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The Elements of Style


Elementary Rules of Usage

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding s
i. Charless friend
ii. Burns poems
iii. The witchs malice
iv. the teachers clipboard
-Exceptions: possessives of ancient proper names endings with es and
is. (for example: Mosess laws is changed to the laws of Moses
-Pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours and ours have no
apostrophes. Indefinite pronouns use apostrophes to show possession.
- Ones rights
- Somebody elses umbrella
- Its means it is, not to confuse it with possession.
2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a
comma after each tern except the last
i. Red, white, and blue
ii. Gold, silver, or copper
iii. He opened the letter, read it, and made notes of its content.
iv. Little, Brown and Company (In names of business firms, the last
comma is often omitted )
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas
i. The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to
travel by foot.
ii. Never omit one comma and leave the other
iii. Dates usually contain parenthetic words or figures: February to
July, 1992
iv. It is customary to omit the comma in: 6 April 1988
v. The abbreviations etc., i.e., and e.g. , the abbreviations for
academic degrees, and titled that follow a name are parenthetic:
1. Letters, packages, etc., should go here.
2. Horace Fulsome, Ph.D., presided
3. Rachel Simonds, Attorney
vi. No comma should separate a noun from a restrictive term of
1. Billy the kid
2. The novelist Jane Austen
vii. Junior (abbreviated Jr.) does not need a comma
1. James Wright Jr.
viii. Nonrestrictive relative clauses are parenthetic and is one that does
not serve to identify or define the antecedent noun:





1. The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became

more and more interested
2. Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater.
ix. Restrictive clauses are not parenthetic and are not set off by
1. People who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.
Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent
i. The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its
first years can no longer be reconstructed.
ii. Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by
as, for, or, nor, or while require a comma before a conjunction
1. The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act
promptly, there is still one chance of escape.
iii. Omit the connection and when the relation of the two statements is
1. He has had several years of experience and is thoroughly
Do not join independent clauses with a comma
i. Instead, use a semicolon:
1. Marys works are entertaining; they are full of engaging
ii. If a conjunction is inserted, use a comma.
1. Marys works are entertaining, for they are full of engaging
iii. If the second clause is preceded by an adverb ( such as
accordingly, besides, then, therefore) the semicolon is required
1. I have never been in the place before; besides, it was dark
as a tomb.
iv. Exception to semicolon rule: If the clauses are very short, use a
1. Man proposes, God disposes
2. Here today, gone tomorrow
Do not break sentences in two
i. I met then on a Cunard liner many years ago. Coming home from
Liverpool to New York.
ii. The period must be a comma and the following letter lowercase
Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of
particulars, an appositive, amplification, or an illustrative quotation.
i. Your dedicated whittler requires three props: a knife, a piece of
wood, and a back porch.
ii. Understanding is that penetrating quality of knowledge that grows
from theory, practice, conviction, assertion, error, and humiliation.
iii. Join two independent clauses with a colon if the second interprets
the first:

1. But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about

animal burial: there was no stopover in the undertakers
foul parlor, no wreath or spray.
iv. A colon can introduce a quotation:
1. The squalor of the streets reminded her of a line from Oscar
Wilde: We are all in the gutter
v. A colon follows a salutation of a formal letter, separated hour from
minute, and separates the title of work from its subtitle or a Bible
chapter from a verse
1. Dear Mr. Montague:
2. departs at 10:48 P.M
3. Practical Calligraphy: An Introduction to Italic Script
4. Nehemiah 11:7
8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce
a long appositive or summary.
i. A dash is a stronger mark of separation than a comma, but less
formal than a colon and more relaxed than a parenthesis.
ii. His first thought on getting out of bed-if he had any thought at allwas to get back in again.
9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.
i. Words that intervene b/w the subject and verb do not affect the
number of the verb
1. Incorrect: The bittersweet flavors of youth-its trials, its
joys, its adventures, its challenges-are not soon forgotten.
2. Correct: The bittersweet flavors of youth- its trials, its joys,
its adventures, its challenges- is not soon forgotten.
ii. Use a singular verb form after each either, everyone, everybody,
neither, nobody, someone
1. Everybody thinks he has a unique sense of humor.
iii. Use singular verb when none means no one or not one
1. None of us is perfect
iv. Compound subject=plural verb
1. The walrus and the carpenter were walking close at hand
v. Clichs take a singular verb:
1. Bread and butter was all she served
2. The long and the short of it is
vi. Singular subject remains singular even if other nouns are
connected by with, as well as, in addition to, except, together with,
no less than
1. His speech as well as his manner is objectionable.
vii. Nouns that may appear to be plural are usually singular:
1. Politics is an art, not a science.
10. Use the proper case of pronoun.
i. Personal pronouns change form as they function as subject or
1. Will Jane or he be hired, do you think?

