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The Elements of Style (Elements of Composition Series)

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  54,374 Ratings  ·  2,740 Reviews
The only style manual to ever appear on a bestseller list now refreshed by one of our most beloved illustrators

Every English writer knows Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. The book’s mantra, make every word tell, is still on point. This much-loved classic, now in its fourth edition, will forever be the go-to guide when in need of a hint to make a turn of phrase cle
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Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 28th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1918)
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Abdulrahman Worth the time? I finished half of it while having breakfast on a Friday morning. Though brief, it is invaluable.
Alan Cecil Because it's the Elements of Style, not the Elements of Photography.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Patricia
This book is good for the following things:

1. Propping up a short table leg

2. Lining a bird cage

3. Building a fire

4. Using as a coaster for cold drinks



I devoted some of my grammar thesis to criticizing this book, and it was time well spent.


Geoff Nunberg may have said it best: "The weird thing is to see rules like these passed down as traditional linguistic wisdom. Take that edict that you ought to say "10 persons" rather than "10 people." You can still find it in the recent editions of Strunk
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J.G. Keely
There must be some structure to language. We must agree on some aspects of it, and creating rules and definitions around those mutual agreements helps to foster intelligibility throughout the language.

Likewise, this agreement to abide by these rules means that we can teach communication. This does not mean only in the case of children, but it certainly simplifies it for them. This also means that writers can continue to learn, to interact, and to write understandably and not wastefully.

We take t
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Patrick Gibson
Jul 18, 2009 Patrick Gibson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Patrick by: some teacher along the way
Shelves: nerdboy
I remember, my Freshman year, sitting in the Music Building lounge waiting for my next class when Maryanne came crashing in, with an appropriate amount of chaos, announcing to all “Oh crap, I can’t find my Strunk and White.” Everyone else in the room apparently knew what she was talking about, but I sat with a blank stare. A few weeks latter my required English 101 professor insisted we hit the bookstore and buy ‘The Elements of Style.’ We were to treat it like the Holy Grail of grammar, carry ...more
Kenny
Oct 14, 2007 Kenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who writes.
Shelves: writing-craft
The gold standard. No more need be said than to quote Mr. Strunk's thoughts under the headline "Omit Needless Words":

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

And every word of Mr.
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David
Mar 01, 2011 David rated it it was ok
In her charming essay, "Insert a Carrot", Anne Fadiman describes a trait shared by everyone in her family - a heightened sensitivity to the flaws in other people's writing. The Fadimans all belong to that tribe whose members cannot read without simultaneously copy-editing. When dining out, they amuse each other by pointing out typos on the menu. It might seem obnoxious, but really they just can't help it. If you're blessed with the copy-editing gene you can't just switch it off.

I have the same
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Blake
Aug 08, 2012 Blake rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grammar
Had I read this a year ago, happily under the spell of nazism, I might have filled this little review with the kind of gleaming praise and happy diligence of the awakened; however, in the past year I was compelled to take up a few contemporary grammar and style guides and subsequently have developed a sore throat around these pills. I spit them out.

My grammar is not sparkling, nor even prone to an occasional gloss shimmer; nonetheless, a book of this sort does little to help the sheen. Its voice
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David
Apr 20, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is very good for what it does, which is advise on how to write clearly and concisely. But generations of writers have completely misunderstood its purpose and used it as a Bible of Good Writing. It's not. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum has famously gone on something of a crusade against The Elements of Style, and while he makes good points, it may be a little unfair to blame S&W for the fact that writers don't realize the original authors were addressing an audience of barely-literate college s ...more
Eric
Jan 03, 2009 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I never thought I would say this about a book, but every writer needs to read this book. Hell, if you plan on writing anything you should read this book. The title is very misleading. Anyone who came across it for the first time might think it was a book about "style" as an artform. For those who are worried about the pedantry of writing, this book is mostly about grammar and what can be more effective in using the English language. This needs to be in the curriculumn for high schools, ...more
Henry
Aug 31, 2009 Henry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is no point in reviewing one of the most popular style guides ever. But what I can do is write about my experience with it. First, I am not a native English speaker. And second, I am an amateur fiction writer. This won't be the first book I would recommend to someone that doesn't know what an independent clause is. There are plenty of grammar rules for "normal" people out there. But for writers it is very helpful. I read and read the rules, time and time again, until they sink in. It has a ...more
Lisa
Mar 15, 2009 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a classic. This book I read is a reprint from the original 1920 version.

