the chances of success.
13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
The paragraph is a convenient unit; it serves all forms of literary work. As long as it holds together, a paragraph may be of any length-a single, short sentence or a passage of great duration.
if the subject on which you are writing is of slight extent, or if you intend to treat it briefly, there may be no need to divide it into topics. Thus, a brief description, a brief book review, a brief account of a single incident, a narrative merely outlining an action, the setting forth of a single idea-any one of these is best written in a single paragraph. After the paragraph has been written, examine it to see whether division will improve it.
Ordinarily, however, a subject requires division into topics, each of which should be dealt with in a paragraph. The object of treating each topic in a paragraph by itself is, of course, to aid the reader. The beginning of each paragraph is a signal that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached.
As a rule, single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphs. An exception may be made of sentences of transition, indicating the relation between the parts of an exposition or argument.
In dialogue, each speech, even if only a single word, is usually a paragraph by itself; that is, a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker. The application of this rule when dialogue and narrative are combined is best learned from examples in well-edited works of fiction. Sometimes a writer, seeking to create an effect of rapid talk or for some other reason, will elect not to set off each speech in a separate paragraph and instead will run speeches together. The common practice, however, and the one that serves best in most instances, is to give each speech a paragraph of its own.
As a rule, begin each paragraph either with a sentence that suggests the topic or with a sentence that helps the transition. If a paragraph forms part of a larger composition, its relation to what precedes, or its function as a part of the whole, may need to be expressed. This can sometimes be done by a mere word or phrase (again, therefore, for the same reason) in the first sentence. Sometimes, however, it is expedient to get into the topic slowly, by way of a sentence or two of introduction or transition.
In narration and description, the paragraph sometimes begins with a concise, comprehensive statement serving to hold together the details that follow.
The breeze served us admirably.
The campaign opened with a series of reverses.
The next ten or twelve pages were filled with a curious set of entries.
But when this device, or any device, is too often used, it becomes a mannerism. More commonly, the opening sentence simply indicates by its subject the direction the paragraph is to take.
At length I thought I might return toward the stockade.
He picked up the heavy lamp from the table and began to explore.
Another flight of steps, and they emerged on the roof.
In animated narrative, the paragraphs are likely to be short and without any semblance of a topic sentence, the writer rushing headlong, event following event in rapid succession. The break between such paragraphs merely serves the purpose of a rhetorical pause, throwing into prominence some detail of the action.
In general, remember that paragraphing calls for a good eye as well as a logical mind. Enormous blocks of print look formidable to readers, who are often reluctant to tackle them. Therefore, breaking long paragraphs in two, even if it is not necessary to do so for sense, meaning, or logical development, is often a visual help. But remember, too, that firing off many short paragraphs in quick succession can be distracting. Paragraph breaks used only for show read like the writing of commerce or of display advertising. Moderation and a sense of order should be the main considerations in paragraphing....
Table of Contents
I.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 an Independent Clause.
5.Do Not Join Independent Clauses with a Comma.
6.Do Not Break Sentences in Two.
7.Use a Colon after an Independent Clause to Introduce a List of Particulars, an Appositive, an Amplification, or an Illustrative Question.
8.Use a Dash to Set Off an Abrupt Break or Interruption and to Announce a Long Appositive or Summary.
9.The Number of the Subject Determines the Number of the Verb.
10.Use the Proper Case of Pronoun.
11.A Participial Phrase at the Beginning of the Sentence Must Refer to the Grammatical Subject.
II.ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION.
12.Choose a Suitable Sesign and Hold to It.
13.Make the Paragraph the unit of Composition.
14.Use the Active Voice.
15.Put Statements in Positive Form.
16.Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language.
17.Omit Needless Words.
18.Avoid a Succession of Loose Sentences.
19.Express Coordinate Ideas in Similar Form.
20.Keep Related Words Together.
21.In Summaries, Keep to One Tense.
22.Place the Emphatic Words of a Sentence at the End.
III.A FEW MATTERS OF FORM.
IV.WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED.
V.AN APPROACH TO STYLE (WITH A LIST OF REMINDERS).
1.Place Yourself in the Background.
2.Write in a Way That Comes Naturally.
3.Work From a Suitable Style.
4.Write with Nouns and Verbs.
5.Revise and Rewrite.
6.Do Not Overwrite.
7.Do Not Overstate.
8.Avoid the Use of Qualifiers.
9.Do Not Affect a Breezy Manner.
10.Use Orthodox Spelling.
11.Do Not Explain Too Much.
12.Do Not Construct Awkward Adverbs.
13.Make Sure the Reader Knows Who is Speaking.
14.Avoid Fancy Words.
