You know the authors' names. You recognize the title. You've probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. The revisions to the new edition are purposely kept minimal in order to retain the book's unique tone, wit, and charm. A new Glossary of the grammatical terms used in the book provides a convenient reference for readers. The discussion of pronoun use is revised to reflect the contemporary concern with sexist language. In addition, there are numerous slight revisions in the book itself which implement this advice. A new Foreword by Charles Osgood reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered. This book has conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of "the little book" to make a big impact with writing.
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About the Author
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.
Read an Excerpt
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 MATTERSOF 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.
16. Be Clear.
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.
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"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."
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"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
At $3.99 this is staple of the writer's toolkit is undoubtedly a necessity. I've probablty replaced it twice in my years of writing, classes, etc. I was, however, incredibly underwhelned at the paltry, completely worthless sample that was offered up, especially for the newcomer... A table of contents, an intro, and a few pages does not a sample make, gentlemen.
Every writer needs this book in their hip pocket or Nook.
Really just the basics of puntuation and writing structure. I've already learned something I mess up all the time... or at least I suspect that I do. Very easy to understand, doesn't have the typos that the project gutenberg version has, and you don't need the more modern examples from the 2011 version. Punctuation doesn't change whether you're talking about the beetles or vaudeville. This version says it's 2010, so if there were any changes last year theres probably no one following them yet.
If you have a few more dollars, buy a more recent version--the standard of excellence in writing style--for this original is slimmed down compared to more recent versions by Strunk & White. Either way, The Elements of Style is indispensable, a must-have reference guide for any reader or writer.
When are people going to get over this book? It is just a collection of rules from decades ago. It will no more teach you how to write than reading a list of ingredients will teach you how to cook. There are so many better books out there. Don't waste your time on this one (even if it is revered by generations).
Be Aware. I just received this book and there are several discrepancies between the websites 'overview' & 'product detail'. The 'overview' indicates there is a foreword by Charles Osgood - this was missing from my copy. The 'product details' on the web indicate the publisher was Independent Publishing but my copy was published by Singer; the publication date was listed as 2013 but my copy was 2010; the number of pages indicated was 70 but my copy had 64. The ISBN # on the web does match the ISBN# on the book I received; therefore, B&N cannot replace the book with the one described on their website. Barnes & Noble cannot find any book matching the detailed description on their website.
a classic guide to clarity in writing. Strunk and White steer a course towards clean, lean writing that clearly communicates its purpose. While little or nothing in the book seems wrong, it fails only in that it is not extensive enough.
If you're only going to buy one writing reference book, this is the one you want. It's the bedrock upon which clear, understandable prose is based.
I love this book and I would recommend it to anyome who's having trouble with composition or anything to do with writing...
Lots of examples..cannot read any of them...even with magnifying glass or moving to grossly enlarged type. This is disappointing.
This little book is a must. Short and sweet it recaps common grammar and all punctuation in an easy to understand and apply format. The author makes it a fun read as well using humor and sarcasm to ease writers. I love the chapters on brevity in writing.
Years ago an English writing teacher required this book as part of her basic curriculum and it changed my life. This small book took my writting from poor to outstanding in a matter of weeks. I recommend this short guide to anyone who needs to write a sentence for any reason.