William Strunk Jr. - The Elements of Style

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William Strunk Jr. - The Elements of Style

    The Elements of Style

    William Strunk Jr.


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     Non-Fiction Source: http://en.wikisource.org

About Strunk Jr.:

    William Strunk, Jr. (July 1, 1869, Cincinnati, Ohio – September 26, 1946, Ithaca, New York)was Professor of English at Cornell University and is best known as the author of the firsteditions of The Elements of Style, a best-selling guide to English usage. This book, printed asa private edition in 1918 for the use of his students, became a classic on the local campus,known as "the little book", and its successive editions have since sold over ten millioncopies. In his first edition, Strunk describes the book as follows: "It aims to lighten thetask of instructor and student by concentrating attention?… on a few essentials, the rules ofusage and principles of composition most commonly violated." This original was revised in 1935by Strunk and Edward A. Tenney and published under the title The Elements and Practice ofComposition. After Strunk's death, it was again revised by E. B. White, an editor at The NewYorker who had been one of Strunk's students. This 1959 edition of The Elements of Style (oftenreferred to as simply Strunk & White) became a companion to millions of American writers andcollege freshmen. Strunk earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Cincinnati in 1890,and Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1896. While he taught English at Cornell for forty-sixyears, the only other book Strunk wrote was English Metres (published locally in 1922). Betterknown as an editor, Strunk edited important works by authors including William Shakespeare,John Dryden, and James Fenimore Cooper. He served as literary consultant to the 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film version of Romeo and Juliet. Strunk married Olivia Emilie Locke in 1900, andthey had two sons and a daughter.

    Copyright: This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+50 or in the USA(published before 1923).


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    This book is intended for use in English courses in which the practice of composition iscombined with the study of literature. It aims to give in a brief space the principalrequirements of plain English style. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student byconcentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials, the rules of usage andprinciples of composition most commonly violated. The numbers of the sections may be used asreferences in correcting manuscript.

    The book covers only a small portion of the field of English style, but the experience of itswriter has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instructionbased on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory,which he prefers to that offered by any textbook.

    The writer's colleagues in the Department of English in Cornell University have greatly helpedhim in the preparation of his manuscript. Mr. George McLane Wood has kindly consented to theinclusion under Rule 11 of some material from his?Suggestions to Authors.

    The following books are recommended for reference or further study: in connection with ChaptersII and IV:

    -F. Howard Collins,??(Henry Frowde);Author and Printer

    -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:

    -Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch,?The Art of Writing?(Putnams), especially the chapter, Interlude on


    -George McLane Wood, Suggestions to Authors (United States Geological Survey);-John Leslie Hall,?English Usage?(Scott, Foresman and Co.);

    -James P. Kelly,?Workmanship in Words?(Little, Brown and Co.).

    It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. Whenthey 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 probablydo best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain Englishadequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the mastersof literature.

Chapter2Elementary Rules of Usage

    1. Form the possessive singular of nounswith 's.

    Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

    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


    Exceptions are the possessives 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'

    ,?Moses' laws,?Isis' temple?are commonly replaced byheel

    the heel of Achilles

    the laws of Moses

    the temple of Isis

    The pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours, and oneself have no apostrophe.

2. In a series of three or more termswith a single conjunction, use a

    comma after each term except thelast.

    Thus write,

    red, white, and blue

    honest, energetic, but headstrong

    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 and Company

    , even if only a single term comes before it, is always preceded by aThe abbreviation?etc.


    3. Enclose parenthetic expressionsbetween commas.

    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 ashowever, or a brief phrase, is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption to the flow of thesentence is but slight, the writer may safely omit the commas. But whether the interruption beslight or considerable, he must never omit one comma and leave 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,

    is indefensible.

    Non-restrictive relative clauses are, in accordance with this rule, set off by commas.

    The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested.

    Similar clauses introduced by?where?and?when?are similarly punctuated.

    In 1769, when Napoleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.

    Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles fromBridgewater.

    In these sentences the clauses introduced by which, when, and where are non-restrictive; theydo not limit the application of the words on which they depend, but add, parenthetically,statements supplementing those in the principal clauses. Each sentence is a combination of twostatements which might have been made independently.

    The audience was at first indifferent. Later it became more and more interested.

    Napoleon was born in 1769. At that time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.

    Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Nether Stowey. Nether Stowey is only a fewmiles from Bridgewater.

    Restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas.

    The candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place.

    In this sentence the relative clause restricts the application of the word candidate to asingle person. Unlike those above, the sentence cannot be split into two independentstatements.

    The abbreviations?etc.?and?jr.?are always preceded by a comma, and except at the end of asentence, followed by one.

    Similar in principle to the enclosing of parenthetic expressions between commas is the settingoff by commas of phrases or dependent clauses preceding or following the main clause of asentence. The sentences quoted in this section and under Rules 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, and 18 shouldafford sufficient guidance.

    If a parenthetic expression is preceded by a conjunction, place the first comma before theconjunction, not after it.

    He saw us coming, and unaware that we had learned of his treachery, greeted us with a smile.

4. Place a comma before and or butintroducing an independent clause.

    The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longerbe reconstructed.

    The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape.

    Sentences of this type, isolated from their context, may seem to be in need of rewriting. Asthey make complete sense when the comma is reached, the second clause has the appearance of anafter-thought. Further, and, is the least specific of connectives. Used between independentclauses, it indicates only that a relation exists between them without defining that relation.In the example above, the relation is that of cause and result. The two sentences might berewritten:

    As the early records of the city have disappeared, the story of its first years can no longerbe reconstructed.

    Although the situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape.

    Or the subordinate clauses might be replaced by phrases:

    Owing to the disappearance of the early records of the city, the story of its first years canno longer be reconstructed.

    In this perilous situation, there is still one chance of escape.

    But a writer may err by making his sentences too uniformly compact and periodic, and anoccasional loose sentence prevents the style from becoming too formal and gives the reader acertain relief. Consequently, loose sentences of the type first quoted are common in easy,unstudied writing. But a writer should be careful not to construct too many of his sentencesafter this pattern (see Rule 14).

    Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by as (in the sense of because),for, or, nor, and while (in the sense of and at the same time) likewise require a comma beforethe conjunction.

    If a dependent clause, or an introductory phrase requiring to be set off by a comma, precedesthe second independent clause, no comma is needed after the conjunction.

    The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance ofescape.

    For two-part sentences connected by an adverb, see the next section.

    5. Do not join independent clauses by acomma.

    If two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form asingle compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.

    Stevenson's romances are entertaining; they are full of exciting adventures.

    It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.

    It is of course equally correct to write the above as two sentences each, replacing thesemicolons by periods.

    Stevenson's romances are entertaining. They are full of exciting adventures.

    It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.

    If a conjunction is inserted, the proper mark is a comma (Rule 4).

    Stevenson's romances are entertaining, for they are full of exciting adventures.

    It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.

    Note that if the second clause is preceded by an adverb, such as accordingly, besides, so,then, therefore, or thus, and not by a conjunction, the semicolon is still required.

    I had never been in the place before; so I had difficulty in finding my way about.

    In general, however, it is best, in writing, to avoid using so in this manner; there is dangerthat the writer who uses it at all may use it too often. A simple correction, usuallyserviceable, is to omit the word so, and begin the first clause with as:

    As I had never been in the place before, I had difficulty in finding my way about.

    If the clauses are very short, and are alike in form, a comma is usually permissible:

    Man proposes, God disposes.

    The gate swung apart, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.

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