It's a great book for writers. Let's face it, we all write emails, so we can all use it.

Here are examples of the great reminders I got from the book -

1) use active voice
not: confirmation of these reports cannot be obtained.
instead: these reports cannot be confirmed

2) omit needless words
not: he is a man who drinks often
instead: he drinks often

3) put statements in positive form
not: I did not pay attention to the rain drop
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Will Ransohoff
It's a little prescriptive, but this book's advice is solid. The fourth chapter was actually fun to read because parts of it came across as a long, pompous rant.

"To say, "Hopefully I'll leave on the noon plane" is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you'll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you'll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven't said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to m
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Gisela Hausmann
What a great book - a classic. I loved the funny examples (of yore), sentences most of us would not write any longer. Then again, because we would not write them anymore we pay attention, we are tempted to analyze them. Is the book still relevant? You bet!

“… show the weakness of the word NOT. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; he wishes to be told what is. Hence, as a rule, it is better to express even a negative in positive form.

Not honest
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David Fleming
Jul 21, 2012 David Fleming rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The aspect that makes this my book of choice regarding English language usage and style is the fact that its authors presented it in a structure that doesn’t demand a reader to understand the naming of the different parts of speech in order to benefit from its teaching.

The format is basically a series of boldface statements. These are spoken in the standard English gobbledeguck yet immediately backed up by real-world examples. This is a highly effective strategy because, let’s face it, all thos
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David Acevedo
I have a bone to pick with the author of this book. Several bones...

First off, the book is way too Americanised. The so called "elements of style" in this book are sold as international standard (a linguistic crime as there is no such thing), yet it sets aside the British proprieties as well as the Irish, Indian and Australian niceties. Now, maybe I'm a true internationalist, but when a book tells me that I should not use contractions in an official document, when in fact, there's a huge and ex
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Jim
Nov 12, 2008 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone thinks of this as a book for writers, but today, most of us are. We write to communicate through email, memos & letters. Everyone can benefit by reading this book. It looks quite short & slim, but that is deceiving, like Kern & Ritchie's book on C. They fit a LOT into a small package & it takes practice & referral to get the basics down.
Roy Lotz
I still remember, and will always remember, my 11th grade English class. Before that year, English class had meant little more than vocabulary tests, book reports, and those five-paragraph (hamburger) essays. But this class was different. Our teacher was not interested in getting us to pass a standardized test; instead, she wanted to really teach us how to read and write.

To my astonishment, I realized that nobody had ever done that before. I had been taught how to write a five-paragraph essay, b
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Kellyn Roth
Admittedly, I use the dictionary a lot less than this little book.
Stela
This was a very quick reading!
A useful book for teachers, with some basic linguistic and stylistic rules clearly explained. I found a lot of errors my students endlessly commit and I list for fun some of them:
- always refer the participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence to the grammatical subject, in order not to lead to sentences like the following: "Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap." Poor me!;
-do not form paragraphs of single sentences (I'll never
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R.K. Ryde
Jun 04, 2016 R.K. Ryde rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great reference book when writing. To be honest though, I like the illustrations more :)
Beth
Feb 10, 2015 Beth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one!
Recommended to Beth by: required reading for a class
I hated, hated, HATED this book! Talk about literary elitism at its worst. This book annoyed me to no end because the entire tone of this book was, "If you write like this or if you say this, then it's wrong." So much of what was written in the "Improperly used words" section could be completely argued that language has evolved to the point where many of these rules don't apply anymore. I also didn't like the imperative manner in which it was written. Don't order me to do these things; give me ...more
Skyler Myers
May 15, 2014 Skyler Myers rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who have an adept understanding of English grammar and want tips to enhance their writing
PROs:

* Short and concise

* Good examples

* Lots of information covered in a small period of time

CONs:

