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The Elements of Style

By: William Strunk

The Elements of Style is an American English writing style guide in numerous editions. The original was composed by William Strunk Jr. in 1918, and published by Harcourt in 1920, comprising eight "elementary rules of usage", ten "elementary principles of composition", "a few matters of form", a list of 49 "words and expressions commonly misused", and a list of 57 "words often misspelled". E. B. White greatly enlarged and revised the book for publication by Macmillan in 1959. That was the first edition of the so-called Strunk & White, which Time named in 2011 as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923, though it has also been criticized for misunderstanding basic grammatical concepts.

Strunk concentrated on the cultivation of good writing and composition; the original 1918 edition exhorted writers to "omit needless words", use the active voice, and employ parallelism appropriately.

 

 The 1959 edition features White's expansions of preliminary sections, the "Introduction" essay (derived from his magazine feature story about Prof. Strunk), and the concluding chapter, "An Approach to Style", a broader, prescriptive guide to writing in English. He also produced the second (1972) and third (1979) editions of The Elements of Style, by which time the book's length had extended to 85 pages.

 

The third edition of The Elements of Style (1979) features 54 points: a list of common word-usage errors; 11 rules of punctuation and grammar; 11 principles of writing; 11 matters of form; and, in Chapter V, 21 reminders for better style. The final reminder, the 21st, "Prefer the standard to the offbeat", is thematically integral to the subject of The Elements of Style, yet does stand as a discrete essay about writing lucid prose. To write well, White advises writers to have the proper mind-set, that they write to please themselves, and that they aim for "one moment of felicity", a phrase by Robert Louis Stevenson. Thus Strunk's 1918 recommendation:

 

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 his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.

 

— "Elementary Principles of Composition", The Elements of Style

 

Strunk Jr. no longer has a comma in his name in the 1979 and later editions, due to the modernized style recommendation about punctuating such names.

 

The fourth edition of The Elements of Style (2000), published 54 years after Strunk's death, omits his stylistic advice about masculine pronouns: "unless the antecedent is or must be feminine". In its place, the following sentence has been added: "many writers find the use of the generic he or his to rename indefinite antecedents limiting or offensive." Further, the re-titled entry "They. He or She", in Chapter IV: Misused Words and Expressions, advises the writer to avoid an "unintentional emphasis on the masculine".

 

Components new to the fourth edition include a foreword by Roger Angell, stepson of E. B. White, an afterword by the American cultural commentator Charles Osgood, a glossary, and an index. Five years later, the fourth edition text was re-published as The Elements of Style Illustrated (2005), with illustrations by the designer Maira Kalman. This edition excludes the afterword by Osgood and restores the first edition chapter on spelling.

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

English

Published In

1918

Author

William Strunk

United States

William Strunk Jr. was an American professor of English at Cornell University and author of The Elements of Style (1918). After revision and enlargement by his former student E. B. White, it became a...

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