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Strunk & White; Good Grammar Guide

image Whilst browsing the web this week I came across a recommendation on the Examiner site by Peggy Hazelwood, telling us where we can download a free e-copy of the famous grammar ‘bible’, yes a free download of Strunk and White.

“The Elements of Style” was originally written by William Strunk to aid his students. Subsequently it was revised by a former student (E.B. White). Since then it has become a classic reference enjoying its fiftieth anniversary and is always amongst the first grammar books recommended to new writers.

Although I already owned a copy of this tiny manual, (it is very small), I immediately downloaded my free PDF copy for my laptop eBook library.

 If you would like your free copy, click here or on the book picture to the right to go to the Feedbooks download page.

 Then when you have it come back here to find out if you have gold or a turkey in your hands.

The first edition of this important little book, “The Elements of Style”,  was published in 1918. Since then it has been extensively revised and has formed part of the backbone of writing wisdom for the last fifty years. How can you refuse a free copy of this literary excellence?

Now I am assuming you probably already have a copy or have just returned back from downloading a copy and are feeling warm and kind thoughts towards Shack for providing such a valuable and beneficial link.

Or has Shack just sold you a turkey?

To be absolutely honest, I don’t know!

I haven’t told a single lie, all of the above is clearly documented history. Strunk and White is revered by many in the publishing industry. Professionals have learned their trade beside it, recommended it to others and used it to benchmark the quality of submitted work. “The Elements of Style” would appear to have become its own standard. Remember the preceding sentence as I will come back to it.

Why do I question the quality of the download advice that I have given you? Because of the attacks on the book by some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. Here are few from the “Happy Birthday, Strunk and White!” article in the New York Times.

Professor Geoffrey K. Pullum;The simplistic don’t-do-this, don’t-write-that instructions offered in the book would not guarantee good writing if they were obeyed… Again and again, Strunk and White recommend the stuffy and unidiomatic, and warn against what sounds effective and natural.”

Patricia T. O’Conner; “Oh, the first 14 pages are still the gospel truth… But much of the grammar and usage advice in the rest of the book is baloney.”

Mignon Fogarty; “These characteristics led Strunk to state his style preferences as though they were rules. “He had a number of likes and dislikes that were almost as whimsical as the choice of a necktie, yet he made them seem utterly convincing,”

There are further attacks in that same article and a quick Google for “Strunk and White is wrong” gives an alarming 52,800 results. The first four being;

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice – The Chronicle Review – The …
E a r t h G o a t: Strunk and White wrong, outdated, mocked
Strunk and White Were Wrong: In Speechwriting, Personality Should …
Strunk and White Is Not for You : Uncertain Principles

So what does this all mean? Why download a book that is so vehemently disputed?

What it means is that there are those out there who use Strunk and White “The Elements of Style” as a ‘Standard’, do you remember that earlier sentence? It means that the book is still being promoted as a de facto reference. That work is being judged by it, pages of grammar advice are based on it and new writers are trying to work to it.

It also means that there are those out there who have left it behind, who view much of its content as outdated or opinionated and who will deprecate work that emulates certain S&W principles.

Where this gives me a problem is when I pass work for submission or critique. I cannot possibly know which camp the recipient is in, is he pro-S&W or anti-S&W? How would this potential bias affect the outcome of my submission? For me as an inexperienced writer with weak grammatical skills, I do not have the confidence to argue over this or that point of grammar. Instead I may face being bounced around by knowledgeable people who just might not know all that they think they do.

Why do I own a copy and why did I download it? Because it has become a de facto standard. Due to this I need to know when to follow it and when to ignore it. And before I can ignore any of it, I first need to know it.

Is it a turkey? It is not for me to say, I will leave that to the authorities on language, like Professor Pullum. Apparently they agree that the first fourteen pages are still “gospel” but the remaining pages have to be treated with some caution.

Unfortunately Strunk and White “The Elements of Style” is now available free, whilst Professor Pullum’s latest book costs £130. Also Strunk and White “The Elements of Style” is a small pocket sized reference, whilst Pullum’s “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” is a 1764 page brick. Giving the power of the internet to distribute free items and the nature of people to go for the easy option it is likely that Strunk and White “The Elements of Style” is about to see another surge of popularity.

Hopefully someone will do another revision or someone will do a free pocket sized eBook which might be titled “Just Like Strunk and White – But Better”.

What are your thoughts on this? What do you use as your grammar or style reference? Please let me know in the comments.

“Free Strunk & White; Good Grammar Guide” by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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9 comments to Free Strunk & White; Good Grammar Guide

  • [...] This post was Twitted by TeresaFrohock [...]

  • Nice article, Shack. I have Strunk & White, the Chicago manual of style and a couple of others – all of which differ, say the others are wrong and generally promote themselves as the be-all and end-all of language!

    Personally, I think they’re all good for the syntactic: getting the grammar correct, getting word agreement right and that sort of thing. When it comes to style, though, I don’t think any guide can cover it. That’s, well, a question of style!

    Rule Number One: always ask an employer for their in-house style guide. If they don’t have one, they can’t complain anyway.

  • We were told to buy Strunk & White when I studied journalism in Wollongong, Australia. Earlier this year I tried to find my copy of it and couldn’t, so I got online to see if there was something I could download. I wasn’t successful and instead found an article that tore the book to pieces. However, I still like it for its distinction between ‘that’ and ‘which’.

  • S&W is a good basic grammar – as you said, it was originally written by a professor for his students. If you’ve seen any university style guides, you’ll know S&W is better than many.

    Once S&W is understood, further style is a matter of personal development.

    Don’t worry about what style you use when submitting – for the most part, editors/agents/publishers don’t usually care — as long as you are consistent in your style choices. If you spell the word ‘honour’, don’t use ‘neighbor’ elsewhere. If the person *does* care what you use, they will normally say so in their guidelines.

    As the previous poster noted, if writing for an employer, use their preferred style. Otherwise, make your own decisions. Again, consistency is key.

    For a critiquer… beginning critiquers often cling to S&W as though it’s a bible. It’s not. It’s a (very basic) guide. If you know S&W, you’ll know when critiquers are being sticklers.

    My suggestion: read several style guides. Where they all seem to agree will be the most inflexible of the rules. Where they disagree is the area where you can pick and choose to develop your own style.

    (And if a critiquer disagrees with something you’ve chosen, you can point them to the style guide you derived the style from.)

    Knowing various style guides also help as a critiquer. Instead of sticking to the one guide, you can tell the author where style is flexible, and direct him to the styleguide he prefers for tricky things, like hyphenation.

  • Spike: Thanks, as for “Rule Number One” well I can see Lobster style all over it. ;)

    Lustforlanguage: Glad to help, I only recently heard of the taxes and restrictions on importing books into Australia. Seemed strange to me for a country working at economic growth to impede knowledge.

    BJ Muntain: Thanks for the good comment, I smiled at the “as though it’s a bible” and “if a critiquer disagrees”, I have seen both cause fun in critique communities.
    I see you approve of ‘The Abbeville Manual of Style’ I have added to my bookmarks.

  • Oh, no, I don’t think it has anything to do with impeding knowledge. There’s a big debate right now about dropping the restrictions, but what I can gather is that they were put in place to protect local publishers and authors. According to an article I read in one of our big papers (The Sydney Morning Herald), an Australian publisher has 30 days to release its own version of a book published internationally. If successful, booksellers can’t import a cheaper alternative.

  • [...] Goings for his Sunday Wash-up. Andy also did a great article on need for discernment in his post Strunk and White; Good Grammar Guide. Is the Strunk and White everything it’s cracked up to be? Hmm . . . visit Andy and find [...]