15.Do Not Use Dialect Unless Your Ear Is Good.
17.Do Not Inject Opinion.
18.Use Figures of Speech Sparingly.
19.Do Not Take Shortcuts at the Cost of Clarity.
20.Avoid Foreign Languages.
21.Prefer the Standard to the Offbeat.
What People are Saying About This
"White is one of the best stylists and most lucid minds in this country. What he says and his way of saying it are equally rewarding."
"So friendly, so classic, so delightful . . . Kalman has taken 'the little book' and made it even more elegant and uplifting."
-Los Angeles Times
"While The Elements of Style has never lacked fans or dutiful adherents, appreciation for this slim volume has taken a turn toward the whimsical and even surreal."
-The New York Times
"The pictures are playful and subtle, which suits the spirit of this beloved bestseller."
"The book remains a nonpareil: direct, correct, and delightful."
"Buy it, study it, enjoy it. It's as timeless as a book can be in our age of volubility."
THE FIRST writer I watched at work was my stepfather, E. B. White. Each Tuesday morning, he would close his study door and sit down to write the "Notes and Comment" page for The New Yorker The task was familiar to him-he was required to file a few hundred words of editorial or personal commentary on some topic in or out of the news that week-but the sounds of his typewriter from his room came in hesitant bursts, with long silences in between. Hours went by. Summoned at last for lunch, he was silent and preoccupied, and soon excused himself to get back to the job. When the copy went off at last, in the afternoon RFD pouch-we were in Maine, a day's mail away from New York-he rarely seemed satisfied. "It isn't good enough," he said sometimes. "I wish it were better."
Writing is hard, even for authors who do it all the time. Less frequent practitioners-the job applicant; the business executive with an annual report to get out; the high school senior with a Faulkner assignment; the graduate-school student with her thesis proposal; the writer of a letter of condolence-often get stuck in an awkward passage or find a muddle on their screens, and then blame themselves. What should be easy and flowing looks tangled or feeble or overblown-not what was meant at all. What's wrong with me, each one thinks. Why can't I get this right?
It was this recurring question, put to himself, that must have inspired White to revive and add to a textbook by an English professor of his, Will Strunk Jr., that he had first read in college, and to get it published. The result, this quiet book, has been in print for forty years, and has offered more than tenmillion writers a helping hand. White knew that a compendium of specific tips-about singular and plural verbs, parentheses, the "that"-"which" scuffle, and many others-could clear up a recalcitrant sentence or subclause when quickly reconsulted, and that the larger principles needed to be kept in plain sight, like a wall sampler.
How simple they look, set down here in White's last chapter: "Write in a way that comes naturally," "Revise and rewrite," "Do not explain too much," and the rest; above all, the cleansing, clarion "Be clear." How often I have turned to them, in the book or in my mind, while trying to start or unblock or revise some piece of my own writing! They help-they really do. They work. They are the way.
E. B. White's prose is celebrated for its ease and clarity,just think of Charlotte's Web-but maintaining this standard required endless attention. When the new issue of The New Yorker turned up in Maine, I sometimes saw him reading his "Comment" piece over to himself, with only a slightly different expression than the one he'd worn on the day it went off. Well, O.K., he seemed to be saying, At least I got the elements right.
This edition has been modestly updated, with word processors and air conditioners making their first appearance among White's references, and with a light redistribution of genders to permit a feminine pronoun or female farmer to take their places among the males who once innocently served him. Sylvia Plath has knocked Keats out of the box, and I notice that "America" has become "this country" in a sample text, to forestall a subsequent and possibly demeaning "she" in the same paragraph. What is not here is anything about E-mail-the rules-free, lower-case flow that cheerfully keeps us in touch these days. E-mail is conversation, and it may be replacing the sweet and endless talking we once sustained (and tucked away) within the informal letter. But we are all writers and readers as well as communicators, with the need at times to please and satisfy ourselves (as White put it) with the clear and almost perfect thought.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A quick glance at the foreword makes me wonder if they should have left the 'little book' alone after the third edition. Here are a few gems from the foreword -- 2nd para: 'Less frequent practitioners - the job applicant; the business executive .. ; the high school senior .. ; the graduate-school student .. ; the writer ..' ---> Rule 2. In a series of three or more terms .., use a comma after each term except the last. -- 3rd para: 'It was this recurring question, put to himself, that must have inspired White to revive and add to a textbook by an English professor of his, Will Strunk Jr., that he had first read in college, and to get it published.' ---> Rule 20. Keep related words together. -- 3rd para: 'The result, this quiet book ..' ---> Will Strunk's a quiet book? Omit needless words! Use the active voice! ..
