January 31


The Elements of Style

By Tracey Arial

January 31, 2016

William Strunk and E.B. White’s Elements of Style makes grammar easy. The 105-page book makes for a quick read too. Despite Mark Drery’s contention  that the book is a sign of its times, any author who follows the simple rules outlined in Elements of Style will write better prose.

The one available today isn’t the original, of course. The first version was a self-published guide to prose written by Cornell English literature professor William Strunk Jr. in 1918. That version can be read online for free.

In 1935, Oliver Strunk copyrighted a 1935 revised edition in which Strunk’s work was updated by Edward A. Tenney, another Cornell Professor.  This is where the story gets convoluted. According to Jerry Morris, Strunk retired in 1937 and returned to teaching in 1943.

He believes that Strunk reprinted his own version of the guide that year and outlines several differences between that guide, which is undated, and earlier versions.

Although good writing rules change over time, the basics remain constant, so pick your preferred version of the Elements of Style, and use it well.

The first edition of the one we use today was published in 1959, thirteen years after William Strunk Jr. died. That one wasn’t updated very often.

I have the third edition, which was published by MacMillan in 1979. The index takes up six pages of the 92-page tome. This is one book I like to review once a year just to remind me of the basic rules to great writing.


Tracey Arial

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