The Elements of Style Section II

Principles 17-22

Principle 17: Omit needless words

Writing should be as concise as possible while still conveying your intended meaning. This does not mean that it should be oversimplified, but every word should serve a purpose in the text.

Many common phrases violate this principle. Some of the most common offenders are:

  • Any phrase that includes the fact that.
  • Many phrases that include case, character, or nature.
  • Many phrases that include who is, which was, or similar phrases.

Most phrases that use the passive voice also violate this rule. The active voice tends to be more concise.
  • Ex. The crab was stepped on by the boy.

Lastly, if several sentences focus on the same idea, it's typically best to combine all of them into a single sentence.

Exercises: Identify and correct any violations of this principle

  1. The boy greatly enjoyed his time at the beach while he was there.
  2. His family was at the beach due to the fact that there was a family reunion.
  3. His visit was an enjoyable one because of the facts that the beach was sunny and the water was warm.

Principle 18: Avoid a succession of loose sentences

A loose sentence is any sentence with two clauses in which the second clause is introduced by a conjunction (and, but, or, etc.) or a relative (who, where, which, etc.). They need to be used occasionally to prevent writing from becoming too formal, but using too many in a row creates a problem.

Exercise: Identify and correct any violations of this principle

  1. The boy went swimming, which was his favorite thing to do at the beach. He got stung by a jellyfish, which was an unpleasant experience for him.

Principle 19: Express coordinate ideas in similar form

Whenever parallelism is used, the ideas being paralleled must clearly be similar. The same is true in reverse: that if two ideas are sufficiently parallel, then parallel structure should be used.

  • Ex: The family started off trying to catch minnows, whereas now they realize that this is almost impossible. (These ideas are very similar, so they should be expressed with parallel structure).

A preposition or an article that applies to all members of a series must either be used only once before the series or before each member of the series.

  • Ex: The young girl wanted to see the dunes, the ocean, and fish. (The is needed for each member of this series).

A preposition must be specified for each member of a series if different members require different prepositions.

Correlative expressions (ones that directly equate or contrast two ideas) must be followed by parallel grammatical structures.

  • Ex: Not only did the boy get stung by a jellyfish, but also stepped on a cactus. (The second clause needs to be rearranged so that it has the same grammatical construction as the first.)

Exercises: Identify and correct any violations of this principle

  1. The boy went to the beach, the water, and then his house.
  2. Both stepping on a cactus and the jellyfish sting were very painful for the child.

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Principle 20: Keep related words together

Writing should bring words related in thought together while keeping apart words that are not related. This rule is often broken when the subject and principal verb are separated by a clause that can be placed elsewhere, especially the beginning.

  • Ex. The boy, to the horror of his parents, started to eat the sand on the beach!

Another example is when the relative pronoun is not directly before its antecedent.

(An appositive noun between the pronoun and the antecedent is exempted)

  • Ex. The blog about his training to become a world champion surfer that won national blogging awards.

Likewise, modifiers should be placed near the word being modified.

  • Ex. Approaching the coastline, the beach trip had to be cancelled because of the hurricane.

Is the beach trip approaching or the hurricane?

Exercises: Identify and correct any violations of this principle

  1. Approaching the surface of the water, the boy was stung by the jellyfish.
  2. The jellyfish, really a very nasty type of fish, stung the boy.

Principle 21: In summaries, keep to one tense

Writing should stay in one tense throughout a summary. Shifting causes the author to look uncertain and irresolute. Do not waste words repeating that (insert summary here) is a summary (e.g. Beginning a summary with "In summary...").

(“he said,” “she stated,” “the speaker added,” “the speaker went on to say”)

Also, be careful that when you analyze literature you don’t write a summary with comments. Instead, write a discussion supported by evidence from the passage.

Exercise: Identify and correct any violations of this principle.

  1. The mayor of Myrtle Beach spoke yesterday about the addition of a new neighborhood designed just with beach houses. He adds that the funds will come from the taxpayers of Myrtle Beach. The speaker will also add that the projections show an increase of tourism costs by 10% from this construction.
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Principle 22: Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

The proper place for the most prominent words (those that the author wants to emphasize the most) is usually at the end. Usually this is the logical predicate.

  • Ex. Because he was tired, the boy fell into a deep slumber.

The other place for prominent words is the beginning of the sentence. Other than the subject, any element becomes emphatic at the beginning.

  • Ex. Sunburned, the boy went home.

Note that elements placed at the beginning or end of a clause, of a paragraph, or even of a paper are also emphasized.