The book was originally written in 1919 by Professor William Strunk Jr. and was self-published by the author. It was professionally published in 1935, then again in 1957, 1972, and 2000. It’s fair to say this book has stood the test of time.
Strunk and White Elements of Style consists of:
- 11 Rules of Usage
- 11 Principles of Composition
- 21 Style Guidelines
- Commonly Misused Words and Expressions
From the introduction:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (page xvi)
Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine. (page xvii)
The Rules of Usage
- Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s. (Contrary to Gregg and AP, which have exceptions.)
- In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
- Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
- Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
- Do not join independent clauses with a comma. (exceptions exist)
- Do not break sentences in two. (exceptions exist)
- Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.
- Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.
- The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.
- Use the proper case of pronoun.
- A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
Notes on #3
Restrictive Clauses: Limit or define (clauses are not set off by commas)
Nonrestrictive (Parenthetic) Clauses: Do not limit or define; they mere add (clauses are set off by commas)
Notes on #9
The bittersweet flavor of youth—its trials, its joys, its adventures, its challenges—is not soon forgotten.
A common blunder is the use of a singular verb form in a relative clause following ‘one of…’ or a similar expression when the relative is the subject.
One of the ablest scientists who have attached this problem…
Use a singular verb after each, either, everyone, everybody, neither, nobody, someone. (p. 10)
Use a singular or a plural verb after “none” depending on if the thing meant is singular or plural.
None are so fallible as those who are sure they are right.
A compound subject formed of two or more nouns joined by and almost always requires a plural verb.
The walrus and the carpenter were walking close at hand.
Compound subjects qualified by each or every.
Clichés—The long and short of it is…
Note: A singular subject remains singular even if other nouns are connected to it by with, as well as, in addition to, except, together with, and no less than.
His speech as well as his manner is objectionable.
A linking verb agrees with the number of its subject. (p. 11)
The trouble with truth is its many varieties.
Some nouns that appear to be plural are usually construed as singular and given a singular verb. (p. 11)
The Republican Headquarters is on this side of the tracks.
In these cases, the writer must simply learn the idioms.
The contents of a book is singular.
The contents of a jar may be singular or plural depending on the content of the jar.
Notes on # 10: Use the proper case of pronoun.
Give this work to whoever looks idle.
Whoever is the subject of looks idle; the object of the preposition to is the entire clause whoever looks idle. When who introduces a subordinate clause, its case depends on its function in that clause. (p. 11)
Very exciting stuff at the bottom of p. 11.
Virgil is the candidate who we think will win. [We think he will win.]
Virgil is the candidate whom we hope to elect. [We hope to elect him.]
The objective case is correct in the following examples.
The ranger offered Shirley and him some advice on campsites.
They came to meet the Baldwins and us.
Let’s talk it over between us, then, you and me.
Gerunds (verbs that have transformed into nouns with –ing or –ed) usually require the possessive case. (p. 13)
Mother objected to our driving on the icy roads.
A present participle as a verbal takes the objective case.
Do you mind me asking a question? (Is the objection to me as opposed to other members of the group.)
Do you mind my asking a question? (The issue is whether a question may be asked at all.)
Notes on # 11
Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children. (Walking refers to the subject of the sentence. “He” was doing the walking.)
Briefer writing is more forcible. More forcible writing is better. (p. 6)
Colons: The colon has more effect than the comma, less power than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash. (p. 8)
Elementary Principles of Composition
- Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
- Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
- Use the active voice.
- Put statements in positive form.
- Use definite, specific, concrete language.
- Omit needless words.
- Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
- Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
- Keep related words together.
- In summaries, keep to one tense.
- Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
An Approach to Style
- Place yourself in the background.
- Write in a way that comes naturally.
- Work from a suitable design.
- Write with nouns and verbs.
- Revise and rewrite.
- Do not overwrite.
- Do not overstate.
- Avoid the use of qualifiers.
- Do not affect a breezy manner.
- Use orthodox spelling.
- Do not explain too much.
- Do not construct awkward adverbs.
- Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
- Avoid fancy words.
- Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
- Be clear.
- Do not inject opinion.
- Use figures of speech sparingly.
- Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
- Avoid foreign languages.
- Prefer the standard to the offbeat.
Adjectival modifier—A word, phrase, or clause that acts as an adjective in qualifying the meaning of a noun or pronoun. Your country; a turn-of-the-century style; people who are always late.
