Bodong Chen

Crisscross Landscapes

Notes: The elements of style



Strunk Jr, W. (1918). The elements of style. New York: Penguin.

Citekey: @strunk1918elements


A friend recommended this book to me as a useful guide for English writing. (Some of the advice might be dated though, since it was written a century ago.)



(1) Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s (p. 9)

Charles’s friend (p. 9)

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. (p. 9)

(2) In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last (p. 10)

red, white, and blue (p. 10)

Why comma is omitted in this case?? (p. 10)

He opened the letter, read it and made a note of its contents. (p. 10)

In the names of business firms the last comma is omitted (p. 10)

(3) Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas (p. 10)

The abbreviations etc. and jr. are always preceded by a comma, and except at the end of a sentence, followed by one. (p. 11)

If a parenthetic expression is preceded by a conjunction, place the first comma before the conjunction, not after it. (p. 12)

He saw us coming, and unaware that we had learned of his treachery, greeted us with a smile. (p. 12)

(4) Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause (p. 12)

The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed. (p. 12)

Sentences of this type, isolated from their context, may seem to be in need of rewriting. (p. 12)

Further, and, is the least specific of connectives. Used between independent clauses, it indicates only that a relation exists between them without defining that relation. (p. 12)

(5) Do not join independent clauses by a comma (p. 13)

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. (p. 14)

I had never been in the place before; so I had difficulty in finding my way about. (p. 14)

In general, however, it is best, in writing, to avoid using so in this manner; there is danger that the writer who uses it at all may use it too often. A simple correction, usually serviceable, is to omit the word so, and begin the first clause with as: (p. 14)

As I had never been in the place before, I had difficulty in finding my way about. (p. 14)

(6) Do not break sentences in two (p. 14)

(7) A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject (p. 15)

Sentences violating this rule are often ludicrous. (p. 16)

Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap. (p. 16)


(9) Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic (p. 19)

After the paragraph has been written, it should be examined to see whether subdivision will not improve it. (p. 19)

The beginning of each paragraph is a signal to him that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached. (p. 19)

As a rule, single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphs. (p. 20)

An exception may be made of sentences of transition, indicating the relation between the parts of an exposition or argument. (p. 20)

(10) As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning (p. 21)

For this reason, the most generally useful kind of paragraph, particularly in exposition and argument, is that in which A. the topic sentence comes at or near the beginning; B. the succeeding sentences explain or establish or develop the statement made in the topic sentence; and C. the final sentence either emphasizes the thought of the topic sentence or states some important consequence. (p. 21)

Ending with a digression, or with an unimportant detail, is particularly to be avoided. (p. 21)

If the 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 topic sentence. (p. 21)

Sometimes, however, it is expedient to precede the topic sentence by one or more sentences of introduction or transition. If more than one such sentence is required, it is generally better to set apart the transitional sentences as a separate paragraph. (p. 21)

(11) Use the active voice (p. 24)

This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary. (p. 25)

The need of making a particular word the subject of the sentence will often, as in these examples, determine which voice is to be used. (p. 25)

As a rule, avoid making one passive depend directly upon another. (p. 25)

Gold was not allowed to be exported. It was forbidden to export gold (The export of gold was prohibited). (p. 25)

A common fault is to use as the subject of a passive construction a noun which expresses the entire action, leaving to the verb no function beyond that of completing the sentence. (p. 26)

A survey of this region was made in 1900. This region was surveyed in 1900. (p. 26)

(12) Put statements in positive form (p. 26)

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language. (p. 26)

as a rule, it is better to express a negative in positive form. (p. 27)

not honest dishonest (p. 27)

(13) Omit needless words (p. 27)

the question as to whether whether (the question whether) there is no doubt but that no doubt (doubtless) used for fuel purposes used for fuel (p. 27)

he is a man who he in a hasty manner hastily this is a subject which this subject His story is a strange one. His story is strange. (p. 28)

In especial the expression the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs. (p. 28)

