September 21, 2009

The Elements of Style (Strunk and White)


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by addings ’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 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.


12. Choose a suitable design 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. 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 design.

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.


  1. Hello, Rise! As an editor for books and web copy, I really find The Elements of Style indispensable. It's so small yet meaty! LOL.

    When I'm editing books, I have this small book beside me always (and also my Chicago Manual of Style, which is a doorstop of a book).

  2. Hey, Peter. I practically listed the Table of Contents as constant reminders. I just gave away my old copy in BookMooch.

    I have started on Arthur Plotnik's "Spunk & Bite" which contradicts everything Strunk and White. It's quite hilarious.

  3. Hi, Rise! I'll definitely check that out. It's a parody, right? Actually, a lot of Americans have been saying that Strunk and White is no longer relevant in today's writing. They also cited some "errors", particularly those having to do with active vs. passive statements. Have you heard of these arguments? Reading them is actually quite fun.

  4. It's more than a parody, Peter. It's a manual in its own right, a very refreshing one. I can see why most have reservations on the strictures of Strunk and White. They're too black and white. The creative writing school must have felt too constricted in applying them.