HOW TO SPEAK AND WRITE CORRECTLY By JOSEPH DEVLIN, M.A.
THE CHRISTIAN HERALD BIBLE HOUSE NEW YORK
Copyright, 1910, by
THE CHRISTIAN HERALD
REQUIREMENTS OF SPEECH
Vocabulary. Parts of speech. Requisites
ESSENTIALS OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR
Divisions of grammar. Definitions. Etymology.
Different kinds. Arrangement of words. Paragraph.
Figures of speech. Definitions and examples. Use of figures.
Principal points. Illustrations. Capital letters.
Principles of letter writing. Forms. Notes.
Mistakes. Slips of authors. Examples and corrections.
Errors of redundancy.
PITFALLS TO AVOID
Common stumbling blocks. Peculiar constructions. Misused forms.
Diction. Purity. Propriety. Precision.
How to write. What to write. Correct speaking and speakers.
Origin. American slang. Foreign slang.
WRITING FOR NEWSPAPERS
Qualification. Appropriate subjects. Directions.
CHOICE OF WORDS
Small words. Their importance. The Anglo-Saxon element.
Beginning. Different Sources. The present.
MASTERS AND MASTERPIECES OF LITERATURE
Great authors. Classification. The world's best books.
In the preparation of this little work the writer has kept one end in view,
viz.: To make it serviceable for those for whom it is intended, that is, for
those who have neither the time nor the opportunity, the learning nor the
inclination, to peruse elaborate and abstruse treatises on Rhetoric, Grammar,
and Composition. To them such works are as gold enclosed in chests of steel and
locked beyond power of opening. This book has no pretension about it
whatever,—it is neither a Manual of Rhetoric, expatiating on the dogmas of
style, nor a Grammar full of arbitrary rules and exceptions. It is merely an
effort to help ordinary, everyday people to express themselves in ordinary,
everyday language, in a proper manner. Some broad rules are laid down, the
observance of which will enable the reader to keep within the pale of propriety
in oral and written language. Many idiomatic words and expressions, peculiar to
the language, have been given, besides which a number of the common mistakes and
pitfalls have been placed before the reader so that he may know and avoid them.
The writer has to acknowledge his indebtedness to no one in particular, but to
all in general who have ever written on the subject.
The little book goes forth—a finger-post on the road of language pointing in the
right direction. It is hoped that they who go according to its index will arrive
at the goal of correct speaking and writing.
REQUIREMENTS OF SPEECH
Vocabulary—Parts of Speech—Requisites
It is very easy to learn how to speak and write correctly, as for all purposes
of ordinary conversation and communication, only about 2,000 different words are
required. The mastery of just twenty hundred words, the knowing where to place
them, will make us not masters of the English language, but masters of correct
speaking and writing. Small number, you will say, compared with what is in the
dictionary! But nobody ever uses all the words in the dictionary or could use
them did he live to be the age of Methuselah, and there is no necessity for
There are upwards of 200,000 words in the recent editions of the large
dictionaries, but the one-hundredth part of this number will suffice for all
your wants. Of course you may think not, and you may not be content to call
things by their common names; you may be ambitious to show superiority over
others and display your learning or, rather, your pedantry and lack of learning.
For instance, you may not want to call a spade a spade. You may prefer to call
it a spatulous device for abrading the surface of the soil. Better, however, to
stick to the old familiar, simple name that your grandfather called it. It has
stood the test of time, and old friends are always good friends.
To use a big word or a foreign word when a small one and a familiar one will
answer the same purpose, is a sign of ignorance. Great scholars and writers and
polite speakers use simple words.
To go back to the number necessary for all purposes of conversation
correspondence and writing, 2,000, we find that a great many people who pass in
society as being polished, refined and educated use less, for they know less.
The greatest scholar alive hasn't more than four thousand different words at his
command, and he never has occasion to use half the number.
In the works of Shakespeare, the most wonderful genius the world has ever known,
there is the enormous number of 15,000 different words, but almost 10,000 of
them are obsolete or meaningless today.
Every person of intelligence should be able to use his mother tongue correctly.
It only requires a little pains, a little care, a little study to enable one to
do so, and the recompense is great.
Consider the contrast between the well-bred, polite man who knows how to choose
and use his words correctly and the underbred, vulgar boor, whose language
grates upon the ear and jars the sensitiveness of the finer feelings. The
blunders of the latter, his infringement of all the canons of grammar, his
absurdities and monstrosities of language, make his very presence a pain, and
one is glad to escape from his company.
The proper grammatical formation of the English language, so that one may acquit
himself as a correct conversationalist in the best society or be able to write
and express his thoughts and ideas upon paper in the right manner, may be
acquired in a few lessons.
It is the purpose of this book, as briefly and concisely as possible, to direct
the reader along a straight course, pointing out the mistakes he must avoid and
giving him such assistance as will enable him to reach the goal of a correct
knowledge of the English language. It is not a Grammar in any sense, but a
guide, a silent signal-post pointing the way in the right direction.
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN A NUTSHELL
All the words in the English language are divided into nine great classes. These
classes are called the Parts of Speech. They are Article, Noun, Adjective,
Pronoun, Verb, Adverb, Preposition, Conjunction and Interjection. Of these, the
Noun is the most important, as all the others are more or less dependent upon
it. A Noun signifies the name of any person, place or thing, in fact, anything
of which we can have either thought or idea. There are two kinds of Nouns,
Proper and Common. Common Nouns are names which belong in common to a race or
class, as man, city. Proper Nouns distinguish individual members of a race or
class as John, Philadelphia. In the former case man is a name which belongs in
common to the whole race of mankind, and city is also a name which is common to
all large centres of population, but John signifies a particular individual of
the race, while Philadelphia denotes a particular one from among the cities of
Nouns are varied by Person, Number, Gender, and Case. Person is that relation
existing between the speaker, those addressed and the subject under
consideration, whether by discourse or correspondence. The Persons are First,
Second and Third and they represent respectively the speaker, the person
addressed and the person or thing mentioned or under consideration.
Number is the distinction of one from more than one. There are two numbers,
singular and plural; the singular denotes one, the plural two or more. The
plural is generally formed from the singular by the addition of s or es.
Gender has the same relation to nouns that sex has to individuals, but while
there are only two sexes, there are four genders, viz., masculine, feminine,
neuter and common. The masculine gender denotes all those of the male kind, the
feminine gender all those of the female kind, the neuter gender denotes
inanimate things or whatever is without life, and common gender is applied to
animate beings, the sex of which for the time being is indeterminable, such as
fish, mouse, bird, etc. Sometimes things which are without life as we conceive
it and which, properly speaking, belong to the neuter gender, are, by a figure
of speech called Personification, changed into either the masculine or feminine
gender, as, for instance, we say of the sun, He is rising; of the moon, She is
Case is the relation one noun bears to another or to a verb or to a preposition.
There are three cases, the Nominative, the Possessive and the Objective. The
nominative is the subject of which we are speaking or the agent which directs
the action of the verb; the possessive case denotes possession, while the
objective indicates the person or thing which is affected by the action of the
An Article is a word placed before a noun to show whether the latter is used in
a particular or general sense. There are but two articles, a or an and the.
An Adjective is a word which qualifies a noun, that is, which shows some
distinguishing mark or characteristic belonging to the noun.
A Pronoun is a word used for or instead of a noun to keep us from repeating the
same noun too often. Pronouns, like nouns, have case, number, gender and person.
There are three kinds of pronouns, personal, relative and adjective.
A verb is a word which signifies action or the doing of something. A verb is
inflected by tense and mood and by number and person, though the latter two
belong strictly to the subject of the verb.
An adverb is a word which modifies a verb, an adjective and sometimes another
A preposition serves to connect words and to show the relation between the
objects which the words express.
A conjunction is a word which joins words, phrases, clauses and sentences
An interjection is a word which expresses surprise or some sudden emotion of the
The three essentials of the English language are: Purity, Perspicuity and
By Purity is signified the use of good English. It precludes the use of all
slang words, vulgar phrases, obsolete terms, foreign idioms, ambiguous
expressions or any ungrammatical language whatsoever. Neither does it sanction
the use of any newly coined word until such word is adopted by the best writers
Perspicuity demands the clearest expression of thought conveyed in unequivocal
language, so that there may be no misunderstanding whatever of the thought or
idea the speaker or writer wishes to convey. All ambiguous words, words of
double meaning and words that might possibly be construed in a sense different
from that intended, are strictly forbidden. Perspicuity requires a style at once
clear and comprehensive and entirely free from pomp and pedantry and affectation
or any straining after effect.
Precision requires concise and exact expression, free from redundancy and
tautology, a style terse and clear and simple enough to enable the hearer or
reader to comprehend immediately the meaning of the speaker or writer. It
forbids, on the one hand, all long and involved sentences, and, on the other,
those that are too short and abrupt. Its object is to strike the golden mean in
such a way as to rivet the attention of the hearer or reader on the words
uttered or written.
ESSENTIALS OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR
Divisions of Grammar—Definitions—Etymology.
In order to speak and write the English language correctly, it is imperative
that the fundamental principles of the Grammar be mastered, for no matter how
much we may read of the best authors, no matter how much we may associate with
and imitate the best speakers, if we do not know the underlying principles of
the correct formation of sentences and the relation of words to one another, we
will be to a great extent like the parrot, that merely repeats what it hears
without understanding the import of what is said. Of course the parrot, being a
creature without reason, cannot comprehend; it can simply repeat what is said to
it, and as it utters phrases and sentences of profanity with as much facility as
those of virtue, so by like analogy, when we do not understand the grammar of
the language, we may be making egregious blunders while thinking we are speaking
with the utmost accuracy.
DIVISIONS OF GRAMMAR
There are four great divisions of Grammar, viz.:
Orthography, Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody.
Orthography treats of letters and the mode of combining them into words.
Etymology treats of the various classes of words and the changes they undergo.
Syntax treats of the connection and arrangement of words in sentences.
Prosody treats of the manner of speaking and reading and the different kinds of
The three first mentioned concern us most.
A letter is a mark or character used to represent an articulate sound. Letters
are divided into vowels and consonants. A vowel is a letter which makes a
distinct sound by itself. Consonants cannot be sounded without the aid of
vowels. The vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y when they do not
begin a word or syllable.