Who is, which was, and the like are often superfluous. (p. 28)

As positive statement is more concise than negative, and the active voice more concise than the passive (p. 28)

(14) Avoid a succession of loose sentences (p. 29)

(15) Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form (p. 30)

This principle, that of parallel construction, requires that expressions of similar content and function should be outwardly similar. The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function. (p. 30)

The unskilful writer often violates this principle, from a mistaken belief that he should constantly vary the form of his expressions. (p. 30)

Correlative expressions (both, and; not, but; not only, but also; either, or; first, second, third; and the like) should be followed by the same grammatical construction. (p. 30)

(16) Keep related words together (p. 31)

The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning. (p. 31)

This objection, however, does not usually hold when the order (p. 31)

is interrupted only by a relative clause or by an expression in apposition. Nor does it hold in periodic sentences in which the interruption is a deliberately used means of creating suspense (p. 32)

The relative pronoun should come, as a rule, immediately after its antecedent. (p. 32)

He wrote three articles about his adventures in Spain, which were published in Harper’ s Magazine. He published in Harper’s Magazine three articles about his adventures in Spain. (p. 32)

If the antecedent consists of a group of words, the relative comes at the end of the group, unless this would cause ambiguity. (p. 32)

(17) In summaries, keep to one tense (p. 33)

In summarizing the action of a drama, the writer should always use the present tense. (p. 33)

Apart from the exceptions noted, whichever tense the writer chooses, he should use throughout. Shifting from one tense to the other gives the appearance of uncertainty and irresolution (p. 33)

(18) Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end (p. 34)

Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time, though it has advanced in many other ways. Humanity, since that time, has advanced in many other ways, but it has hardly advanced in fortitude. (p. 34)

The other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. Any element in the sentence, other than the subject, becomes emphatic when placed first. (p. 35)

Chapter IV A FEW MATTERS OF FORM (p. 37)

Numerals. Do not spell out dates or other serial numbers. Write them in figures or in Roman notation, as may be appropriate. (p. 37)

Quotations. Formal quotations, cited as documentary evidence, are introduced by a colon and enclosed in quotation marks. (p. 37)


Case. TheConciseOxfordDictionarybeginsitsdefinitionofthisword:“instanceofa thing’s occurring; usual state of affairs.” In these two senses, the word is usually unnecessary. (p. 41)

Certainly. Usedindiscriminatelybysomespeakers,muchasothersusevery,tointensify any and every statement. A mannerism of this kind, bad in speech, is even worse in writing. (p. 42)

Character. Often simply redundant, used from a mere habit of wordiness. (p. 42)

Compare. To compare to is to point out or imply resemblances, between objects regarded as essentially of different order; to compare with is mainly to point out differences, between objects regarded as essentially of the same order. Thus life has been compared to a pilgrimage, to a drama, to a battle; Congress may be compared with the British Parliament. Paris has been compared to ancient Athens; it may be compared with modern London. (p. 42)

Due to. Incorrectly used for through, because of, or owing to, in adverbial phrases: “He lost the first game, due to carelessness.” In correct use related as predicate or as modifier to a particular noun: “This invention is due to Edison;” “losses due to preventable fires.” (p. 42)

Effect. As noun, means result; as verb, means to bring about, accomplish (not to be confused with affect, which means “to influence”). (p. 42)

Etc. Not to be used of persons. Equivalent to and the rest, and so forth, and hence not to be used if one of these would be insufficient, that is, if the reader would be left in doubt as to any important particulars. (p. 43)

At the end of a list introduced by such as, for example, or any similar expression, etc. is incorrect. (p. 43)

Factor. A hackneyed word; the expressions of which it forms part can usually be replaced by something more direct and idiomatic. (p. 43)

His superior training was the great factor in his winning the match. He won the match by being better trained. (p. 43)

Fix. Colloquial in America for arrange, prepare, mend. In writing restrict it to its literary senses, fasten, make firm or immovable, etc. (p. 43)