Adjective—A word that modifies, quantifies, or otherwise describes a noun or pronoun. Drizzly November; midnight dreary; only requirement.
Adverb—A word that modifies or otherwise qualifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Gestures gracefully; exceptionally quiet engine.
Adverbial phrase—A phrase that functions as an adverb. Landon laughs with abandon.
Agreement—The correspondence of a verb with its subject in person and number (Karen goes to Cal Tech; her sisters go to UCLA), and of a pronoun with its antecedent in person, number, and gender (As soon as Karen finished the exam, she picked up her books and left the room.)
Alliteration—The repetition of consonant letter sounds.
Antecedent—The noun to which a pronoun refers. A pronoun and its antecedent must agree in person, number, and gender. Michael and his teammates moved off campus.
Appositive—A noun or noun phrase that renames or adds identifying information to a noun it immediately follows. His brother, an accountant with Arthur Andersen, was recently promoted.
Articles—The words a, an, and the, which signal or introduce nouns. The definite article the refers to a particular item: the report. The indefinite articles a and an refer to a general item or one not already mentioned: an apple.
Auxiliary verb—A verb that combines with the main verb to show differences in tense, person, and voice. The most common auxiliaries are forms of be, do, and have. I am going; we did not go; they have gone.
Case—The form of a noun or pronoun that reflects its grammatical function in a sentence as subject (they), object (them), or possessor (their). She gave her employees a raise that pleased them greatly.
Clause—A group of related words that contains a subject and predicate. Moths swarm around a burning candle. While she was taking the test, Karen muttered to herself.
Colloquialism—A word or expression appropriate to informal conversation but not usually suitable for academic or business writing. They wanted to get even (instead of they wanted to retaliate).
Complement—A word or phrase (especially a noun or adjective) that completes the predicate. Subject complements complete linking verbs and rename or describe the subject: Martha is my neighbor. She seems shy. Object complements complete transitive verbs by describing or renaming the direct object: They found the play exciting. Robert considers Mary a wonderful wife.
Compound sentence—Two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, a correlative conjunction, or a semicolon. Caesar conquered Gaul, but Alexander the Great conquered the world.
Compound subject—Two or more simple subjects joined by a coordinating or correlative conjunction. Hemingway and Fitzgerald had little in common.
Conjunction—A word that joins words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. The coordinating conjunctions, and, but, or nor, yet, so, for, join grammatically equivalent elements. Correlative conjunctions (both, and; either, or; neither, nor) join the same kinds of elements.
Contraction—A shortened form of a word or group of words; can’t for cannot; they’re for they are.
Dependent clause—A group of words that includes a subject and verb but is subordinate to an independent clause in a sentence. Dependent clauses begin with either a subordinating conjunction, such as if, because, since, or a relative pronoun, such as who, which, that. When it gets dark, we’ll find a restaurant that has music.
Diction—Choice of words and phrases in speaking and writing.
Direct object—A noun or pronoun that receives the action of a transitive verb. Pearson publishes books.
Gerund—The -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun: Hiking is a good exercise. She was praised for her playing.
Hyperbole—a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. I could sleep for a year.
Indefinite pronoun—A pronoun that refers to an unspecified person (anybody) or thing (something).
Independent clause—A group or words with a subject and verb that can stand alone as a sentence. Raccoons steal food.
Indirect object—A noun or pronoun that indicates to whom or for whom, to what or for what the action of a transitive verb is performed. I asked her a question. Ed gave the door a kick.
Infinitive/split infinitive—In the present tense, a verb phrase consisting of to followed by the base form of the verb (to write). A split infinitive occurs when one or more words separate to and the verb (to boldly go).
Intransitive verb—A verb that does not take a direct object. His nerve failed.
Irony—a figure of speech used for emphasis, achieving its effect by saying something different and often the opposite of their literal meaning; an expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.
Linking verb—A verb that joins the subject of a sentence to its complement. Professor Chapman is a philosophy teacher. They were ecstatic.
Main clause—An independent clause, which can stand alone as a grammatically complete sentence. Grammarians quibble.
Modal auxiliaries—Any of the verbs that combine with the main verb to express necessity (must), obligation (should), permission (may), probability (might), possibility (could), ability (can), or tentativeness (would). Mary might wash the car.