SYLLABLES AND WORDS
A syllable is a distinct sound produced by a single effort of [Transcriber's
note: 1-2 words illegible] shall, pig, dog. In every syllable there must be at
least one vowel.
A word consists of one syllable or a combination of syllables.
Many rules are given for the dividing of words into syllables, but the best is
to follow as closely as possible the divisions made by the organs of speech in
properly pronouncing them.
THE PARTS OF SPEECH
An Article is a word placed before a noun to show whether the noun is used in a
particular or general sense.
There are two articles, a or an and the. A or an is called the indefinite
article because it does not point put any particular person or thing but
indicates the noun in its widest sense; thus, a man means any man whatsoever of
the species or race.
The is called the definite article because it points out some particular person
or thing; thus, the man means some particular individual.
A noun is the name of any person, place or thing as John, London, book. Nouns
are proper and common.
Proper nouns are names applied to particular persons or places.
Common nouns are names applied to a whole kind or species.
Nouns are inflected by number, gender and case.
Number is that inflection of the noun by which we indicate whether it represents
one or more than one.
Gender is that inflection by which we signify whether the noun is the name of a
male, a female, of an inanimate object or something which has no distinction of
Case is that inflection of the noun which denotes the state of the person, place
or thing represented, as the subject of an affirmation or question, the owner or
possessor of something mentioned, or the object of an action or of a relation.
Thus in the example, "John tore the leaves of Sarah's book," the distinction
between book which represents only one object and leaves which represent two or
more objects of the same kind is called Number; the distinction of sex between
John, a male, and Sarah, a female, and book and leaves, things which are
inanimate and neither male nor female, is called Gender; and the distinction of
state between John, the person who tore the book, and the subject of the
affirmation, Mary, the owner of the book, leaves the objects torn, and book the
object related to leaves, as the whole of which they were a part, is called
An adjective is a word which qualifies a noun, that is, shows or points out some
distinguishing mark or feature of the noun; as, A black dog.
Adjectives have three forms called degrees of comparison, the positive, the
comparative and the superlative.
The positive is the simple form of the adjective without expressing increase or
diminution of the original quality: nice.
The comparative is that form of the adjective which expresses increase or
diminution of the quality: nicer.
The superlative is that form which expresses the greatest increase or diminution
of the quality: nicest.
An adjective is in the positive form when it does not express comparison; as, "A
An adjective is in the comparative form when it expresses comparison between two
or between one and a number taken collectively, as, "John is richer than James";
"he is richer than all the men in Boston."
An adjective is in the superlative form when it expresses a comparison between
one and a number of individuals taken separately; as, "John is the richest man
Adjectives expressive of properties or circumstances which cannot be increased
have only the positive form; as, A circular road; the chief end; an extreme
Adjectives are compared in two ways, either by adding er to the positive to form
the comparative and est to the positive to form the superlative, or by prefixing
more to the positive for the comparative and most to the positive for the
superlative; as, handsome, handsomer, handsomest or handsome, more handsome,
Adjectives of two or more syllables are generally compared by prefixing more and
Many adjectives are irregular in comparison; as, Bad, worse, worst; Good,
A pronoun is a word used in place of a noun; as, "John gave his pen to James and
he lent it to Jane to write her copy with it." Without the pronouns we would
have to write this sentence,—"John gave John's pen to James and James lent the
pen to Jane to write Jane's copy with the pen."
There are three kinds of pronouns—Personal, Relative and Adjective Pronouns.
Personal Pronouns are so called because they are used instead of the names of
persons, places and things. The Personal Pronouns are I, Thou, He, She, and It,
with their plurals, We, Ye or You and They.
I is the pronoun of the first person because it represents the person speaking.
Thou is the pronoun of the second person because it represents the person spoken
He, She, It are the pronouns of the third person because they represent the
persons or things of whom we are speaking.
Like nouns, the Personal Pronouns have number, gender and case. The gender of
the first and second person is obvious, as they represent the person or persons
speaking and those who are addressed. The personal pronouns are thus declined:
M. or F.
M. or F.
N. B.—In colloquial language and ordinary writing Thou, Thine and Thee are
seldom used, except by the Society of Friends. The Plural form You is used for
both the nominative and objective singular in the second person and Yours is
generally used in the possessive in place of Thine.
The Relative Pronouns are so called because they relate to some word or phrase
going before; as, "The boy who told the truth;" "He has done well, which gives
me great pleasure."
Here who and which are not only used in place of other words, but who refers
immediately to boy, and which to the circumstance of his having done well.
The word or clause to which a relative pronoun refers is called the Antecedent.
The Relative Pronouns are who, which, that and what.
Who is applied to persons only; as, "The man who was here."
Which is applied to the lower animals and things without life; as, "The horse
which I sold." "The hat which I bought."
That is applied to both persons and things; as, "The friend that helps." "The
bird that sings." "The knife that cuts."
What is a compound relative, including both the antecedent and the relative and
is equivalent to that which; as, "I did what he desired," i. e. "I did that
which he desired."
Relative pronouns have the singular and plural alike.
Who is either masculine or feminine; which and that are masculine, feminine or
neuter; what as a relative pronoun is always neuter.
That and what are not inflected.
Who and which are thus declined:
Sing. and Plural
Sing. and Plural
Who, which and what when used to ask questions are called Interrogative
Adjective Pronouns partake of the nature of adjectives and pronouns and are
subdivided as follows:
Demonstrative Adjective Pronouns which directly point out the person or object.
They are this, that with their plurals these, those, and yon, same and selfsame.
Distributive Adjective Pronouns used distributively. They are each, every,
Indefinite Adjective Pronouns used more or less indefinitely. They are any, all,
few, some, several, one, other, another, none.
Possessive Adjective Pronouns denoting possession. They are my, thy, his, her,
its, our, your, their.
N. B.—(The possessive adjective pronouns differ from the possessive case of the
personal pronouns in that the latter can stand alone while the former cannot.
"Who owns that book?" "It is mine." You cannot say "it is my,"—the word book
must be repeated.)
A verb is a word which implies action or the doing of something, or it may be
defined as a word which affirms, commands or asks a question.
Thus, the words John the table, contain no assertion, but when the word strikes
is introduced, something is affirmed, hence the word strikes is a verb and gives
completeness and meaning to the group.
The simple form of the verb without inflection is called the root of the verb;
e. g. love is the root of the verb,—"To Love."
Verbs are regular or irregular, transitive or intransitive.
A verb is said to be regular when it forms the past tense by adding ed to the
present or d if the verb ends in e. When its past tense does not end in ed it is
said to be irregular.
A transitive verb is one the action of which passes over to or affects some
object; as "I struck the table." Here the action of striking affected the object
table, hence struck is a transitive verb.
An intransitive verb is one in which the action remains with the subject; as "I
walk," "I sit," "I run."
Many intransitive verbs, however, can be used transitively; thus, "I walk the
horse;" walk is here transitive.
Verbs are inflected by number, person, tense and mood.
Number and person as applied to the verb really belong to the subject; they are
used with the verb to denote whether the assertion is made regarding one or more
than one and whether it is made in reference to the person speaking, the person
spoken to or the person or thing spoken about.
In their tenses verbs follow the divisions of time. They have present tense,
past tense and future tense with their variations to express the exact time of
action as to an event happening, having happened or yet to happen.
There are four simple moods,—the Infinitive, the Indicative, the Imperative and
The Mood of a verb denotes the mode or manner in which it is used. Thus if it is
used in its widest sense without reference to person or number, time or place,
it is in the Infinitive Mood; as "To run." Here we are not told who does the
running, when it is done, where it is done or anything about it.
When a verb is used to indicate or declare or ask a simple question or make any
direct statement, it is in the Indicative Mood. "The boy loves his book." Here a
direct statement is made concerning the boy. "Have you a pin?" Here a simple
question is asked which calls for an answer.
When the verb is used to express a command or entreaty it is in the Imperative
Mood as, "Go away." "Give me a penny."
When the verb is used to express doubt, supposition or uncertainty or when some
future action depends upon a contingency, it is in the subjunctive mood; as, "If
I come, he shall remain."
Many grammarians include a fifth mood called the potential to express power,
possibility, liberty, necessity, will or duty. It is formed by means of the
auxiliaries may, can, ought and must, but in all cases it can be resolved into
the indicative or subjunctive. Thus, in "I may write if I choose," "may write"
is by some classified as in the potential mood, but in reality the phrase I may
write is an indicative one while the second clause, if I choose, is the
expression of a condition upon which, not my liberty to write, depends, but my
Verbs have two participles, the present or imperfect, sometimes called the
active ending in ing and the past or perfect, often called the passive, ending
in ed or d.
The infinitive expresses the sense of the verb in a substantive form, the
participles in an adjective form; as "To rise early is healthful." "An early
rising man." "The newly risen sun."
The participle in ing is frequently used as a substantive and consequently is
equivalent to an infinitive; thus, "To rise early is healthful" and "Rising
early is healthful" are the same.
The principal parts of a verb are the Present Indicative, Past Indicative and
Past Participle; as:
Sometimes one or more of these parts are wanting, and then the verb is said to
Verbs may also be divided into principal and auxiliary. A principal verb is that
without which a sentence or clause can contain no assertion or affirmation. An
auxiliary is a verb joined to the root or participles of a principal verb to
express time and manner with greater precision than can be done by the tenses
and moods in their simple form. Thus, the sentence, "I am writing an exercise;
when I shall have finished it I shall read it to the class." has no meaning
without the principal verbs writing, finished read; but the meaning is rendered
more definite, especially with regard to time, by the auxiliary verbs am, have,
There are nine auxiliary or helping verbs, viz., Be, have, do, shall, will, may,
can, ought, and must. They are called helping verbs, because it is by their aid
the compound tenses are formed.
The verb To Be is the most important of the auxiliary verbs. It has eleven
parts, viz., am, art, is, are, was, wast, were, wert; be, being and been.
The active voice is that form of the verb which shows the Subject not being
acted upon but acting; as, "The cat catches mice." "Charity covers a multitude
The passive voice: When the action signified by a transitive verb is thrown back
upon the agent, that is to say, when the subject of the verb denotes the
recipient of the action, the verb is said to be in the passive voice. "John was
loved by his neighbors." Here John the subject is also the object affected by
the loving, the action of the verb is thrown back on him, hence the compound
verb was loved is said to be in the passive voice. The passive voice is formed
by putting the perfect participle of any transitive verb with any of the eleven
parts of the verb To Be.
