Book cover for The Elements of Style  by William Strunk

The Elements of Style

by William Strunk


There were a few humorously archaic references in this book, but for the most part it holds up 100 years later!

Here are the main rules that stood out to me, most likely because I flout them all.


  1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's
  2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

Oxford comma, I don’t do this but perhaps I should?

  1. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas

I do a lot of parentheticals. Good core rule to remember.

  1. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing a co-ordinate clause.

So before the and or but. I need to do this.

  1. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

If two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.

Or a period.

  1. Do not break sentences in two.

  2. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject

e.g. about the subject of the sentence:

Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children

vs. referring to the woman

He saw a woman accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.


  1. One paragraph to each topic
  2. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence, end it with conformity with the beginning
  3. Use the active voice as it’s more “direct and vigorous”

A common fault is to use as the subject of a passive construction a noun which expresses the entire action, leaving to the verb no function beyond that or completing the sentence.

e.g. A survey of this region was made in 1900 vs. This region was surveyed in 1900.

  1. Put statements in positive form
  2. Use definite, specific, concrete language
  3. Omit needless words
  4. Avoid a succession of loose sentences
  5. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form
  6. Keep related words together

The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.

  1. In summaries, keep to one tense
  2. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

Words to avoid

Certainly, can (instead of may), factor, feature, interesting, so, sort of, kind of, system, very, while