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The Elements of Style  
Elements of Style cover.jpg
Cover of 4th ed. (paperback, 2000)
Author William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Country USA
Language English
Subject(s) Style guide
Publisher Pearson Education Company
Publication date 1919, 1959
Media type Paperback book
Pages 105
ISBN 020530902X
OCLC Number 45802070
Dewey Decimal 808/.042 21
LC Classification PE1408 .S772 1999
Style guides

The Elements of Style (1918) (aka Strunk & White), by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, is an American English writing style guide. It is one of the best-known and most influential prescriptive treatment of English grammar and usage, and often is required reading in U.S. high school and university composition classes[citation needed]. The original 1918 edition of The Elements of Style detailed eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, “a few matters of form”, and a list of commonly "misused" words and expressions.



Cornell University professor of English William Strunk, Jr., wrote The Elements of Style in 1918, privately published it in 1919 and first revised it in 1935, assisted by editor Edward A. Tenney. In 1957 at The New Yorker magazine, the style guide reached the attention of writer E. B. White, who had studied writing under Strunk in 1919, but had since forgotten the "little book" that he described as a "forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English".[1]

Weeks later he wrote a feature story lauding the professor’s devotion to lucid written English prose. Meantime, Macmillan and Company publishers had commissioned White to revise The Elements of Style, then 41 years old, for a 1959 edition, because Strunk had died 13 years earlier, in 1946. His expansion and modernization of the 1935 revised edition yielded the new writing style manual, since known as Strunk & White, whose first revised edition sold some two million copies. Since 1959 the total sales of three editions of the book, in four decades, exceeded ten million copies.[2]

In the 1918 original edition Strunk concentrates upon specific questions of usage, the cultivation of good writing and avoiding overwriting by recommending: "Make every word tell". One composition principle, the 17th, is the simple instruction: "Omit needless words."[3] The 1959 edition features White’s updated expansions of those sections, the "Introduction" essay (derived from his Strunk feature story), and the concluding chapter, "An Approach to Style", a broader, prescriptive guide to writing in English.

Later, E.B. White updated the second (1972) and third (1979) editions of The Elements of Style, by which time it had grown to 85 pages. By publication of the fourth edition in 1999 the second author of Strunk and White had been dead 14 years, since 1985. The fourth edition omits Strunk's advice to use masculine pronouns "unless the antecedent is or must be feminine",[4] noting that "many writers find the use of the generic he ... limiting or offensive".[5] It provides additional advice for avoiding an "unintentional emphasis on the masculine"[6] in the renamed entry “They. He or She.” in Chapter IV: Misused Words and Expressions.[7]

Then the Longman publishing company bought the rights to Strunk & White, and incorporated a foreword by Roger Angell (E.B. White’s stepson), an afterword by Charles Osgood, a glossary and an index. In 2005 The Elements of Style Illustrated, designed and illustrated by Maira Kalman, containing the 1999 edition text was published.

Contents overview — the Third Edition

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 21 reminders for a better style, in Chapter V, which White wrote alone. [8] The final reminder, the 21st, “Prefer the standard to the offbeat” reads like a discrete essay.[8] To writers, White advises the proper mind-set, urging they write to please themselves, and to aim for, in the phrase of Robert Louis Stevenson, “one moment of felicity”.


Edinburgh University linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum has criticized The Elements of Style, saying:

The book’s toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules . . . It’s sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write 'however' or 'than me' or 'was' or 'which,' but can’t tell you why.[9]

Specifically, Pullum says Strunk and White were misguided in identifying the passive voice as incorrect, and in proscribing established usages such as the split infinitive and the use of "which" in a restrictive relative clause.[9] He also frequently criticizes Elements on Language Log, a linguists' blog focusing on portrayals of language in the popular media, for promoting linguistic prescriptivism and hypercorrection among English speakers,[10] referring to it as "the book that ate America's brain".[11]

The Boston Globe's review of the 2005 illustrated edition describes it as an "aging zombie of a book ... a hodgepodge, its now-antiquated pet peeves jostling for space with 1970s taboos and 1990s computer advice."[12]

Editions in print

  • The Elements of Style (1999), 4th edition, hardcover, ISBN 0-205-31342-6
  • The Elements of Style (2000), 4th edition, paperback, ISBN 0-205-30902-X
  • The Elements of Style: A Style Guide for Writers (2005), by William Strunk, ISBN 0-9752298-0-X
  • The Elements of Style Illustrated (2005), by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White and Maira Kalman (Illustrator), ISBN 1-59420-069-6
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & How To Speak And Write Correctly, by Joseph Devlin (2006), BN Publishing, ISBN 956-291-263-9
  • The Elements of Style Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (2009), hardcover, ISBN 0-978-0-205-63264-0 (contains the 4th edition text)