The conjugation of a verb is its orderly arrangement in voices, moods, tenses,
persons and numbers.
Here is the complete conjugation of the verb "Love"—Active Voice.
I shall love
They will love
You will love
You will love
He will love
We shall love
PRESENT PERFECT TENSE
I have loved
We have loved
You have loved
You have loved
He has loved
They have loved
PAST PERFECT TENSE
I had loved
We had loved
You had loved
You had loved
He had loved
They had loved
FUTURE PERFECT TENSE
I shall have loved
We shall have loved
You will have loved
You will have loved
He will have loved
They will have loved
(PRESENT TENSE ONLY)
If I love
If we love
If you love
If you love
If he love
If they love
If I loved
If we loved
If you loved
If you loved
If he loved
If they loved
PRESENT PERFECT TENSE
If I have loved
If we have loved
If you have loved
If you have loved
If he has loved
If they have loved
PAST PERFECT TENSE
If I had loved
If we had loved
If you had loved
If you had loved
If he had loved
If they had loved
To have loved
CONJUGATION OF "To Love"
I am loved
We are loved
You are loved
You are loved
He is loved
They are loved
I was loved
We were loved
You were loved
You were loved
He was loved
They were loved
I shall be loved
We shall be loved
You will be loved
You will be loved
He will be loved
They will be loved
PRESENT PERFECT TENSE
I have been loved
We have been loved
You have been loved
You have been loved
He has been loved
They have been loved
PAST PERFECT TENSE
I had been loved
We had been loved
You had been loved
You had been loved
He had been loved
They had been loved
FUTURE PERFECT TENSE
I shall have been loved
We shall have been loved
You will have been loved
You will have been loved
He will have been loved
They will have been loved
(PRESENT TENSE ONLY)
Be (you) loved
Be (you) loved
If I be loved
If we be loved
If you be loved
If you be loved
If he be loved
If they be loved
If I were loved
If they were loved
If you were loved
If you were loved
If he were loved
If we were loved
PRESENT PERFECT TENSE
If I have been loved
If we have been loved
If you have been loved
If you have been loved
If he has been loved
If they have been loved
PAST PERFECT TENSE
If I had been loved
If we had been loved
If you had been loved
If you had been loved
If he had been loved
If they had been loved
To be loved
To have been loved
Having been loved
(N. B.—Note that the plural form of the personal pronoun, you, is used in the
second person singular throughout. The old form thou, except in the conjugation
of the verb "To Be," may be said to be obsolete. In the third person singular he
is representative of the three personal pronouns of the third person, He, She
An adverb is a word which modifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb. Thus,
in the example—"He writes well," the adverb shows the manner in which the
writing is performed; in the examples—"He is remarkably diligent" and "He works
very faithfully," the adverbs modify the adjective diligent and the other adverb
faithfully by expressing the degree of diligence and faithfulness.
Adverbs are chiefly used to express in one word what would otherwise require two
or more words; thus, There signifies in that place; whence, from what place;
usefully, in a useful manner.
Adverbs, like adjectives, are sometimes varied in their terminations to express
comparison and different degrees of quality.
Some adverbs form the comparative and superlative by adding er and est; as,
soon, sooner, soonest.
Adverbs which end in ly are compared by prefixing more and most; as, nobly, more
nobly, most nobly.
A few adverbs are irregular in the formation of the comparative and superlative;
as, well, better, best.
A preposition connects words, clauses, and sentences together and shows the
relation between them. "My hand is on the table" shows relation between hand and
Prepositions are so called because they are generally placed before the words
whose connection or relation with other words they point out.
A conjunction joins words, clauses and sentences; as "John and James." "My
father and mother have come, but I have not seen them."
The conjunctions in most general use are and, also; either, or; neither, nor;
though, yet; but, however; for, that; because, since; therefore, wherefore,
then; if, unless, lest.
An interjection is a word used to express some sudden emotion of the mind. Thus
in the examples,—"Ah! there he comes; alas! what shall I do?" ah, expresses
surprise, and alas, distress.
Nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs become interjections when they are uttered
as exclamations, as, nonsense! strange! hail! away! etc.
We have now enumerated the parts of speech and as briefly as possible stated the
functions of each. As they all belong to the same family they are related to one
another but some are in closer affinity than others. To point out the exact
relationship and the dependency of one word on another is called parsing and in
order that every etymological connection may be distinctly understood a brief
resume of the foregoing essentials is here given:
The signification of the noun is limited to one, but to any one of the kind, by
the indefinite article, and to some particular one, or some particular number,
by the definite article.
Nouns, in one form, represent one of a kind, and in another, any number more
than one; they are the names of males, or females, or of objects which are
neither male nor female; and they represent the subject of an affirmation, a
command or a question,—the owner or possessor of a thing,—or the object of an
action, or of a relation expressed by a preposition.
Adjectives express the qualities which distinguish one person or thing from
another; in one form they express quality without comparison; in another, they
express comparison between two, or between one and a number taken
collectively,—and in a third they express comparison between one and a number of
others taken separately.
Pronouns are used in place of nouns; one class of them is used merely as the
substitutes of names; the pronouns of another class have a peculiar reference to
some preceding words in the sentence, of which they are the substitutes,—and
those of a third class refer adjectively to the persons or things they
represent. Some pronouns are used for both the name and the substitute; and
several are frequently employed in asking questions.
Affirmations and commands are expressed by the verb; and different inflections
of the verb express number, person, time and manner. With regard to time, an
affirmation may be present or past or future; with regard to manner, an
affirmation may be positive or conditional, it being doubtful whether the
condition is fulfilled or not, or it being implied that it is not fulfilled;—the
verb may express command or entreaty; or the sense of the verb may be expressed
without affirming or commanding. The verb also expresses that an action or state
is or was going on, by a form which is also used sometimes as a noun, and
sometimes to qualify nouns.
Affirmations are modified by adverbs, some of which can be inflected to express
different degrees of modification.
Words are joined together by conjunctions; and the various relations which one
thing bears to another are expressed by 'prepositions. Sudden emotions of the
mind, and exclamations are expressed by interjections.
Some words according to meaning belong sometimes to one part of speech,
sometimes to another. Thus, in "After a storm comes a calm," calm is a noun; in
"It is a calm evening," calm is an adjective; and in "Calm your fears," calm is
The following sentence containing all the parts of speech is parsed
"I now see the old man coming, but, alas, he has walked with much difficulty."
I, a personal pronoun, first person singular, masculine or feminine gender,
nominative case, subject of the verb see.
now, an adverb of time modifying the verb see.
see, an irregular, transitive verb, indicative mood, present tense, first person
singular to agree with its nominative or subject I.
the, the definite article particularizing the noun man.
old, an adjective, positive degree, qualifying the noun man.
man, a common noun, 3rd person singular, masculine gender, objective case
governed by the transitive verb see.
coming, the present or imperfect participle of the verb "to come" referring to
the noun man.
but, a conjunction.
alas, an interjection, expressing pity or sorrow.
he, a personal pronoun, 3rd person singular, masculine gender, nominative case,
subject of verb has walked.
has walked, a regular, intransitive verb, indicative mood, perfect tense, 3rd
person singular to agree with its nominative or subject he.
with, a preposition, governing the noun difficulty.
much, an adjective, positive degree, qualifying the noun difficulty.
difficulty, a common noun, 3rd person singular, neuter gender, objective case
governed by the preposition with.
N.B.—Much is generally an adverb. As an adjective it is thus compared:
Different Kinds—Arrangement of Words—Paragraph
A sentence is an assemblage of words so arranged as to convey a determinate
sense or meaning, in other words, to express a complete thought or idea. No
matter how short, it must contain one finite verb and a subject or agent to
direct the action of the verb.
"Birds fly;" "Fish swim;" "Men walk;"—are sentences.
A sentence always contains two parts, something spoken about and something said
about it. The word or words indicating what is spoken about form what is called
the subject and the word or words indicating what is said about it form what is
called the predicate.
In the sentences given, birds, fish and men are the subjects, while fly, swim
and walk are the predicates.
There are three kinds of sentences, simple, compound and complex.
The simple sentence expresses a single thought and consists of one subject and
one predicate, as, "Man is mortal."
A compound sentence consists of two or more simple sentences of equal importance
the parts of which are either expressed or understood, as, "The men work in the
fields and the women work in the household," or "The men work in the fields and
the women in the household" or "The men and women work in the fields and in the
A complex sentence consists of two or more simple sentences so combined that one
depends on the other to complete its meaning; as; "When he returns, I shall go
on my vacation." Here the words, "when he returns" are dependent on the rest of
the sentence for their meaning.
A clause is a separate part of a complex sentence, as "when he returns" in the
A phrase consists of two or more words without a finite verb.
Without a finite verb we cannot affirm anything or convey an idea, therefore we
can have no sentence.
Infinitives and participles which are the infinite parts of the verb cannot be
predicates. "I looking up the street" is not a sentence, for it is not a
complete action expressed. When we hear such an expression as "A dog running
along the street," we wait for something more to be added, something more
affirmed about the dog, whether he bit or barked or fell dead or was run over.
Thus in every sentence there must be a finite verb to limit the subject.
When the verb is transitive, that is, when the action cannot happen without
affecting something, the thing affected is called the object.
Thus in "Cain killed Abel" the action of the killing affected Abel. In "The cat
has caught a mouse," mouse is the object of the catching.
ARRANGEMENT OF WORDS IN A SENTENCE
Of course in simple sentences the natural order of arrangement is
subject—verb—object. In many cases no other form is possible. Thus in the
sentence "The cat has caught a mouse," we cannot reverse it and say "The mouse
has caught a cat" without destroying the meaning, and in any other form of
arrangement, such as "A mouse, the cat has caught," we feel that while it is
intelligible, it is a poor way of expressing the fact and one which jars upon us
more or less.
In longer sentences, however, when there are more words than what are barely
necessary for subject, verb and object, we have greater freedom of arrangement
and can so place the words as to give the best effect. The proper placing of
words depends upon perspicuity and precision. These two combined give style to
Most people are familiar with Gray's line in the immortal Elegy—"The ploughman
homeward plods his weary way." This line can be paraphrased to read 18 different
ways. Here are a few variations:
Homeward the ploughman plods his weary way.