2. The culprit, it turned out, was he.

ii. Virgil Soames is the candidate who we think will win [We think he
will win]
iii. A pronoun in a comparison is nominative.
1. Sandy writes better than I
iv. Avoid understood verbs by supplying them
1. [incorrect] I think Horace admires Jessica more than I
2. [correct] I think Horace admired Jessica more than I do
v. Use the simple personal pronoun as the subject
1. Blake and myself [I] stayed home.
vi. The possessive case- adjectival: your hat; noun form: a hat of
vii. Gerunds require the possessive case
1. Mother objected to our driving on the icy roads
viii. Present participle as a verbal takes the objective case
1. They heard him singing in the shower
ix. Gerund vs. Verbal participle:
1. Do you mind me asking a question?
2. Do you mind my asking a question?
11. A participle phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the
grammatical subject.
i. Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by
two children.
ii. [incorrect] On arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the
iii. [correct] On arriving in Chicago, he was met at the station by his

II. Elementary Principles of Comparison

12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
i. In some cases, the best design is no design
ii. 1st principle of composition: to determine the shape of what is to
come and pursue the shape
13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition
i. Paragraph serves all forms of literary works.
ii. Can be of any length- from a sentence to a long passage
iii. Division of paragraphs isnt always necessary, especially if your
topic is brief
iv. Single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphsexcept sentences of transitions
v. Each speech in dialogue is a paragraph with the change of the
vi. Use topic sentences to introduce your topic; animated narrative
sometimes has not topic sentence
vii. Try to cut really long paragraphs shorter, but dont have too many
short paragraphs
14. Use the active voice

i. Active voice is more direct than passive

1. I shall always remember my first visit to Boston. Is better
than My first visit to Boston will always be remembered
by me.
2. There was a great number of dead leaves lying on the
ground or Dead leaves covered the ground
15. Put statements in positive forms
i. Make definite assertions; avoid colorless, noncommittal language;
use not only as a means of denial
1. [incorrect] He was not very often on time.
2. [correct] He usually came late.
ii. It is better to express a negative in positive form
1. not honest ! dishonest
iii. if a sentence admits a doubt, it lacks authorityavoid this
16. Use definite, specific, concrete, language.
i. For example:
1. [vague] A period of unfavorable weather set in.
2. [specific] It rained every day for a week.
17. Omit needless words.
i. A sentence should not contain unnecessary words
1. [incorrect]Her story was a strange one.
2. [correct] Her story was strange.
3. [incorrect] there is no doubt but that
4. [correct] no doubt (or doubtless)
ii. The fact that is debilitating expression and should always be
1. I was unaware of the fact that! I was unaware that/ I did
not know
2. the fact that I had arrived! my arrival
iii. the words Who is, which was, and the like are often superfluous
1. His cousin, who is a member of the same firm! His
cousin, a member of the same firm
2. Trafalgar, which was Nelsons last battle ! Trafalgar,
Nelsons last battle
18. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
i. Rule refers to sentences of a particular type: those consisting of
two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or a relative.
ii. Use which, who, when, where, while instead of so much and, but.
19. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
i. Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method, while now
the laboratory method is employed ! Formerly, science was
taught by the textbook method; now it is taught by the laboratory
ii. The French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese ! The French,
the Italians, the Spanish, and the Portuguese

iii. His speech was marked by disagreement and scorn for his
opponents position! His speech was marked by disagreement
with and scorn for his opponents position
iv. It was both a long ceremony and very tedious!The ceremony was
both long and tedious
v. A time not for words but [for] action
20. Keep related words together.
i. He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right in the center!He
noticed a large stain in the center of the rug
ii. The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not be
1. Toni Morrison, in Beloved, writes about characters who
have escaped from slavery but are haunted by its
heritage!In Beloved, Toni Morrison writes about
characters who have escaped from slavery but are haunted
by its heritage
2. A dog, if you fail to discipline him, becomes a household
pest! Unless disciplined, a dog becomes a household pest
iii. Interposing a phrase or a clause interrupts the flow of the main
clause. The relative pronoun should come immediately after its
1. There was a stir in the audience that suggested
disapproval!A stir that suggested disapproval swept the
iv. If the antecedent consists of a group of words, the relative comes at
the end of the group
1. The Superintendent of the Chicago Division, who
v. A noun in apposition may come between the antecedent and
1. The Duke of York, his brother, who was regarded with the
hostility by the Whigs
vi. Modifiers should come, if possible, next to the word they modify
1. All the members were not present!Not all the members
were present
2. She only found two mistakes!She found only two
21. In summaries, keep to one tense.
i. Summarizing the action of drama!present tense
ii. Poems, stories, or novel!present tense, you may use past tense if
it seems more natural
iii. Keep same tense throughout your writing
22. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end
i. The proper place in the sentence for the word or group of words
that the writer desired to make most prominent is usually the end
1. humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time,
though it has advanced in many other ways!Since that

time, humanity has advanced in many ways, but it has

hardly advanced in fortitude
2. This steel is principally used for making razors, because of
its hardness!Because of its hardness, this steel is used
principally for making razors
ii. A subject coming first in its sentence may be emphatic, but hardly
by its position alone.
1. Great kings worshipped at his shrine