I am a writing teacher, and I have used several different grammar books. The Elements of Style is the easiest book to use in a writing class for both teachers and students alike. It is short and concise - so much so that students are not intimidated by what they are learning. Many of my students have actually enjoyed reading the book, as it is both informational and witty. I have heard many students say, "I wish I had this book earlier in my writing career." I second that!
The Elements of Style is one of the most important books that I own. Although I'm out of college, I refer to it again and again. Even if I'm not correcting grammar or punctuation, I'll still open the book to see what beautiful writing looks like. The writing is so darn clear that I often joke, 'If God wanted someone to teach Jesus how to write, God would have hired Strunk and White.' The last chapter deals with writing and how to craft one's own voice. This is valuable for everyone, and although Elements isn't a 'how to' book on fiction writing, I've found S&W's advice to be sound while working on novels and short stories. Keep this book in your coat pocket. Study it at red lights or on the subway. This book is timeless.
This is a great little book. All I can suggest is that you pick one up. It's the best ten dollars you'll ever spend on a writing book. And I just want to refute some of the past reviews. This version DOES include the E.B. White addendum "An Approach to Style."
The Elements of Style is a classic. Period. It is used around the US by professionals, and English Lit. educators. I bought mine after seeing so many grammar experts carrying it around. I am not a grammar expert, but am hoping to improve.
I teach high school English. I recommend this book to all students struggling with grammar. It is compact, well-organized, and very thorough. Though part one is mostly grammar the other parts will help aid writers. I even have created a poster from one of the tips presented in the book. "Avoid the elaborate,t he pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be temped by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able." There are tons of gems just like this one.
Essential tool for anyone interested in putting out the best of his/her craft.
Great for extra assistance, refresher, or spot checking trouble areas!
I am a technical writer by trade but this book is indispensable for anyone doing any type of formal writing. Students will be able to carry it with them into the professional realm - teaching to write succinctly is important to any writing. Not a compelling mystery novel, just a very useful tool for writing - I bought this for a Chinese national who wanted to improved her writing in English.
Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" has for years been a go-to book for writers of all kinds. It covers most of the grammatical and punctuation issues that you may have learned in school, but have long since forgotten, or perhaps those issues that you never learned in the first place. This is an excellent resource for graduating seniors who are either faced with writing papers in college, or faced with navigating a world that increasingly knows little grammar or punctuation that don't fit in a "tweet". Writing is one of our last bastions of "civilization", and we need to nurture it. "The Elements of Style" will go a long way toward educating you, or your gift receiver, in the ways of the written word.
The book was more than helpful in the preparation of writing my college essays. Easy to read and well organized.
a necessary purchase for all college-bound; a veritable how-to of essay-writing.
I was informed that this would be a good book to improve me writing and the information was correct. There is so much information about writng in this small book it is astounding. I would recommend this book to any one that wants to improve their writing skills
I had to read this book for summer homework, and it was so funny and helpful. i learned so much. This little book changed the elements of my life!
This is a book about style -- that is, the style of the author's voice. Not about grammar, punctuation, initialization, et cetera (although it includes elements of those). Read it for its strengths, not its limitations, and you will be happy.
Every serious writer--at any experience level--should have a copy of this classic, immensely useful reference book. Compact, yet filled with information, Strunk & White's ELEMENTS OF STYLE is one writer's reference tool that will never go out of fashion. (For a list of additional must-have writing books, visit the Resources page at WriteWayPro's website.)
This was a required textbook for all freshman English students at Cornell in 1944. Forget "since 1959"
No writer should be without this. If you purchase 1 writing book this should be it.
I had forgotten what a treasure this little book is. This updated edition is essential for students and seasoned writers.
Bare none, this book is the #1 book for all writers to have. A must buy and a keeper for years to come
This concise and helpful volume brings back simple joy in researching the questions of style,punctuation and grammar that arise in everyday writing. With the new glossary of grammar terms, my only cause for reservation has been removed.
A fantastic resource: simple yet exhaustive, in the best sense of the word. A must-have, must-read, must-consult-often for any writer.
I firmly believe that everyone who plans to attend school past the ninth grade needs to own a copy of this book, and read it cover to cover at least once. It's not exactly a gripping read, but so many common mistakes could be avoided if the general public would at least skim this classic work. And really, it's not as boring as you would think. In fact, some parts are downright amusing.
A must have for any who consider themselves or aspire to be a writer... even those who wish to write "creatively" should know Strunk and White's rules by heart before they set about breaking them in the name of art.
The Elements of Style is an invaluable reference to anyone who writes (everyone). Revisit it often and you will see its secrets permeate your writing. At 100 pages it fits in anyone's reading schedule and bookshelf.