The ploughman plods his weary way homeward.
Plods homeward the ploughman his weary way.
His weary way the ploughman homeward plods.
Homeward his weary way plods the ploughman.
Plods the ploughman his weary way homeward.
His weary way the ploughman plods homeward.
His weary way homeward the ploughman plods.
The ploughman plods homeward his weary way.
The ploughman his weary way plods homeward.
and so on. It is doubtful if any of the other forms are superior to the one
used by the poet. Of course his arrangement was made to comply with the rhythm
and rhyme of the verse. Most of the variations depend upon the emphasis we wish
to place upon the different words.
In arranging the words in an ordinary sentence we should not lose sight of the
fact that the beginning and end are the important places for catching the
attention of the reader. Words in these places have greater emphasis than
In Gray's line the general meaning conveyed is that a weary ploughman is
plodding his way homeward, but according to the arrangement a very slight
difference is effected in the idea. Some of the variations make us think more of
the ploughman, others more of the plodding, and still others more of the
As the beginning and end of a sentence are the most important places, it
naturally follows that small or insignificant words should be kept from these
positions. Of the two places the end one is the more important, therefore, it
really calls for the most important word in the sentence. Never commence a
sentence with And, But, Since, Because, and other similar weak words and never
end it with prepositions, small, weak adverbs or pronouns.
The parts of a sentence which are most closely connected with one another in
meaning should be closely connected in order also. By ignoring this principle
many sentences are made, if not nonsensical, really ridiculous and ludicrous.
For instance: "Ten dollars reward is offered for information of any person
injuring this property by order of the owner." "This monument was erected to the
memory of John Jones, who was shot by his affectionate brother."
In the construction of all sentences the grammatical rules must be inviolably
observed. The laws of concord, that is, the agreement of certain words, must be
The verb agrees with its subject in person and number. "I have," "Thou hast,"
(the pronoun thou is here used to illustrate the verb form, though it is almost
obsolete), "He has," show the variation of the verb to agree with the subject. A
singular subject calls for a singular verb, a plural subject demands a verb in
the plural; as, "The boy writes," "The boys write."
The agreement of a verb and its subject is often destroyed by confusing (1)
collective and common nouns; (2) foreign and English nouns; (3) compound and
simple subjects; (4) real and apparent subjects.
(1) A collective noun is a number of individuals or things regarded as a whole;
as, class regiment. When the individuals or things are prominently brought
forward, use a plural verb; as The class were distinguished for ability. When
the idea of the whole as a unit is under consideration employ a singular verb;
as The regiment was in camp. (2) It is sometimes hard for the ordinary
individual to distinguish the plural from the singular in foreign nouns,
therefore, he should be careful in the selection of the verb. He should look up
the word and be guided accordingly. "He was an alumnus of Harvard." "They were
alumni of Harvard." (3) When a sentence with one verb has two or more subjects
denoting different things, connected by and, the verb should be plural; as,
"Snow and rain are disagreeable." When the subjects denote the same thing and
are connected by or the verb should be singular; as, "The man or the woman is to
blame." (4) When the same verb has more than one subject of different persons or
numbers, it agrees with the most prominent in thought; as, "He, and not you, is
wrong." "Whether he or I am to be blamed."
Never use the past participle for the past tense nor vice versa. This mistake is
a very common one. At every turn we hear "He done it" for "He did it." "The jar
was broke" instead of broken. "He would have went" for "He would have gone,"
The use of the verbs shall and will is a rock upon which even the best speakers
come to wreck. They are interchanged recklessly. Their significance changes
according as they are used with the first, second or third person. With the
first person shall is used in direct statement to express a simple future
action; as, "I shall go to the city to-morrow." With the second and third
persons shall is used to express a determination; as, "You shall go to the city
to-morrow," "He shall go to the city to-morrow."
With the first person will is used in direct statement to express determination,
as, "I will go to the city to-morrow." With the second and third persons will is
used to express simple future action; as, "You will go to the city to-morrow,"
"He will go to the city to-morrow."
A very old rule regarding the uses of shall and will is thus expressed in rhyme:
In the first person simply shall foretells,
In will a threat or else a promise dwells.
Shall in the second and third does threat,
Will simply then foretells the future feat.
Take special care to distinguish between the nominative and objective case.
The pronouns are the only words which retain the ancient distinctive case ending
for the objective. Remember that the objective case follows transitive verbs and
prepositions. Don't say "The boy who I sent to see you," but "The boy whom I
sent to see you." Whom is here the object of the transitive verb sent. Don't say
"She bowed to him and I" but "She bowed to him and me" since me is the objective
case following the preposition to understood. "Between you and I" is a very
common expression. It should be "Between you and me" since between is a
preposition calling for the objective case.
Be careful in the use of the relative pronouns who, which and that. Who refers
only to persons; which only to things; as, "The boy who was drowned," "The
umbrella which I lost." The relative that may refer to both persons and things;
as, "The man that I saw." "The hat that I bought."
Don't use the superlative degree of the adjective for the comparative; as "He is
the richest of the two" for "He is the richer of the two." Other mistakes often
made in this connection are (1) Using the double comparative and superlative;
as, "These apples are much more preferable." "The most universal motive to
business is gain." (2) Comparing objects which belong to dissimilar classes; as
"There is no nicer life than a teacher." (3) Including objects in class to which
they do not belong; as, "The fairest of her daughters, Eve." (4) Excluding an
object from a class to which it does belong; as, "Caesar was braver than any
Don't use an adjective for an adverb or an adverb for an adjective. Don't say,
"He acted nice towards me" but "He acted nicely toward me," and instead of
saying "She looked beautifully" say "She looked beautiful."
Place the adverb as near as possible to the word it modifies. Instead of saying,
"He walked to the door quickly," say "He walked quickly to the door."
Not alone be careful to distinguish between the nominative and objective cases
of the pronouns, but try to avoid ambiguity in their use.
The amusing effect of disregarding the reference of pronouns is well illustrated
by Burton in the following story of Billy Williams, a comic actor who thus
narrates his experience in riding a horse owned by Hamblin, the manager:
"So down I goes to the stable with Tom Flynn, and told the man to put the saddle
"On Tom Flynn?"
"No, on the horse. So after talking with Tom Flynn awhile I mounted him."
"What! mounted Tom Flynn?"
"No, the horse; and then I shook hands with him and rode off."
"Shook hands with the horse, Billy?"
"No, with Tom Flynn; and then I rode off up the Bowery, and who should I meet
but Tom Hamblin; so I got off and told the boy to hold him by the head."
"What! hold Hamblin by the head?"
"No, the horse; and then we went and had a drink together."
"What! you and the horse?"
"No, me and Hamblin; and after that I mounted him again and went out of town."
"What! mounted Hamblin again?"
"No, the horse; and when I got to Burnham, who should be there but Tom
Flynn,—he'd taken another horse and rode out ahead of me; so I told the hostler
to tie him up."
"Tie Tom Flynn up?"
"No, the horse; and we had a drink there."
"What! you and the horse?"
"No, me and Tom Flynn."
Finding his auditors by this time in a horse laugh, Billy wound up with: "Now,
look here, —every time I say horse, you say Hamblin, and every time I say
Hamblin you say horse: I'll be hanged if I tell you any more about it."
There are two great classes of sentences according to the general principles
upon which they are founded. These are termed the loose and the periodic.
In the loose sentence the main idea is put first, and then follow several facts
in connection with it. Defoe is an author particularly noted for this kind of
sentence. He starts out with a leading declaration to which he adds several
attendant connections. For instance in the opening of the story of Robinson
Crusoe we read: "I was born in the year 1632 in the city of York, of a good
family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who
settled first at Hull; he got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his
trade lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose
relations were named Robinson, a very good family in the country and from I was
called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual corruption of words in England, we
are now called, nay, we call ourselves, and write our name Crusoe, and so my
companions always called me."
In the periodic sentence the main idea comes last and is preceded by a series of
relative introductions. This kind of sentence is often introduced by such words
as that, if, since, because. The following is an example:
"That through his own folly and lack of circumspection he should have been
reduced to such circumstances as to be forced to become a beggar on the streets,
soliciting alms from those who had formerly been the recipients of his bounty,
was a sore humiliation."
On account of its name many are liable to think the loose sentence an
undesirable form in good composition, but this should not be taken for granted.
In many cases it is preferable to the periodic form.
As a general rule in speaking, as opposed to writing, the loose form is to be
preferred, inasmuch as when the periodic is employed in discourse the listeners
are apt to forget the introductory clauses before the final issue is reached.
Both kinds are freely used in composition, but in speaking, the loose, which
makes the direct statement at the beginning, should predominate.
As to the length of sentences much depends on the nature of the composition.
However the general rule may be laid down that short sentences are preferable to
long ones. The tendency of the best writers of the present day is towards short,
snappy, pithy sentences which rivet the attention of the reader. They adopt as
their motto multum in parvo (much in little) and endeavor to pack a great deal
in small space. Of course the extreme of brevity is to be avoided. Sentences can
be too short, too jerky, too brittle to withstand the test of criticism. The
long sentence has its place and a very important one. It is indispensable in
argument and often is very necessary to description and also in introducing
general principles which require elaboration. In employing the long sentence the
inexperienced writer should not strain after the heavy, ponderous type. Johnson
and Carlyle used such a type, but remember, an ordinary mortal cannot wield the
sledge hammer of a giant. Johnson and Carlyle were intellectual giants and few
can hope to stand on the same literary pedestal. The tyro in composition should
never seek after the heavy style. The best of all authors in the English
language for style is Addison. Macaulay says: "If you wish a style learned, but
not pedantic, elegant but not ostentatious, simple yet refined, you must give
your days and nights to the volumes of Joseph Addison." The simplicity, apart
from the beauty of Addison's writings causes us to reiterate the literary
command—"Never use a big word when a little one will convey the same or a
Macaulay himself is an elegant stylist to imitate. He is like a clear brook
kissed by the noon-day sun in the shining bed of which you can see and count the
beautiful white pebbles. Goldsmith is another writer whose simplicity of style
The beginner should study these writers, make their works his vade mecum, they
have stood the test of time and there has been no improvement upon them yet, nor
is there likely to be, for their writing is as perfect as it is possible to be
in the English language.
