Midway through the year in my twelfth grade A.P. English class, my teacher tossed a small, nondescript book with blue dog-ears on our desks and professed it to be one of the most foundational texts of contemporary English language usage. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. All I could recall of E.B. White was something about a swan and a trumpet—and maybe Stuart Little…?
We were skeptical, especially considering the fact that Strunk and White’s book was small but crammed with—ugh—rules of grammar. Though I laboriously and disinterestedly copied out Strunk and White’s iconic rules of usage and composition then, today in college the little book is back on my bookshelf. I pass it on to students in tutoring sessions and find myself gushing with the same words my teacher used four years ago: “Read it. Memorize it. Succeed.”
The rules of The Elements of Style (8 rules of usage, 10 of composition) may seem fairly straightforward, but they are absolutely spot on. Strunk and White identify the most common problems in writing and using the English language and attack them straightforwardly and concisely. These rules just happen to be what every English teacher you encounter in high school (and college) will expect you to know, for several reasons: writing clear, intelligent essays; performing well on standardized tests; and forming arguments in speech and other discourses. And guess what? These golden rules aren’t secret. They’re free for everyone!
[Continue to learn about Elements of Style]