Modifier—A word or phrase that qualifies, describes, or limits the meaning of a word, phrase, or clause. Frayed ribbon, dancing flowers, worldly wisdom.
Nominative pronoun—A pronoun that functions as a subject or a subject complement (complete linking verbs): I, we, you, he, she, it, they, who.
Nonrestrictive modifier—A phrase or clause that does not limit or restrict the essential meaning of the element it modifies. My youngest niece, who lives in Ann Arbor, is a magazine editor.
Noun—A word that names a person, place, thing, or idea. Most nouns have a plural form and a possessive form. Carol; the park, the cup, democracy.
Number—A feature of nouns, pronouns, and a few verbs, referring to singular and plural. A subject and its corresponding verb must be consistent in number; a pronoun should agree in number with its antecedent. A solo flute plays; two oboes join in.
Object—The noun or pronoun that completes a prepositional phrase or the meaning of a transitive verb. Frost offered his audience a poetic performance they would likely never forget.
Participial phrase—A present or past participle with accompanying modifiers, objects, or complements. The buzzards, circling with sinister determination, squawked loudly.
Participle—A verbal that functions as an adjective. Present participles end in -ing (brimming); past participles typically end in -d or -ed (injured), or -en (broken) but may appear in other forms (brought, been, gone).
Phrase—A group of related words that functions as a unit but lacks a subject, verb, or both. Without the resources to continue.
Possessive—The case of nouns and pronouns that indicates ownership or possession (Harold’s, ours, mine).
Predicate—The verb and its related words in a clause or sentence. The predicate expresses what the subject does, experiences, or is. Birds fly. The party goers celebrated wildly for a long time.
Preposition—A word that relates its object (a noun, pronoun, or -ing verb form) to another word in the sentence. She is the leader of our group. We opened the door by picking the lock. She went out the window.
Prepositional phrase—A group of words consisting of a preposition, its object, and any of the object’s modifiers. Georgia on my mind.
Pronominal possessive—Possessive pronouns such as hers, its, and theirs.
Proper noun—The name of a particular person (Frank Sinatra), place (Boston), or thing (Moby Dick). Proper nouns are capitalized. Common nouns name classes of people (singers), places (cities), or thing (books) and are not capitalized.
Relative clause—A clause introduced by a relative pronoun, such as who, which, that, or by a relative adverb, such as where, when, why.
Relative pronoun—A pronoun that connects a dependent clause to a main clause in a sentence: who, whom, whose, which, that, what, whoever, whomever, whichever, and whatever.
Repetition—Repeating words for no good reason, redundancy.
Restrictive term, element, clause—A phrase or clause that limits the essential meaning of the sentence element it modifies or identifies. Professional athletes who perform exceptionally should earn stratospheric salaries. Since there are no commas before and after the italicized clause, the italicized clause is restrictive and suggests that only those athletes who perform exceptionally are entitled to such salaries. If commas were added before who and after exceptionally, the clause would be nonrestrictive and would suggest that all professional athletes should receive stratospheric salaries.
Sentence fragment—A group of words that is not grammatically a complete sentence but is punctuated as one: Because it mattered greatly.
Style—The mode or manner of expression, as distinct from content.
Subject—The noun or pronoun that indicates what a sentence is about, and which the principal verb of a sentence elaborates. The new Steven Spielberg movie is a box office hit.
Subordinate clause—A clause dependent on the main clause in a sentence. After we finish our work, we will go out for dinner.
Syntax—The order or arrangement of words in a sentence. Syntax may exhibit parallelism (I came, I saw, I conquered), inversion (Whose woods these are I think I know), or other formal characteristics.
Tense—The time of a verb’s action or state of being, such as past, present, or future. Saw, see, will see.
Transition—A word or group of words that aids coherence in writing by showing the connections between ideas. William Carlos Williams was influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman. Moreover, Williams’s emphasis on the present and the immediacy of the ordinary represented a rejection of the poetic stance and style of his contemporary T.S. Eliot. In addition, William’s poetry…
Transitive verb—A verb that requires a direct object to complete its meaning: They washed their new car. An intransitive verb does not require an object to complete its meaning: The audience laughed. Many verbs can be both: The wind blew furiously. My car blew a gasket.
Verb—A word or group of words that expresses the action or indicates the state of being of the subject.