Apart from their grammatical construction there can be no fixed rules for the
formation of sentences. The best plan is to follow the best authors and these
masters of language will guide you safely along the way.
The paragraph may be defined as a group of sentences that are closely related in
thought and which serve one common purpose. Not only do they preserve the
sequence of the different parts into which a composition is divided, but they
give a certain spice to the matter like raisins in a plum pudding. A solid page
of printed matter is distasteful to the reader; it taxes the eye and tends
towards the weariness of monotony, but when it is broken up into sections it
loses much of its heaviness and the consequent lightness gives it charm, as it
were, to capture the reader.
Paragraphs are like stepping-stones on the bed of a shallow river, which enable
the foot passenger to skip with ease from one to the other until he gets across;
but if the stones are placed too far apart in attempting to span the distance
one is liable to miss the mark and fall in the water and flounder about until he
is again able to get a foothold. 'Tis the same with written language, the reader
by means of paragraphs can easily pass from one portion of connected thought to
another and keep up his interest in the subject until he gets to the end.
Throughout the paragraph there must be some connection in regard to the matter
under consideration,—a sentence dependency. For instance, in the same paragraph
we must not speak of a house on fire and a runaway horse unless there is some
connection between the two. We must not write consecutively:
"The fire raged with fierce intensity, consuming the greater part of the large
building in a short time." "The horse took fright and wildly dashed down the
street scattering pedestrians in all directions." These two sentences have no
connection and therefore should occupy separate and distinct places. But when we
say—"The fire raged with fierce intensity consuming the greater part of the
large building in a short time and the horse taking fright at the flames dashed
wildly down the street scattering pedestrians in all directions,"—there is a
natural sequence, viz., the horse taking fright as a consequence of the flames
and hence the two expressions are combined in one paragraph.
As in the case of words in sentences, the most important places in a paragraph
are the beginning and the end. Accordingly the first sentence and the last
should by virtue of their structure and nervous force, compel the reader's
attention. It is usually advisable to make the first sentence short; the last
sentence may be long or short, but in either case should be forcible. The object
of the first sentence is to state a point clearly; the last sentence should
It is a custom of good writers to make the conclusion of the paragraph a
restatement or counterpart or application of the opening.
In most cases a paragraph may be regarded as the elaboration of the principal
sentence. The leading thought or idea can be taken as a nucleus and around it
constructed the different parts of the paragraph. Anyone can make a context for
every simple sentence by asking himself questions in reference to the sentence.
Thus—"The foreman gave the order"— suggests at once several questions; "What was
the order?" "to whom did he give it?" "why did he give it?" "what was the
result?" etc. These questions when answered will depend upon the leading one and
be an elaboration of it into a complete paragraph.
If we examine any good paragraph we shall find it made up of a number of items,
each of which helps to illustrate, confirm or enforce the general thought or
purpose of the paragraph. Also the transition from each item to the next is
easy, natural and obvious; the items seem to come of themselves. If, on the
other hand, we detect in a paragraph one or more items which have no direct
bearing, or if we are unable to proceed readily from item to item, especially if
we are obliged to rearrange the items before we can perceive their full
significance, then we are justified in pronouncing the paragraph construction
No specific rules can be given as to the construction of paragraphs. The best
advice is,—Study closely the paragraph structure of the best writers, for it is
only through imitation, conscious or unconscious of the best models, that one
can master the art.
The best paragraphist in the English language for the essay is Macaulay, the
best model to follow for the oratorical style is Edmund Burke and for
description and narration probably the greatest master of paragraph is the
American Goldsmith, Washington Irving.
A paragraph is indicated in print by what is known as the indentation of the
line, that is, by commencing it a space from the left margin.
Figures of Speech—Definitions and Examples —Use of Figures
In Figurative Language we employ words in such a way that they differ somewhat
from their ordinary signification in commonplace speech and convey our meaning
in a more vivid and impressive manner than when we use them in their every-day
sense. Figures make speech more effective, they beautify and emphasize it and
give to it a relish and piquancy as salt does to food; besides they add energy
and force to expression so that it irresistibly compels attention and interest.
There are four kinds of figures, viz.: (1) Figures of Orthography which change
the spelling of a word; (2) Figures of Etymology which change the form of words;
(3) Figures of Syntax which change the construction of sentences; (4) Figures of
Rhetoric or the art of speaking and writing effectively which change the mode of
We shall only consider the last mentioned here as they are the most important,
really giving to language the construction and style which make it a fitting
medium for the intercommunication of ideas.
Figures of Rhetoric have been variously classified, some authorities extending
the list to a useless length. The fact is that any form of expression which
conveys thought may be classified as a Figure.
The principal figures as well as the most important and those oftenest used are,
Simile, Metaphor, Personification, Allegory, Synechdoche, Metonymy, Exclamation,
Hyperbole, Apostrophe, Vision, Antithesis, Climax, Epigram, Interrogation and
The first four are founded on resemblance, the second six on contiguity and the
third five, on contrast.
A Simile (from the Latin similis, like), is the likening of one thing to
another, a statement of the resemblance of objects, acts, or relations; as "In
his awful anger he was like the storm-driven waves dashing against the rock." A
simile makes the principal object plainer and impresses it more forcibly on the
mind. "His memory is like wax to receive impressions and like marble to retain
them." This brings out the leading idea as to the man's memory in a very
forceful manner. Contrast it with the simple statement—"His memory is good."
Sometimes Simile is prostituted to a low and degrading use; as "His face was
like a danger signal in a fog storm." "Her hair was like a furze-bush in bloom."
"He was to his lady love as a poodle to its mistress." Such burlesque is never
permissible. Mere likeness, it should be remembered, does not constitute a
simile. For instance there is no simile when one city is compared to another. In
order that there may be a rhetorical simile, the objects compared must be of
different classes. Avoid the old trite similes such as comparing a hero to a
lion. Such were played out long ago. And don't hunt for farfetched similes.
Don't say—"Her head was glowing as the glorious god of day when he sets in a
flambeau of splendor behind the purple-tinted hills of the West." It is much
better to do without such a simile and simply say—"She had fiery red hair."
A Metaphor (from the Greek metapherein, to carry over or transfer), is a word
used to imply a resemblance but instead of likening one object to another as in
the simile we directly substitute the action or operation of one for another.
If, of a religious man we say,—"He is as a great pillar upholding the church,"
the expression is a simile, but if we say—"He is a great pillar upholding the
church" it is a metaphor. The metaphor is a bolder and more lively figure than
the simile. It is more like a picture and hence, the graphic use of metaphor is
called "word-painting." It enables us to give to the most abstract ideas form,
color and life. Our language is full of metaphors, and we very often use them
quite unconsciously. For instance, when we speak of the bed of a river, the
shoulder of a hill, the foot of a mountain, the hands of a clock, the key of a
situation, we are using metaphors.
Don't use mixed metaphors, that is, different metaphors in relation to the same
subject: "Since it was launched our project has met with much opposition, but
while its flight has not reached the heights ambitioned, we are yet sanguine we
shall drive it to success." Here our project begins as a ship, then becomes a
bird and finally winds up as a horse.
Personification (from the Latin persona, person, and facere, to make) is the
treating of an inanimate object as if it were animate and is probably the most
beautiful and effective of all the figures.
"The mountains sing together, the hills rejoice and clap their hands."
"Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat,
Sighing, through all her works, gave signs of woe."
Personification depends much on a vivid imagination and is adapted especially to
poetical composition. It has two distinguishable forms: (1) when personality is
ascribed to the inanimate as in the foregoing examples, and (2) when some
quality of life is attributed to the inanimate; as, a raging storm; an angry
sea; a whistling wind, etc.
An Allegory (from the Greek allos, other, and agoreuein, to speak), is a form of
expression in which the words are symbolical of something. It is very closely
allied to the metaphor, in fact is a continued metaphor.
Allegory, metaphor and simile have three points in common,—they are all founded
on resemblance. "Ireland is like a thorn in the side of England;" this is
simile. "Ireland is a thorn in the side of England;" this is metaphor. "Once a
great giant sprang up out of the sea and lived on an island all by himself. On
looking around he discovered a little girl on another small island near by. He
thought the little girl could be useful to him in many ways so he determined to
make her subservient to his will. He commanded her, but she refused to obey,
then he resorted to very harsh measures with the little girl, but she still
remained obstinate and obdurate. He continued to oppress her until finally she
rebelled and became as a thorn in his side to prick him for his evil attitude
towards her;" this is an allegory in which the giant plainly represents England
and the little girl, Ireland; the implication is manifest though no mention is
made of either country. Strange to say the most perfect allegory in the English
language was written by an almost illiterate and ignorant man, and written too,
in a dungeon cell. In the "Pilgrim's Progress," Bunyan, the itinerant tinker,
has given us by far the best allegory ever penned. Another good one is "The
Faerie Queen" by Edmund Spenser.
Synecdoche (from the Greek, sun with, and ekdexesthai, to receive), is a figure
of speech which expresses either more or less than it literally denotes. By it
we give to an object a name which literally expresses something more or
something less than we intend. Thus: we speak of the world when we mean only a
very limited number of the people who compose the world: as, "The world treated
him badly." Here we use the whole for a part. But the most common form of this
figure is that in which a part is used for the whole; as, "I have twenty head of
cattle," "One of his hands was assassinated," meaning one of his men. "Twenty
sail came into the harbor," meaning twenty ships. "This is a fine marble,"
meaning a marble statue.
Metonymy (from the Greek meta, change, and onyma, a name) is the designation of
an object by one of its accompaniments, in other words, it is a figure by which
the name of one object is put for another when the two are so related that the
mention of one readily suggests the other. Thus when we say of a drunkard—"He
loves the bottle" we do not mean that he loves the glass receptacle, but the
liquor that it is supposed to contain. Metonymy, generally speaking, has, three
subdivisions: (1) when an effect is put for cause or vice versa: as "Gray hairs
should be respected," meaning old age. "He writes a fine hand," that is,
handwriting. (2) when the sign is put for the thing signified; as, "The pen is
mightier than the sword," meaning literary power is superior to military force.