A Few Matters of Form

a. Colloquialisms: if a colloquialism, slang word, or phrase is used, do not
draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks
b. Exclamations: do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using
exclamation points
i. It was a wonderful show!!It was a wonderful show.
c. Headings: If a manuscripts is to be submitted for publication, leave plenty
of space at the top of the page 1. The editor will use the space to write
directions to the compositor. Place the heading at least a fourth way down
the page. Leave a blank line after the heading. Omit the period of the
headline, but use a question mark or exclamation point it necessary
d. Hyphen: when two or more words are combined to form a compound
adjective, a hyphen is required
i. Do not use a hyphen on words that are better combined as one.
1. bed-chamber!bedchamber
2. wild-life!wildlife
e. Margins: keep right-hand and left-hand margins roughly the same width
f. Numerals: do not spell out dated or other serial numbers. Write them in
figures or in Roman notation. The only exception is if you write it out in
g. Parentheses: A sentence containing an expression in parenthesis is
punctuated outside the last mark of parenthesis exactly as if the
parenthetical expression were absent
i. I went to her house yesterday (my third attempt to see her), but she
had left town.
h. Quotations: Formal quotations cited as documentary evidence are
introduced by a colon and enclosed in quotation marks.
i. The US Coast Pilot has this to say of the place: Bracy Cove
ii. A quotation grammatically in apposition or the direct object of a
verb is proceeded by a comma and enclosed in quotation marks
iii. When a quotation is followed by an attributive phrase, the comma
is enclosed within the quotation marks
iv. Proverbial expressions and familiar phrases of literary origin
require no quotations
i. References:
i. In scholarly work requiring exact reference, abbreviate titles that
appear frequently
ii. Give the full forms in an alphabetical list at the end

iii. Give reference in parenthesis and footnotes

iv. Omit the words: act, scene, line, book, volume, page
j. Syllabication
i. When a word must be divided at the end of a line, consult a
dictionary to learn the syllables
k. Titles
i. Use italics for titles with capitalized initials


Approach to Style
a. Place yourself in the background
i. Draw readers attention to the sense and substance of writing
ii. If writing is solid and good, the mood an temper of the writer wil
be revealed
iii. A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about the
b. Write in a way that comes naturally
i. Write naturally using words and phrases that come readily to hand
ii. Do not be afraid to imitate, for it is almost impossible not to
c. Work from a suitable design
i. Before composing something, gauge the nature an extent of the
enterprise and work from a suitable design
ii. Do your best to anticipate what you are getting into
iii. Sometimes emotions are more compelling than designs
d. Write with nouns and verbs
i. Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs
ii. Its nouns and verbs that gives good writing its toughness
e. Revise and rewrite
i. Always check over your work because it is never perfect on the
first try
ii. Do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written
f. Do not overwrite
i. Always avoid writing excessively and remember to reread your
g. Do not overstate
i. When you overstate, your readers will be on guard
ii. A single overstatement diminished the whole
h. Avoid the use of qualifiers
i. Rather, very, little , prettyare qualifiers
i. Do not affect a brezzy manner
i. Often the work of an egocentric
ii. Avoid slang and dullness
j. Use orthodox spelling
i. Do not write nite for night or thru for through, pleez for please
k. Do not explain too much

i. Spare the use of adverbs after speech, like he said, etc

ii. Dialogue itself should disclose the speakers manner
l. Do not construct awkward adverbs
i. For example Tiredly is not an adverb
m. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
i. Make sure you let the reader understand who is speaking in the
n. Avoid fancy words
i. Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute
o. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good
i. Do not attempt to use dialect unless you are a devoted student of
the tongue
p. Be clear
i. Clarity can only be virtue
ii. Dont be too vague, but clear enough so it is understood
q. Do not inject opinion
i. Unless there is a good reason
ii. Try to keep things straight
r. Use figures of speech
i. The simile is the most common and useful
ii. When using a metaphor, do not mix it up
s. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity
i. Do not use abbreviations unless youre sure it will be understood
by everyone
t. Avoid foreign languages
i. It is a bad habit, write in English
u. Prefer the standard to the offbeat
i. Dont use words like: psyched, nerd, rip-off, dude, geek
ii. These words will someday fade

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