Geoffrey K. Pullum:

Virtually nothing useful about English grammar can be learned from Strunk. Setting aside a few standard conventions of punctuation, which barely deserve to be called part of the grammar, the grammatical claims Strunk makes are foolish assertions like that however in the sense «nevertheless» cannot be correctly used to begin a sentence; or that none of us cannot take plural agreement; or that passive clauses are inherently bad; or that they cannot have a singular antecedent (so No parent would harm their own child is a mistake; Strunk insists it should be No parent would harm his own child). Strunk condemns words as familiar as very or clever or system, and phrases as ordinary as six people or so warm or the student body. His booklet is replete with hogwash about English.

You can see that Strunk is telling untruths if you simply take a look at the usage in high-quality literary works published when he was in his prime. His claims not only aren’t true of English now; they never were true at any time in the history of the human species.

I read Strunk and White because a lot of people recommend it. Having finished it, I came to the following conclusion: Strunk and White’s only redeeming factor is that even the people who profess to love it don’t actually follow its rules.

I will also second Pullum’s recommendation of The Sense of Style.


When people criticize Strunk and White, they usually talk about the section on «words and expressions commonly misused» (if they’re commonly misused, it’s probably not misuse at all; that’s how language works), and the section on the passive voice. These sections are bad, but they’re not the only things that are wrong with the book.

Here’s another rule that I think is harmful: «place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.» This rule makes your sentences harder to read, because words that contribute significantly to the meaning of the sentence are placed at the end of the sentence. In other words, you have to read the whole sentence before you can start to parse its meaning.

The example used in the book illustrates the problem. It offers this perfectly readable sentence:

Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time, though it has advanced in many other ways.

As a reader, you can parse and understand this sentence easily, piece by piece, while reading it. Unfortunately, the book suggests replacing the sentence above with this:

Humanity, since that time, has advanced in many other ways, but it has hardly advanced in fortitude.

In order to understand what the words at the beginning of this rephrased sentence refer to, you have to read to the very end of the sentence. You can’t parse this sentence piecemeal, you have to read the whole sentence before you can figure out what it is trying to say. This is not an improvement.

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