(3) When the container is put for the thing contained; as "The House was called
to order," meaning the members in the House.
Exclamation (from the Latin ex, out, and clamare, to cry), is a figure by which
the speaker instead of stating a fact, simply utters an expression of surprise
or emotion. For instance when he hears some harrowing tale of woe or misfortune
instead of saying,—"It is a sad story" he exclaims "What a sad story!"
Exclamation may be defined as the vocal expression of feeling, though it is also
applied to written forms which are intended to express emotion. Thus in
describing a towering mountain we can write "Heavens, what a piece of Nature's
handiwork! how majestic! how sublime! how awe-inspiring in its colossal
impressiveness!" This figure rather belongs to poetry and animated oratory than
to the cold prose of every-day conversation and writing.
Hyperbole (from the Greek hyper, beyond, and ballein, to throw), is an
exaggerated form of statement and simply consists in representing things to be
either greater or less, better or worse than they really are. Its object is to
make the thought more effective by overstating it. Here are some examples:—"He
was so tall his head touched the clouds." "He was as thin as a poker." "He was
so light that a breath might have blown him away." Most people are liable to
overwork this figure. We are all more or less given to exaggeration and some of
us do not stop there, but proceed onward to falsehood and downright lying. There
should be a limit to hyperbole, and in ordinary speech and writing it should be
well qualified and kept within reasonable bounds.
An Apostrophe (from the Greek apo, from, and strephein, to turn), is a direct
address to the absent as present, to the inanimate as living, or to the abstract
as personal. Thus: "O, illustrious Washington! Father of our Country! Could you
visit us now!"
"My Country tis of thee—
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing."
"O! Grave, where is thy Victory, O! Death where is thy sting!" This figure is
very closely allied to Personification.
Vision (from the Latin videre, to see) consists in treating the past, the
future, or the remote as if present in time or place. It is appropriate to
animated description, as it produces the effect of an ideal presence. "The old
warrior looks down from the canvas and tells us to be men worthy of our sires."
This figure is much exemplified in the Bible. The book of Revelation is a vision
of the future. The author who uses the figure most is Carlyle.
An Antithesis (from the Greek anti, against, and tithenai, to set) is founded on
contrast; it consists in putting two unlike things in such a position that each
will appear more striking by the contrast.
"Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring out the false, ring in the true."
"Let us be friends in peace, but enemies in war."
Here is a fine antithesis in the description of a steam engine—"It can engrave a
seal and crush masses of obdurate metal before it; draw out, without breaking, a
thread as fine as a gossamer; and lift up a ship of war like a bauble in the
air; it can embroider muslin and forge anchors; cut steel into ribands, and
impel loaded vessels against the fury of winds and waves."
Climax (from the Greek, klimax, a ladder), is an arrangement of thoughts and
ideas in a series, each part of which gets stronger and more impressive until
the last one, which emphasizes the force of all the preceding ones. "He risked
truth, he risked honor, he risked fame, he risked all that men hold dear,—yea,
he risked life itself, and for what?—for a creature who was not worthy to tie
his shoe-latchets when he was his better self."
Epigram (from the Greek epi, upon, and graphein, to write), originally meant an
inscription on a monument, hence it came to signify any pointed expression. It
now means a statement or any brief saying in prose or poetry in which there is
an apparent contradiction; as, "Conspicuous for his absence." "Beauty when
unadorned is most adorned." "He was too foolish to commit folly." "He was so
wealthy that he could not spare the money."
Interrogation (from the Latin interrogatio, a question), is a figure of speech
in which an assertion is made by asking a question; as, "Does God not show
justice to all?" "Is he not doing right in his course?" "What can a man do under
Irony (from the Greek eironcia, dissimulation) is a form of expression in which
the opposite is substituted for what is intended, with the end in view, that the
falsity or absurdity may be apparent; as, "Benedict Arnold was an honorable
man." "A Judas Iscariot never betrays a friend." "You can always depend upon the
word of a liar."
Irony is cousin germain to ridicule, derision, mockery, satire and sarcasm.
Ridicule implies laughter mingled with contempt; derision is ridicule from a
personal feeling of hostility; mockery is insulting derision; satire is witty
mockery; sarcasm is bitter satire and irony is disguised satire.
There are many other figures of speech which give piquancy to language and play
upon words in such a way as to convey a meaning different from their ordinary
signification in common every-day speech and writing. The golden rule for all is
to keep them in harmony with the character and purpose of speech and
Principal Points—Illustrations—Capital Letters.
Lindley Murray and Goold Brown laid down cast-iron rules for punctuation, but
most of them have been broken long since and thrown into the junk-heap of
disuse. They were too rigid, too strict, went so much into minutiae, that they
were more or less impractical to apply to ordinary composition. The manner of
language, of style and of expression has considerably changed since then, the
old abstruse complex sentence with its hidden meanings has been relegated to the
shade, there is little of prolixity or long-drawn-out phrases, ambiguity of
expression is avoided and the aim is toward terseness, brevity and clearness.
Therefore, punctuation has been greatly simplified, to such an extent indeed,
that it is now as much a matter of good taste and judgment as adherence to any
fixed set of rules. Nevertheless there are laws governing it which cannot be
abrogated, their principles must be rigidly and inviolably observed.
The chief end of punctuation is to mark the grammatical connection and the
dependence of the parts of a composition, but not the actual pauses made in
speaking. Very often the points used to denote the delivery of a passage differ
from those used when the passage is written. Nevertheless, several of the
punctuation marks serve to bring out the rhetorical force of expression.
The principal marks of punctuation are:
The Comma [,]
The Semicolon [;]
The Colon [:]
The Period [.]
The Interrogation [?]
The Exclamation [!]
The Dash [—]
The Parenthesis [()]
The Quotation [" "]
There are several other points or marks to indicate various relations, but
properly speaking such come under the heading of Printer's Marks, some of which
are treated elsewhere.
Of the above, the first four may be styled the grammatical points, and the
remaining five, the rhetorical points.
The Comma: The office of the Comma is to show the slightest separation which
calls for punctuation at all. It should be omitted whenever possible. It is used
to mark the least divisions of a sentence.
A series of words or phrases has its parts separated by commas:—"Lying,
trickery, chicanery, perjury, were natural to him." "The brave, daring, faithful
soldier died facing the foe." If the series is in pairs, commas separate the
pairs: "Rich and poor, learned and unlearned, black and white, Christian and
Jew, Mohammedan and Buddhist must pass through the same gate."
A comma is used before a short quotation: "It was Patrick Henry who said, 'Give
me liberty or give me death.'"
When the subject of the sentence is a clause or a long phrase, a comma is used
after such subject: "That he has no reverence for the God I love, proves his
insincerity." "Simulated piety, with a black coat and a sanctimonious look, does
not proclaim a Christian."
An expression used parenthetically should be inclosed by commas: "The old man,
as a general rule, takes a morning walk."
Words in apposition are set off by commas: "McKinley, the President, was
Relative clauses, if not restrictive, require commas: "The book, which is the
simplest, is often the most profound."
In continued sentences each should be followed by a comma: "Electricity lights
our dwellings and streets, pulls cars, trains, drives the engines of our mills
When a verb is omitted a comma takes its place: "Lincoln was a great statesman;
Grant, a great soldier."
The subject of address is followed by a comma: "John, you are a good man."
In numeration, commas are used to express periods of three figures: "Mountains
25,000 feet high; 1,000,000 dollars."
The Semicolon marks a slighter connection than the comma. It is generally
confined to separating the parts of compound sentences. It is much used in
"Gladstone was great as a statesman; he was sublime as a man."
The Semicolon is used between the parts of all compound sentences in which the
grammatical subject of the second part is different from that of the first: "The
power of England relies upon the wisdom of her statesmen; the power of America
upon the strength of her army and navy."
The Semicolon is used before words and abbreviations which introduce particulars
or specifications following after, such as, namely, as, e.g., vid., i.e., etc.:
"He had three defects; namely, carelessness, lack of concentration and obstinacy
in his ideas." "An island is a portion of land entirely surrounded by water; as
Cuba." "The names of cities should always commence with a capital letter; e.g.,
New York, Paris." "The boy was proficient in one branch; viz., Mathematics." "No
man is perfect; i.e., free from all blemish."
The Colon except in conventional uses is practically obsolete.
It is generally put at the end of a sentence introducing a long quotation: "The
cheers having subsided, Mr. Bryan spoke as follows:"
It is placed before an explanation or illustration of the subject under
consideration: "This is the meaning of the term:"
A direct quotation formally introduced is generally preceded by a colon: "The
great orator made this funny remark:"
The colon is often used in the title of books when the secondary or subtitle is
in apposition to the leading one and when the conjunction or is omitted:
"Acoustics: the Science of Sound."
It is used after the salutation in the beginning of letters: "Sir: My dear Sir:
Gentlemen: Dear Mr. Jones:" etc. In this connection a dash very often follows
It is sometimes used to introduce details of a group of things already referred
to in the mass: "The boy's excuses for being late were: firstly, he did not know
the time, secondly, he was sent on an errand, thirdly, he tripped on a rock and
fell by the wayside."
The Period is the simplest punctuation mark. It is simply used to mark the end
of a complete sentence that is neither interrogative nor exclamatory.
After every sentence conveying a complete meaning: "Birds fly." "Plants grow."
"Man is mortal."
In abbreviations: after every abbreviated word: Rt. Rev. T. C. Alexander, D.D.,
A period is used on the title pages of books after the name of the book, after
the author's name, after the publisher's imprint: American Trails. By Theodore
Roosevelt. New York. Scribner Company.
The Mark of Interrogation is used to ask or suggest a question.
Every question admitting of an answer, even when it is not expected, should be
followed by the mark of interrogation: "Who has not heard of Napoleon?"
When several questions have a common dependence they should be followed by one
mark of interrogation at the end of the series: "Where now are the playthings
and friends of my boyhood; the laughing boys; the winsome girls; the fond
neighbors whom I loved?"
The mark is often used parenthetically to suggest doubt: "In 1893 (?) Gladstone
became converted to Home Rule for Ireland."
The Exclamation point should be sparingly used, particularly in prose. Its chief
use is to denote emotion of some kind.
It is generally employed with interjections or clauses used as interjections:
"Alas! I am forsaken." "What a lovely landscape!"