* Technical grammatical language used

* Many statements are presented as absolutes (i.e. NEVER do 'this'), when in reality they are more situational

* HORRIBLE formatting on the Kindle

I saw that this book is highly recommended and regarded, decided to look it up, and found that it was free to download on the Kindle. I went ahead and downloaded it and read it in one sitting. Unfortunately much of it w
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Travelin
Too short, too bloodless, too focused on being brief, explicit and direct, mostly by demanding construction of sentences using active voice. A friend with a PH.D, forced by the demands of academic publishing to write in nothing but passive voice, developed a maddening frustration, after being taught that this book was the gold standard in written English. The style White profers often makes simple writers sound more active, more certain, and more strident than most any writer is.

In secondary sch
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Fiona
I currently live in the same house as a Steven Pinker devotee, the upshot of which is that I can't open this book without being explained to how internally inconsistent it is.

It's not about how "proper" English looks, though, is it? No matter how much it tries to tell you it is. It's about how to fit in, in a certain writing-heavy environment. This book is the silver service table manners of literature, and exactly as arbitrary, historically informed, and culturally specific as that sounds. You
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Mansoor
Apr 20, 2007 Mansoor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This is the oft-cited classic. If you haven't read it, read it. I know that seems an overly strong recommendation, but the value of this book's guidelines can't be understated.

Elements of Style contains the most valuable advice for any writer: “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecssary sentences.”

Also, the chapter “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused” is not only helpful, but funny.
Renee
Jun 30, 2009 Renee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like STephen King's On Writing, this will be a book I will always pick up and leaf through. Very helpful and informative. I didn't realize how much I was doing wrong, but it was encouraging to know I was also doing quite a bit right. Half full or half empty, depends on the day.
I recommend this to anyone writing, hoping to write, or who just wants to understand all the crazy rules that come with writing.
Karima
Jun 25, 2008 Karima rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who cherish language.
What a beautiful, slim volume of wisdom and written elegance.
I highly recommend this edition with illustrations by Maira Kalman. It has been, according to Roger Angell who writes the forward, "modestly" updated from the original, published in the WW 1 era.
Get this book. Give this book. Refer to this book over and over again.
Vegetarian
Jun 02, 2013 Vegetarian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the current version of this, not only in high school, but in elementary school. I am constantly "required" to read Strunk and White, whenever I have a class that requires more writing, as I did in my recent graduate program in research administration.

Every time writing becomes an issue, Strunk and White is one of the books course designers either recommend or require.
James
Style guides have three very useful functions, the third and least important of which is to help you write with style. Strunk's has rules aplenty, and while many of them are now somewhat dated or country specific, such as the Oxford comma and placing punctuation outside parentheses rather than within, the book is an interesting and readable guide to some of those style 'rules'.

The two other functions of style guides are much more important though. Firstly, you get to be smug towards people who d
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Otherwyrld
Feb 13, 2015 Otherwyrld rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
People say that this is a classic work on writing, but I just didn't feel it myself. Perhaps it was because I disliked the shrill, hectoring tone of voice for most of this book. Every time he says "Don't do this" I was thinking "Screw you, who are you to tell me what not to do". The final section "An Approach to Style" was a little better, but then it was written by E.B.White (of Charlotte's Web fame). I can just about see why some people might like it though, I'm just not one of them.

Kirtida Gautam
There are some books that need to be adapted as part of second nature. This is one such book. I won't say that I have been able to grasp this classic book in one go. No, I will have to come back to this book again and again to appreciate it fully. I plan to read it every month for next twelve months and every three months after that. This is a book that needs to be read again, and again, and again.
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  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
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  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
  • Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • Roget International Thesaurus
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
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William Strunk Jr. was a professor of English at Cornell University and, together with E.B. White, author of The Elements of Style (1918).
More about William Strunk Jr....

Other Books in the Series

Elements of Composition Series (6 books)
  • The Elements of Technical Writing (Elements of Composition)
  • The Elements of Reasoning
  • The Elements of Grammar for Writers
  • The Elements of Writing about Literature and Film
  • The Elements of Critical Reading

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“Omit needless words.” 1607 likes
“To achieve style, begin by affecting none.” 33 likes
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