The Elements of Style

In an effort to improve my writing, I have been treating myself to evenings of practice under the tutelage of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style; as recommended by Randy. I will be writing down the rules (and possibly more than just the rules) here (a) to help me remember them as I write them down and (b) for quick access when the book is not around.

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.

Rules 3, 4, 5 and 6 cover the most important principles that govern punctuation.

7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

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 a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

From this first section, the rule that I break the most is definitely No. 7. One of the wrong examples that they give is: “Your dedicated whitter requires: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch”. I do this all the time. The suggested way to improve the sentence is: “Your dedicated whittler requires three props: a knife, a piece of wood, and a back porch”.

The most unintuitive examples that I have seen so far come from rules 9 and 10. “One of the ablest scientist who has attacked this problem”. They say this is a ‘common blunde “One of the ablest scientist who have attacked this problem”.


One thought on “The Elements of Style

  1. I think the last example is slightly wrong. It should be “One of the ablest scientistS” — which makes the difference between “have” and “has” make sense.

    The rational is that you are choosing “one” out of some plural group. Another way of saying this would be “Out of all the scientists who have tackled this problem, this one is among the ablest”

    Thinking about it that way helps it make sense 😉

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