Expressions of strong emotion call for the exclamation: "Charge, Chester,
charge! On, Stanley, on!"
When the emotion is very strong double exclamation points may be used: "Assist
him!! I would rather assist Satan!!"
The Dash is generally confined to cases where there is a sudden break from the
general run of the passage. Of all the punctuation marks it is the most misused.
It is employed to denote sudden change in the construction or sentiment: "The
Heroes of the Civil War,—how we cherish them." "He was a fine fellow—in his own
When a word or expression is repeated for oratorical effect, a dash is used to
introduce the repetition: "Shakespeare was the greatest of all
poets—Shakespeare, the intellectual ocean whose waves washed the continents of
The Dash is used to indicate a conclusion without expressing it: "He is an
excellent man but—"
It is used to indicate what is not expected or what is not the natural outcome
of what has gone before: "He delved deep into the bowels of the earth and found
instead of the hidden treasure—a button."
It is used to denote the omission of letters or figures: "J—n J—s for John
Jones; 1908-9 for 1908 and 1909; Matthew VII:5-8 for Matthew VII:5, 6, 7, and 8.
When an ellipsis of the words, namely, that is, to wit, etc., takes place, the
dash is used to supply them: "He excelled in three branches—arithmetic, algebra,
A dash is used to denote the omission of part of a word when it is undesirable
to write the full word: He is somewhat of a r——l (rascal). This is especially
the case in profane words.
Between a citation and the authority for it there is generally a dash: "All the
world's a stage."—Shakespeare.
When questions and answers are put in the same paragraph they should be
separated by dashes: "Are you a good boy? Yes, Sir.—Do you love study? I do."
Marks of Parenthesis are used to separate expressions inserted in the body of a
sentence, which are illustrative of the meaning, but have no essential
connection with the sentence, and could be done without. They should be used as
little as possible for they show that something is being brought into a sentence
that does not belong to it.
When the unity of a sentence is broken the words causing the break should be
enclosed in parenthesis: "We cannot believe a liar (and Jones is one), even when
he speaks the truth."
In reports of speeches marks of parenthesis are used to denote interpolations of
approval or disapproval by the audience: "The masses must not submit to the
tyranny of the classes (hear, hear), we must show the trust magnates (groans),
that they cannot ride rough-shod over our dearest rights (cheers);" "If the
gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown), will not be our spokesman, we must select
another. (A voice,—Get Robinson)."
When a parenthesis is inserted in the sentence where no comma is required, no
point should be used before either parenthesis. When inserted at a place
requiring a comma, if the parenthetical matter relates to the whole sentence, a
comma should be used before each parenthesis; if it relates to a single word, or
short clause, no stop should come before it, but a comma should be put after the
The Quotation marks are used to show that the words enclosed by them are
A direct quotation should be enclosed within the quotation marks: Abraham
Lincoln said,—"I shall make this land too hot for the feet of slaves."
When a quotation is embraced within another, the contained quotation has only
single marks: Franklin said, "Most men come to believe 'honesty is the best
When a quotation consists of several paragraphs the quotation marks should
precede each paragraph.
Titles of books, pictures and newspapers when formally given are quoted.
Often the names of ships are quoted though there is no occasion for it.
The Apostrophe should come under the comma rather than under the quotation marks
or double comma. The word is Greek and signifies a turning away from. The letter
elided or turned away is generally an e. In poetry and familiar dialogue the
apostrophe marks the elision of a syllable, as "I've for I have"; "Thou'rt for
thou art"; "you'll for you will," etc. Sometimes it is necessary to abbreviate a
word by leaving out several letters. In such case the apostrophe takes the place
of the omitted letters as "cont'd for continued." The apostrophe is used to
denote the elision of the century in dates, where the century is understood or
to save the repetition of a series of figures, as "The Spirit of '76"; "I served
in the army during the years 1895, '96, '97, '98 and '99." The principal use of
the apostrophe is to denote the possessive case. All nouns in the singular
number whether proper names or not, and all nouns in the plural ending with any
other letter than s, form the possessive by the addition of the apostrophe and
the letter s. The only exceptions to this rule are, that, by poetical license
the additional s may be elided in poetry for sake of the metre, and in the
scriptural phrases "For goodness' sake." "For conscience' sake," "For Jesus'
sake," etc. Custom has done away with the s and these phrases are now idioms of
the language. All plural nouns ending in s form the possessive by the addition
of the apostrophe only as boys', horses'. The possessive case of the personal
pronouns never take the apostrophe, as ours, yours, hers, theirs.
Capital letters are used to give emphasis to or call attention to certain words
to distinguish them from the context. In manuscripts they may be written small
or large and are indicated by lines drawn underneath, two lines for SMALL
CAPITALS and three lines for CAPITALS.
Some authors, notably Carlyle, make such use of Capitals that it degenerates
into an abuse. They should only be used in their proper places as given in the
The first word of every sentence, in fact the first word in writing of any kind
should begin with a capital; as, "Time flies." "My dear friend."
Every direct quotation should begin with a capital; "Dewey said,—'Fire, when
you're ready, Gridley!'"
Every direct question commences with a capital; "Let me ask you; 'How old are
Every line of poetry begins with a capital; "Breathes there a man with soul so
Every numbered clause calls for a capital: "The witness asserts: (1) That he saw
the man attacked; (2) That he saw him fall; (3) That he saw his assailant flee."
The headings of essays and chapters should be wholly in capitals; as, CHAPTER
VIII—RULES FOR USE OF CAPITALS.
In the titles of books, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs should begin
with a capital; as, "Johnson's Lives of the Poets."
In the Roman notation numbers are denoted by capitals; as, I II III V X L C D
M—1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000.
Proper names begin with a capital; as, "Jones, Johnson, Caesar, Mark Antony,
England, Pacific, Christmas."
Such words as river, sea, mountain, etc., when used generally are common, not
proper nouns, and require no capital. But when such are used with an adjective
or adjunct to specify a particular object they become proper names, and
therefore require a capital; as, "Mississippi River, North Sea, Alleghany
Mountains," etc. In like manner the cardinal points north, south, east and west,
when they are used to distinguish regions of a country are capitals; as, "The
North fought against the South."
When a proper name is compounded with another word, the part which is not a
proper name begins with a capital if it precedes, but with a small letter if it
follows, the hyphen; as "Post-homeric," "Sunday-school."
Words derived from proper names require a Capital; as, "American, Irish,
Christian, Americanize, Christianize."
In this connection the names of political parties, religious sects and schools
of thought begin with capitals; as, "Republican, Democrat, Whig, Catholic,
Presbyterian, Rationalists, Free Thinkers."
The titles of honorable, state and political offices begin with a capital; as,
"President, Chairman, Governor, Alderman."
The abbreviations of learned titles and college degrees call for capitals; as,
"LL.D., M.A., B.S.," etc. Also the seats of learning conferring such degrees as,
"Harvard University, Manhattan College," etc.
When such relative words as father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, etc.,
precede a proper name, they are written and printed with capitals; as, Father
Abraham, Mother Eddy, Brother John, Sister Jane, Uncle Jacob, Aunt Eliza.
Father, when used to denote the early Christian writer, is begun with a capital;
"Augustine was one of the learned Fathers of the Church."
The names applied to the Supreme Being begin with capitals: "God, Lord, Creator,
Providence, Almighty, The Deity, Heavenly Father, Holy One." In this respect the
names applied to the Saviour also require capitals: "Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Man of Galilee, The Crucified, The Anointed One." Also the designations of
Biblical characters as "Lily of Israel, Rose of Sharon, Comfortress of the
Afflicted, Help of Christians, Prince of the Apostles, Star of the Sea," etc.
Pronouns referring to God and Christ take capitals; as, "His work, The work of
Expressions used to designate the Bible or any particular division of it begin
with a capital; as, "Holy Writ, The Sacred Book, Holy Book, God's Word, Old
Testament, New Testament, Gospel of St. Matthew, Seven Penitential Psalms."
Expressions based upon the Bible or in reference to Biblical characters begin
with a capital: "Water of Life, Hope of Men, Help of Christians, Scourge of
The names applied to the Evil One require capitals: "Beelzebub, Prince of
Darkness, Satan, King of Hell, Devil, Incarnate Fiend, Tempter of Men, Father of
Lies, Hater of Good."
Words of very special importance, especially those which stand out as the names
of leading events in history, have capitals; as, "The Revolution, The Civil War,
The Middle Ages, The Age of Iron," etc.
Terms which refer to great events in the history of the race require capitals;
"The Flood, Magna Charta, Declaration of Independence."
The names of the days of the week and the months of the year and the seasons are
commenced with capitals: "Monday, March, Autumn."
The Pronoun I and the interjection O always require the use of capitals. In fact
all the interjections when uttered as exclamations commence with capitals:
"Alas! he is gone." "Ah! I pitied him."
All noms-de-guerre, assumed names, as well as names given for distinction, call
for capitals, as, "The Wizard of the North," "Paul Pry," "The Northern Gael,"
"Sandy Sanderson," "Poor Robin," etc.
In personification, that is, when inanimate things are represented as endowed
with life and action, the noun or object personified begins with a capital; as,
"The starry Night shook the dews from her wings." "Mild-eyed Day appeared," "The
Oak said to the Beech—'I am stronger than you.'"
Principles of Letter-Writing—Forms—Notes
Many people seem to regard letter-writing as a very simple and easily acquired
branch, but on the contrary it is one of the most difficult forms of composition
and requires much patience and labor to master its details. In fact there are
very few perfect letter-writers in the language. It constitutes the direct form
of speech and may be called conversation at a distance. Its forms are so varied
by every conceivable topic written at all times by all kinds of persons in all
kinds of moods and tempers and addressed to all kinds of persons of varying
degrees in society and of different pursuits in life, that no fixed rules can be
laid down to regulate its length, style or subject matter. Only general
suggestions can be made in regard to scope and purpose, and the forms of
indicting set forth which custom and precedent have sanctioned.
The principles of letter-writing should be understood by everybody who has any
knowledge of written language, for almost everybody at some time or other has
necessity to address some friend or acquaintance at a distance, whereas
comparatively few are called upon to direct their efforts towards any other kind
Formerly the illiterate countryman, when he had occasion to communicate with
friends or relations, called in the peripatetic schoolmaster as his amanuensis,
but this had one draw-back,—secrets had to be poured into an ear other than that
for which they were intended, and often the confidence was betrayed.
