Posted in Books and Writing

Strunk and White's Elements of Style offers stupid grammar advice, says professor

The Bible of American grammar and style, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, has come under attack on its 50th anniversary. Geoffrey Pullum, head of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh, says:

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.

Pullum goes on to say that much of the book’s grammar advice is just plain wrong. The obsession with not splitting infinitives has been taken too far and he anxiety and self-consciousness created among American writers completely unwarranted. English, Scottish and Irish writers have been spared the horrors of Strunk & White because the book is largely unknown outside the United States.

I recommend listening to the podcast on Fresh Air: 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

Read the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I have read Elements of Style at least twice in my life, but I could never memorize the grammar rules. What I do remember is the authors’ insistence on writing as clearly and concisely as possible. That is valuable advice for any writer in any language. As for the command “don’t split your infinitives”, I don’t care. Sometimes I split them, sometimes I don’t depending on how the sentence sounds. If the great writers got away with splitting their infinitives, so can I.

Elements of Style, Strunk & White (the beautiful illustrated version)



Author of "The Secret of Angat", a novel set in the Philippines during World War II. Founder,; Founder ( - travel) and (beauty, style).

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