The Elements of Style( 3rd edition) by William Strunk Jr. and E.B White Gave me A Wider Perspective on the English Language.


I have always wanted to be fluent in English ever since I took to this language. I was inspired by my cousin who was ‘English-era’ and whom I found smart at answering any question I would pose to her. I was even astounded to find out that she always memorized English words with her mini dictionary to be more expressive of her thoughts and feelings. I thought to myself that in doing so could have been the key to becoming proficient in English. Fascinated, I did the same manner; she allowed me to borrow her dictionary, and I committed all the words to memory. When I finished that dictionary, I had proven my hypothesis. Thereafter, not satisfied with the words new to me, I had tried more than two dictionaries until I got nauseated by the words I was trying to take in.

But I was in for a rude awakening when I asked myself how I had to speak as impeccably as grammar Nazis do, the phrase I was not yet aware of . Also, at that time, I was envious of a political icon in the Philippines who was admired for her intelligence and oratorical speeches. For sure, whenever I spoke English with great aplomb because of my crystallized knowledge of vocabulary, I must not have been aware of the fact that those people whom I addressed would cringe at my ” carabao English”. Thanks to my unconscious thirst for learning; I had persevered in reading more English text books,and English became my favorite subject throughout my school life .

To advance my English skills, I decided to teach Koreans since teaching them seemed like was all the fashion then. Eventually, I got a wrong perception . So, working as an ESL teacher for nine years means I have learned a lot of lessons on English grammar and structures, particularly on effective writing. As a result, I have become confident about my English. My friends would even tag me as a grammar policeman, the title I learned to accept. However, I smashed that delusion because I realized one time that there are people we may not know who suffer from learning disabilities. I believe that disdaining someone’s shortcomings in perfect English is an example of intellectual hubris.

When I first read The Elements of Style ( second edition) during my teaching career in an international language school, I realized that there were a lot of things I still had not known. Also, it dawned on me that not all the information I had learned was correct. Consequently, I had this ” grammatical crisis”, the same as the law term ” constitutional crisis” when a government agency is unable to function effectively because of the ambiguous and illogical application of the law. However, I was not too scholarly to acknowledge the points of the book, for I preferred to believe the authority of the authors whose books I had relied on for so many years. It was as though I had disposed of the book down the gutter and chose to remain incorrigible. intransigent,Β  and denial. It was just as well that I read its pdf.

When I got this book for its third edition, I already felt like looking to a panel of experts on the English language or a faculty of teachers who have been dedicated to teaching English to non-native speakers for some enlightenment . There were some grammar parts I was discombobulated about. ( William Strunk would be shuddering at my using this adjective.) Eventually, I realized that the authors, two versus the authors I look up to, have the method to their madness.

The book is divided into five parts which steered clear of my blissful ignorance: Elementary Usage of Rules, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form , Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style.

The first part Elementary Usage of Rules shattered my world again when I revisited some wrong grammatical information I disregarded before:

# 1. I must not use an apostrophe (‘) if the proper noun ends with s.

Ever since I opened the first English textbook I read (that was a poignant memory), I learned that I can use an apostrophe (‘) even if the proper noun ends with s. That book is even supported by standardized English test books studied by non-native speakers.

#2. No comma should separate a noun from a restrictive form of identification.

I am now too old to remember this basic fact. Punctuation marks like comma and dash used for appositive phrases should be to blame for my confusion.

#3 When the connective is and , the comma should be omitted if the relation between the two statements is close or immediate.

Finally, I am clear about this rule. I had been bothered if I’d rather separate two independent clauses using FANBOYS than combining then with the same subject of the sentences.

#4 .The book points out that it is a blunder when we use a singular verb form in a relative clause following” one of …’

Another grammar point that I have been confused about until now. Basically, most grammar books I have read argue that it is correct to use both singular and plural verb forms. However, they prefer using the singular verb form in a sense that one of…refers to a singular noun excluding itself from the group.

My favorite part of the book is Elementary Principles of Composition. Although I have learned most of the tips on effective writing several times,I am exhilarated by their emphatic significance. Sometimes, I don’t give a hoot when some professional writers are constantly reminding me of them, but now it is about time I took their advice. Besides, there are some bad writing habits I should really break:

#1.Brevity and concise. My writing style is kind of digression most of the time. I believe so.

#2. Statements should be put in positive form. I am in the habit of writing statements with doubt not necessarily because I want to assert my opinions . I always believe that I should not insist something invalid and unreliable since there are many beholders in the universe. I’d rather leave my audience up in the air and find the answers themselves.

#3. Use definite , specific, concrete language. I agree with the authors of the book that the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete. Sometimes, my general statements obscure my main points. Kinda words salad.

# 4 .Omit needless words. Here I am again. I love injecting non-essential clauses.

#5. An article or a preposition applying to all the members of a series must either be used only before the first term of a series must either be used only before the first term or else be repeated before each term.

Gee, I was right when a professor corrected my sentence before because I followed this rule.

#6 . In summaries, keep to one tense

This is the rule I want to share with my friends who have been puzzled by what tense they should use in summarizing dramas, poems, novels, or stories. The book suggests that we use the present tense or the past tense. If we want to make the story or drama sound natural, we can stick to the past tense form.

I also enjoyed A Few Matters of Form. I just learned from this part that most dates and numbers are best spelled out in dialogues. Also, since I am into blogging, I should omit initial A or The from titles when I place the possessive form before them. Awesome!

Words and Expressions Commonly Misused discusses the correct words and expressions I have reviewed several times, and I should not complicate anymore. For example, we can simply use whether instead of as to whether or yet not as yet. The book also suggests the words acceptable to writing which in effect failed to provide justifiable reasons such as at this at this moment not currently; because of not due to ; enthusiastic not enthuse , in regards to not as regards, insightful not perceptive . In addition, the book expresses distaste for our acute habit of using the words and phrases we have thought to be part of normal communication such as one of the most , relate to , respectively , the foreseeable future, utilize , very, finalize , hopefully , importantly and so on. Admittedly, I have used most of them in my blog posts many times. (laughs)

For more lists of words and phrases we must avoid, click here .

An Approach to Style gives a list of reminders on effective writing. I enjoyed this part because I learned that we can have our own styles of writing, but should consider the elements we should use to make our masterpiece acceptable and vigorous.

The Guardian and Time magazine considered The Elements of Style one of the most influential non-fiction of all time. It is sort of like a bible for all English teachers and writers. Thus, the major impacts it had on me , aside from the correct English grammar and structures, are the growing realization that English is not the basis of intelligence at all , but we should never stop learning if we want to be better at this language . Besides, this acts as another catalysts for my insatiable desire for becoming a good writer in the foreseeable future- the time expression repulsed William Strunk Jr. and E.B White. (laughs)

Rating : 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)


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