See also


  1. ^ The Elements of Style Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (2009), p. xiii, ISBN 0-978-0-205-63264-0
  2. ^ The Elements of Style Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (2009), p. x, ISBN 0-978-0-205-63264-0
  3. ^ The Elements of Style, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (2009) p.23, ISBN 0-978-0-205-63264-0
  4. ^ Strunk, Jr., William; E.B. White (1972) [1918]. The Elements of Style (2nd ed.). Plain Label Books. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781603030502. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  5. ^ Strunk, Jr., William; E.B. White (1999) [1918]. The Elements of Style (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. p. 60. ISBN 9780205313426. OCLC 41548201. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  6. ^ Strunk (1999), p. 60.
  7. ^ See the "they" entry in Chapter IV of the 1918 edition, and also gender-specific pronouns.
  8. ^ a b The Elements of Style, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (2009) p.xiii, ISBN 0-978-0-205-63264-0
  9. ^ a b Pullum, Geoffrey K (17 April 2009). "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice" (fee required). The Chronicle of Higher Education 55 (32): B15. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  10. ^ See, "Sotomayor loves Strunk and White" (Geoffrey Pullum, 12 June 2009), "Drinking the Strunkian Kool-Aid" (Geoffrey Pullum, 6 June 2009), "Room for debate on Strunk and White" (Geoffrey Pullum, 25 April 2009), and other postings on the subject, tagged as prescriptivist poppycock (retrieved on 13 June 2009).
  11. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K (12 June 2009). "Sotomayer loves Strunk and White". Language Log. Retrieved 13 June 2009. 
  12. ^ Freeman, Jan (23 October 2005). "Frankenstrunk". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Elements of Style is a guide to usage in the writing of English. Originally written in 1918 by William Strunk, Jr., it was revised by Strunk and Edward A. Tenny in 1935. In 1959 an expanded and modernized edition was made by E. B. White. This third edition has become the standard text of the book, with further revisions made in 1972, 1979 and 1999.



Third Edition, Macmillan, 1979, ISBN 0-024-18220-6

Ch. II: Elementary Principles of Composition

  • 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 should avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every sentence tell.
    • Rule 17

Ch. IV: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused

  • Fact. Use this word only of matter capable of direct verification, not of matters of judgment. That a particular event happened on a given date, that lead melts at a certain temperature are facts. But such conclusions as that Napoleon was the greatest of modern generals or that the climate of California is delightful, however defensible they may be, are not properly called facts.
  • Interesting. An unconvincing word; avoid it as a means of introduction. Instead of announcing that what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so... Also to be avoided in introduction is the word funny. Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.
  • Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means "sickening to contemplate"; the second means "sick at the stomach." Do not, therefore, say "I feel nauseous," unless you are sure you have that effect on others.
  • The foreseeable future. A cliché, and a fuzzy one. How much of the future is foreseeable? Ten minutes? Ten years? Any of it? By whom is it foreseeable? Seers? Experts? Everybody?
  • The truth is... The fact is... A bad beginning for a sentence. If you feel you are possessed of the truth, or the fact, simply state it. Do not give it advance billing.

Ch. V: An Approach to Style

This chapter was written by White

  • Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish is made palatable. Style has no such separate entity; it is nondetachable, unfilterable. The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is himself he is approaching, no other; and he should begin by turning resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style — all mannerisms, tricks, adornments. The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.
  • Writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.
    • Rule 1: Place yourself in the background
  • The adjective hasn't yet been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.
    • Rule 4: Write with nouns and verbs
  • Rather, very, little, pretty — these are the leeches that infest of the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.
    • Rule 8: Avoid the use of qualifiers
  • A breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that pops into his head is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.
    • Rule 9: Do not affect a breezy manner
  • The line between the fancy and the plain, between the atrocious and the felicitous, is sometimes alarmingly fine. The opening phrase of the Gettysburg address is close to the line, at least by our standards today, and Mr. Lincoln, knowingly or unknowingly, was flirting with disaster when he wrote "Four score and seven years ago." The President could have got into his sentence with plain "Eighty-seven years ago" — a saving of two words and less of a strain on the listeners' powers of multiplication. But Lincoln's ear must have told him to go ahead with four score and seven. By doing so, he achieved cadence while skirting the edge of fanciness. Suppose he had blundered over the line and written, "In the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and seventy-six." His speech would have sustained a heavy blow. Or suppose he had settled for "Eighty-seven." In that case he would have got into his introductory sentence too quickly; the timing would have been bad.
    • Rule 14: Avoid fancy words
  • Although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one.
    • Rule 16: Be clear
  • No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader's intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.

Quotes about The Elements of Style

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Elements of Style
by William Strunk, Jr.
Information about this edition
The Elements of Style ("Strunk & White") is an American English writing style guide. It is one of the most influential and best-known prescriptive treatments of English grammar and usage in the United States. It originally detailed eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, "a few matters of form," and a list of commonly misused words and expressions. Updated editions of the paperback book are often required reading for American high school and college composition classes.— Excerpted from The Elements of Style on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Brief contents

  1. Introductory
  2. Elementary Rules of Usage
  3. Elementary Principles of Composition
  4. A Few Matters of Form
  5. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused
  6. Words Commonly Misspelled


  1. Introductory
  2. Elementary Rules of Usage
  3. Elementary Principles of Composition
  4. A Few Matters of Form
  5. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused
  6. Words Commonly Misspelled
PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain). Flag of the United States.svg

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