He is a man who. A common type of redundant expression (p. 44)

However. In the meaning nevertheless, not to come first in its sentence or clause. (p. 44)

The roads were almost impassable. However, we at last succeeded in reaching camp. The roads were almost impassable. At last, however, we succeeded in reaching camp. (p. 44)

When however comes first, it means in whatever way or to whatever extent. (p. 44)

Kind of. Not to be used as a substitute for rather (before adjectives and verbs) (p. 44)

Less. Should not be misused for fewer. (p. 44)

Less refers to quantity, fewer to number. “His troubles are less than mine” means “His troubles are not so great as mine.” “His troubles are fewer than mine” means “His troubles are not so numerous as mine.” (p. 44)

Line, along these lines. (p. 44)

particularly in the phrase along these lines, that a writer who aims at freshness or originality had better discard it entirely. (p. 44)

He is studying along the line of French literature. He is studying French literature. (p. 45)

Literal,literally. Oftenincorrectlyusedinsupportofexaggerationorviolentmetaphor. (p. 45)

Lose out. Meant to be more emphatic than lose, but actually less so, because of its commonness. The same holds true of try out, win out, sign up, register up. (p. 45)

Nature. Often simply redundant, used like character. (p. 45)

Acts of a hostile natureHostile acts (p. 45)

Nearby. Adverbialphrase,notyetfullyacceptedasgoodEnglish,thoughtheanalogy of close by and hard by seems to justify it. Near, or near at hand, is as good, if not better. (p. 45)

Oftentimes, ofttimes. Archaic forms, no longer in good use. The modern word is often. (p. 45)

One of the most. Avoid beginning essays or paragraphs with this formula (p. 45)

People. The people is a political term, not to be confused with the public. From the people comes political support or opposition; from the public comes artistic appreciation or commercial patronage. The word people is not to be used with words of number, in place of persons. If of “six people” five went away, how many “people” would be left? (p. 46)

Respective, respectively. These words may usually be omitted with advantage. (p. 46)

The one mile and two mile runs were won by Jones and Cummings respectively. The one mile and two mile runs were won by Jones and by Cummings. (p. 46)

In some kinds of formal writing, as in geometrical proofs, it may be necessary to use respectively (p. 46)

So. Avoid, in writing, the use of so as an intensifier: “so good;” “so warm;” “so delightful.” (p. 46)

State. Not to be used as a mere substitute for say, remark. Restrict it to the sense of express fully or clearly, as, “He refused to state his objections.” (p. 47)

Studentbody. Aneedlessandawkwardexpression,meaningnomorethanthesimple word students. (p. 47)

System. Frequently used without need. (p. 47)

Very. Use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary, use words strong in themselves. (p. 47)

Viewpoint. Write point of view, but do not misuse this, as many do, for view or opinion. (p. 47)

While. Avoid the indiscriminate use of this word for and, but, and although. Many writers use it frequently as a substitute for and or but, either from a mere desire to vary the connective, or from uncertainty which of the two connectives is the more appropriate. In this use it is best replaced by a semicolon. (p. 47)

In general, the writer will do well to use while only with strict literalness, in the sense of during the time that. (p. 48)

Whom. Often incorrectly used for who before he said or similar expressions, when it is really the subject of a following verb. (p. 48)

His brother, whom he said would send him the money His brother, who he said would send him the money (p. 48)

Worth while. Overworked as a term of vague approval and (with not) of disapproval. (p. 49)

The use of worth while before a noun (“a worth while story”) is indefensible. (p. 49)

Would. A conditional statement in the first person requires should, not would. (p. 49)

I should not have succeeded without his help. (p. 49)

The equivalent of shall in indirect quotation after a verb in the past tense is should, not would. (p. 49)

He predicted that before long we should have a great surprise. (p. 49)

To express habitual or repeated action, the past tense, without would, is usually sufficient, and from its brevity, more emphatic. (p. 49)