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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: A MATTER OF STYLE

When writing a compostion or an essay, in many cases tame sentences of description or expostion can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for expressions like 'there is..' or 'could be heard..'
Passive Better: Active
There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground. Dead leaves covered the ground.
At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard. The cock's crow came at dawn.
The reason he left college was that his health became impaired. Failing health compelled him to leave college.
It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had. She soon repented her words.

Put statements in positive form! Make definite assertions.
He was not very often on time. He usually came late.
She did not think that studying Latin was a sensible way to use one's time. She thought the study of Latin a waste of time.
The Taming of the Shrew is rather weak in spots. Shakespeare does not portray Katherine as a very admirable character, nor does Bianca remain long in memory as an important character in Shakespeare's work. The women in The Taming of the Shrew are unattractive. Katherine is disagreeable, Bianca insignificant.

Weak or debilitating expressions such as 'the fact that' should be paraphrased!
owing to the fact that.. since (because)
in spite of the fact that.. though / although
call your attention to the fact that.. remind you / notify you
I was unaware of the fact that.. I was unaware that / did not know..
the fact that he had not succeeded his failure
the fact that I had arrived my arrival

A common way to fall into wordiness is to present a single complex idea, step by step, in a series of sentences that might to advantage be combined into one.

Macbeth was very ambitious. This led him to wish to become king of Scotland. The witches told him that this wish of his would come true. The king of Scotland at this time was Duncan. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murdered Duncan. He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king.
(51 words)

Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth achieved his ambition and realized the prediction of the witches by murdering Duncan and becoming king of Scotland in his place.
(26 words)


Avoid a succession of loose sentences.

An unskilled writer will sometimes construct a whole paragraph of sentences of this kind, using as connectives and, but, and, less frequently, who, which, when, where, and while, these last in nonrestrictive senses.
On the left: too many loose sentences.            On the right: Well structured sentences.

The third concert of the subscription series was given last evening, and a large audience was in attendance. Mr. Edward Appleton was the soloist, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra furnished the instrumental music. The former showed himself to be an artist of the first rank, while the latter proved itself fully deserving of its high reputation. The interest aroused by the series has been very gratifying to the Committee, and it is planned to give a similar series annually hereafter. The fourth concert will be given on Tuesday, May 10, when an equally attractive program will be presented.

I believe in aristocracy, though—if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.



Correlative expressions (both, and; not, but; not only, but also; either, or; first, second, third; and the like) should be followed by the same grammatical construction.
Many violations of this rule can be corrected by rearranging the sentence.
It was both a long ceremony and very tedious. The ceremony was both long and tedious.
A time not for words but action. A time not for words but for action.
Either you must grant his request or incur his ill will. You must either grant his request or incur his ill will.
My objections are, first, the injustice of the measure; second, that it is unconstitutional. My objections are, first, that the measure is unjust; second, that it is unconstitutional.

The relative pronoun should come, in most instances, immediately after its antecedent.
There was a stir in the audience that suggested disapproval. A stir that suggested disapproval swept the audience.
He wrote three articles about his adventures in Spain, which were published in Harper's Magazine. He published three articles in Harper's Magazine about his adventures in Spain.
This is a portrait of Benjamin Harrison, who became President in 1889. He was the grandson of William Henry Harrison. This is a portrait of Benjamin Harrison, grandson of William Henry Harrison, who became President in 1889.

In summaries, keep to one tense.
   Examples
In summarizing the action of a drama, use the present tense. In summarizing a poem, story, or novel, also use the present, though you may use the past if it seems more natural to do so. If the summary is in the present tense, antecedent action should be expressed by the perfect; if in the past, by the past perfect. Chance prevents Friar John from delivering Friar Lawrence's letter to Romeo. Meanwhile, owing to her father's arbitrary change of the day set for her wedding, Juliet has been compelled to drink the potion on Tuesday night, with the result that Balthasar informs Romeo of her supposed death before Friar Lawrence learns of the nondelivery of the letter.
But whichever tense is used in the summary, a past tense in indirect discourse or in indirect question remains unchanged. The Friar confesses that it was he who married them.



Matters of Form
1. Quotations (colon, commas)
   Examples
Formal quotations cited as documentary evidence are introduced by a colon and enclosed in quotation marks. The United States Coast Pilot has this to say of the place: "Bracy Cove, 0.5 mile eastward of Bear Island, is exposed to southeast winds, has a rocky and uneven bottom, and is unfit for anchorage."
A quotation grammatically in apposition or the direct object of a verb is preceded by a comma and enclosed in quotation marks. I am reminded of the advice of my neighbor, "Never worry about your heart till it stops beating." or
Mark Twain says, "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."
When a quotation is followed by an attributive phrase, the comma is enclosed within the quotation marks. "I can't attend," she said.
Typographical usage dictates that the comma be inside the marks, though logically it often seems not to belong there. "The Fish," "Poetry," and "The Monkeys" are in Marianne Moore's Selected Poems.


2. Consider. Not followed by as when it means "believe to be."
I consider him as competent. I consider him competent.
When considered means "examined" or "discussed," it is followed by as: The lecturer considered Eisenhower first as soldier and second as administrator.


3. Divided into. Not to be misused for composed of. The line is sometimes difficult to draw.
doubtless plays are divided into acts, but poems are composed of stanzas
An apple, halved, is divided into sections, but an apple is composed of seeds, flesh, and skin.


4. Effect. As a noun, means "result"; as a verb, means "to bring about," "to accomplish" (not to be confused with affect, which means "to influence").
As a noun, often loosely used in perfunctory writing about fashions, music, painting, and other arts: "a Southwestern effect"; "effects in pale green"; "very delicate effects"; "subtle effects"; "a charming effect was produced." The writer who has a definite meaning to express will not take refuge in such vagueness.


5. Less. Should not be misused for fewer.
Less refers to quantity, fewer to number. "His troubles are less than mine" means "His troubles are not so great as mine." "His troubles are fewer than mine" means "His troubles are not so numerous as mine."
They had less workers than in the previous campaign. They had fewer workers than in the previous campaign.


6. Like. Not to be used for the conjunction as. Like governs nouns and pronouns; before phrases and clauses the equivalent word is as.
We spent the evening like in the old days. We spent the evening as in the old days.
Chloe smells good, like a baby should. Chloe smells good, as a baby should.


7. That. Which. That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.
The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one.) The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)
Chloe smells good, like a baby should. Chloe smells good, as a baby should.


Source: 'The Elements of Style' by W. Strunk and E.B. White, Longman, New York etc.



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