The Elements of Style (Strunk and White)

Helpful Hints Beyond the Basics

Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

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

Use the active voice – usually makes sentences shorter — subject verb object.

  • Avoid seems, feels, very, rather in the middle of sentences. Use a positive form – avoid statements with “not” – rephrase statements that describe what is not into a description of what is.
  • Avoid would, should, could, may, might, and can for situations involving true uncertainties
  • Description should be vivid, but not superfluous.
  • Take out:
    • The question as to whether à Whether (or) the question whether
    • There is no doubt but that à No doubt (or) doubtless
    • He is a man who à He
    • This a subject that à This subject
    • The reason why is that à Because
    • Her story is a strange one à her story is strange
    • In a hasty manner à Hastily
    • The fact that —- should be revised out of every sentences
    • Owing to the fact that à Since/because
    • In spite of the fact that à Though/although
    • Call your attention to the fact that à Remind you/notify you
    • I was unaware of the fact that à I was unaware that/did not know
    • The fact that he had not succeeded à His failure
    • The fact that I had arrived à My arrival
    • As yet à yet
    • I could not help but see that à I could not help seeing that
    • Remove “case” – In many cases, the rooms lacked flooring à Many of the rooms lacked flooring.
    • Remove “certainly”
    • Comprise when you actually mean constitute
    • The data à These data (Datum being singular)
    • Due to à through, because of, owing to — if not totally attributable
    • When using lists that start with “such as, for example” ending with etc. is incorrect. Specify what you mean out of these, or create a sense of finality otherwise.
    • Vermont is a state that attracts people à Vermont attracts people.
    • Avoid starting sentences with “however” when you mean “nevertheless”.
    • Inside of à inside
    • Eliminate “in terms of”
    • Utilize à use
    • Kind of/sort of à Rather, something like
    • Less refers to quantity, fewer to number
    • “Like” governs nouns and pronouns. Before phrases and clauses, the equivalent word is “as.” Ex: We spent the evening like in the old days à We spent the evening as in the old days. Elena smells good, like a baby should à Elena smells good, as a baby should.
    • Along these lines à to the same effect (or eliminate)
    • Eliminate literal, literally
    • Substitute meaningful with a stronger, more direct phrase.  : His was a meaningful contribution à His contribution counted heavily.
  • When you press a noun into a verb, it frequently comes out in the passive voice.
    • The meeting was chaired by Mr. Brunson à Brunson was the chair of the meeting.
    • The theatre troupe debuted last fall à The theatre troupe made its debut last fall.
  • Eliminate respectively
  • “That” tells which one, “which” adds a fact about the only thing in question.
    • The lawn mower that is broken in the garage (which one) vs. The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage (adds a fact)
  • Avoid indiscriminate use of “while, and, but, although”
  • Eliminate would
  • Eliminate rather, pretty, very, little
  • No thusly or overly, just over and thus
  • Similarly, case, character, nature, who is, which was should be amended
  • Pair the following – both/and, not/but, not only/but also, either/or, first/second, etc.
  • The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not be separated by phrases that can be transferred to the beginning of the sentence.
    • Toni Morrison, in Beloved, writes about characters who have escaped from slavery but are haunted by its heritage à In Beloved, Toni Morrison writes about characters who have escaped from slavery but are haunted by its heritage.
  • The relative pronoun in most circumstances should come immediately after its antecedent
    • He wrote three articles about his adventures in Spain, which were published in Harper’s Magazine à He published three articles in Harper’s Magazine about his adventures in Spain.
  • Modifiers should come next to the words that they modify.
    • She only found two mistakes à She found only two mistakes
    • All the members were not present à Not all the members were present.
  • The strongest words and foci of the sentence should be put toward the end
    • Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time, though it has advanced in other ways à Since that time, humanity has advanced in many ways, but it has hardly advanced in fortitude.
  • In quotation, use present tense
    • Mark Twain says, “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

Put statements in positive form.

Avoid a succession of loose sentences

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

Write with nouns and verbs

Avoid fancy words

Avoid the use of qualifiers.

Do away with dashes.

This is a question of whether à whether


In 1769, when Napoleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France. à Napoleon was born in 1769. At that time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France. (BREAK APART SENTENCES THAT HAVE WHICH, THAT, OR WHERE).

Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by as (in the sense of “because”), for, or, nor, or while (in the sense of “and at the same time”) likewise require a comma before the conjunction.


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