Now, that education is abroad in the land, there is seldom any occasion for any
person to call upon the service of another to compose and write a personal
letter. Very few now-a-days are so grossly illiterate as not to be able to read
and write. No matter how crude his effort may be it is better for any one to
write his own letters than trust to another. Even if he should commence,—"deer
fren, i lift up my pen to let ye no that i hove been sik for the past 3 weeks,
hopping this will findye the same," his spelling and construction can be excused
in view of the fact that his intention is good, and that he is doing his best to
serve his own turn without depending upon others.
The nature, substance and tone of any letter depend upon the occasion that calls
it forth, upon the person writing it and upon the person for whom it is
intended. Whether it should be easy or formal in style, plain or ornate, light
or serious, gay or grave, sentimental or matter-of-fact depend upon these three
In letter writing the first and most important requisites are to be natural and
simple; there should be no straining after effect, but simply a spontaneous
out-pouring of thoughts and ideas as they naturally occur to the writer. We are
repelled by a person who is stiff and labored in his conversation and in the
same way the stiff and labored letter bores the reader. Whereas if it is light
and in a conversational vein it immediately engages his attention.
The letter which is written with the greatest facility is the best kind of
letter because it naturally expresses what is in the writer, he has not to
search for his words, they flow in a perfect unison with the ideas he desires to
communicate. When you write to your friend John Browne to tell him how you spent
Sunday you have not to look around for the words, or study set phrases with a
view to please or impress Browne, you just tell him the same as if he were
present before you, how you spent the day, where you were, with whom you
associated and the chief incidents that occurred during the time. Thus, you
write natural and it is such writing that is adapted to epistolary
There are different kinds of letters, each calling for a different style of
address and composition, nevertheless the natural key should be maintained in
all, that is to say, the writer should never attempt to convey an impression
that he is other than what he is. It would be silly as well as vain for the
common street laborer of a limited education to try to put on literary airs and
emulate a college professor; he may have as good a brain, but it is not as well
developed by education, and he lacks the polish which society confers. When
writing a letter the street laborer should bear in mind that only the letter of
a street-laborer is expected from him, no matter to whom his communication may
be addressed and that neither the grammar nor the diction of a Chesterfield or
Gladstone is looked for in his language. Still the writer should keep in mind
the person to whom he is writing. If it is to an Archbishop or some other great
dignitary of Church or state it certainly should be couched in terms different
from those he uses to John Browne, his intimate friend. Just as he cannot say
"Dear John" to an Archbishop, no more can he address him in the familiar words
he uses to his friend of everyday acquaintance and companionship. Yet there is
no great learning required to write to an Archbishop, no more than to an
ordinary individual. All the laborer needs to know is the form of address and
how to properly utilize his limited vocabulary to the best advantage. Here is
the form for such a letter:
17 Second Avenue,
New York City.
January 1st, 1910.
Most Rev. P. A. Jordan,
Archbishop of New York.
Most Rev. and dear Sir:—
While sweeping the crossing at Fifth
Avenue and 50th street on last Wednesday
morning, I found the enclosed Fifty Dollar
Bill, which I am sending to you in the hope
that it may be restored to the rightful
I beg you will acknowledge receipt and
should the owner be found I trust you will
notify me, so that I may claim some reward
for my honesty.
I am, Most Rev. and dear Sir,
Very respectfully yours,
Observe the brevity of the letter. Jones makes no suggestions to the
Archbishop how to find the owner, for he knows the course the Archbishop will
adopt, of having the finding of the bill announced from the Church pulpits.
Could Jones himself find the owner there would be no occasion to apply to the
This letter, it is true, is different from that which he would send to Browne.
Nevertheless it is simple without being familiar, is just a plain statement, and
is as much to the point for its purpose as if it were garnished with rhetoric
and "words of learned length and thundering sound."
Letters may be divided into those of friendship, acquaintanceship, those of
business relations, those written in an official capacity by public servants,
those designed to teach, and those which give accounts of the daily happenings
on the stage of life, in other words, news letters.
Letters of friendship are the most common and their style and form depend upon
the degree of relationship and intimacy existing between the writers and those
addressed. Between relatives and intimate friends the beginning and end may be
in the most familiar form of conversation, either affectionate or playful. They
should, however, never overstep the boundaries of decency and propriety, for it
is well to remember that, unlike conversation, which only is heard by the ears
for which it is intended, written words may come under eyes other than those for
whom they were designed. Therefore, it is well never to write anything which the
world may not read without detriment to your character or your instincts. You
can be joyful, playful, jocose, give vent to your feelings, but never stoop to
low language and, above all, to language savoring in the slightest degree of
Business letters are of the utmost importance on account of the interests
involved. The business character of a man or of a firm is often judged by the
correspondence. On many occasions letters instead of developing trade and
business interests and gaining clientele, predispose people unfavorably towards
those whom they are designed to benefit. Ambiguous, slip-shod language is a
detriment to success. Business letters should be clear, concise, to the point
and, above all, honest, giving no wrong impressions or holding out any
inducements that cannot be fulfilled. In business letters, just as in business
conduct, honesty is always the best policy.
Official letters are mostly always formal. They should possess clearness,
brevity and dignity of tone to impress the receivers with the proper respect for
the national laws and institutions.
Letters designed to teach or didactic letters are in a class all by themselves.
They are simply literature in the form of letters and are employed by some of
the best writers to give their thoughts and ideas a greater emphasis. The most
conspicuous example of this kind of composition is the book on Etiquette by Lord
Chesterfield, which took the form of a series of letters to his son.
News letters are accounts of world happenings and descriptions of ceremonies and
events sent into the newspapers. Some of the best authors of our time are
newspaper men who write in an easy flowing style which is most readable, full of
humor and fancy and which carries one along with breathless interest from
beginning to end.
The principal parts of a letter are (1) the heading or introduction; (2) the
body or substance of the letter; (3) the subscription or closing expression and
signature; (4) the address or direction on the envelope. For the body of a
letter no forms or rules can be laid down as it altogether depends on the nature
of the letter and the relationship between the writer and the person addressed.
There are certain rules which govern the other three features and which custom
has sanctioned. Every one should be acquainted with these rules.
The Heading has three parts, viz., the name of the place, the date of writing
and the designation of the person or persons addressed; thus:
73 New Street,
Newark, N. J.,
February 1st, 1910.
Messr. Ginn and Co.,
The name of the place should never be omitted; in cities, street and number
should always be given, and except when the city is large and very conspicuous,
so that there can be no question as to its identity with another of the same or
similar name, the abbreviation of the State should be appended, as in the above,
Newark, N. J. There is another Newark in the State of Ohio. Owing to failure to
comply with this rule many letters go astray. The date should be on every
letter, especially business letters. The date should never be put at the bottom
in a business letter, but in friendly letters this may be done. The designation
of the person or persons addressed differs according to the relations of the
correspondents. Letters of friendship may begin in many ways according to the
degrees of friendship or intimacy. Thus:
My dear Wife:
My dear Husband:
My dear Friend:
My darling Mother:
My dearest Love:
Dear George: etc.
To mark a lesser degree of intimacy such formal designations as the following
may be employed:
My dear Sir:
Dear Mr. Smith:
Dear Madam: etc.
For clergymen who have the degree of Doctor of Divinity, the designation is
Rev. Alban Johnson, D. D.
My dear Sir: or Rev. and dear Sir: or more familiarly
Dear Dr. Johnson:
Bishops of the Roman and Anglican Communions are addressed as Right Reverend.
The Rt. Rev., the Bishop of Long Island. or
The Rt. Rev. Frederick Burgess, Bishop of Long Island.
Rt. Rev. and dear Sir:
Archbishops of the Roman Church are addressed as Most Reverend and Cardinals
as Eminence. Thus:
The Most Rev. Archbishop Katzer.
Most Rev. and dear Sir:
His Eminence, James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore.
May it please your Eminence:
The title of the Governor of a State or territory and of the President of the
United States is Excellency. However, Honorable is more commonly applied to
His Excellency, William Howard Taft,
President of the United States.
His Excellency, Charles Evans Hughes,
Governor of the State of New York.
Honorable Franklin Fort,
Governor of New Jersey.
The general salutation for Officers of the Army and Navy is Sir. The rank and
station should be indicated in full at the head of the letter, thus:
General Joseph Thompson,
Commanding the Seventh Infantry.
Rear Admiral Robert Atkinson,
Commanding the Atlantic Squadron.
The title of officers of the Civil Government is Honorable and they are
addressed as Sir.
Hon. Nelson Duncan,
Senator from Ohio.
Hon. Norman Wingfield,
Secretary of the Treasury.
Hon. Rupert Gresham,
Mayor of New York.
Presidents and Professors of Colleges and Universities are generally
addressed as Sir or Dear Sir.
Professor Ferguson Jenks,
President of .......... University.
Sir: or Dear Sir:
Presidents of Societies and Associations are treated as business men and
addressed as Sir or Dear Sir.
Mr. Joseph Banks,
President of the Night Owls.
Dear Sir: or Sir:
Doctors of Medicine are addressed as Sir: My dear Sir: Dear Sir: and more
familiarly My dear Dr: or Dear Dr: as
Ryerson Pitkin, M. D.
My dear Dr:
Ordinary people with no degrees or titles are addressed as Mr. and Mrs. and
are designed Dear Sir: Dear Madam: and an unmarried woman of any age is
addressed on the envelope as Miss So-and-so, but always designed in the letter
The plural of Mr. as in addressing a firm is Messrs, and the corresponding
salutation is Dear Sirs: or Gentlemen:
In England Esq. is used for Mr. as a mark of slight superiority and in this
country it is sometimes used, but it is practically obsolete. Custom is against
it and American sentiment as well. If it is used it should be only applied to
lawyers and justices of the peace.
The Subscription or ending of a letter consists of the term of respect or
affection and the signature. The term depends upon the relation of the person
addressed. Letters of friendship can close with such expressions as:
Ever yours, etc.
as between husbands and wives or between lovers. Such gushing terminations as
Your Own Darling, Your own Dovey and other pet and silly endings should be
avoided, as they denote shallowness. Love can be strongly expressed without
dipping into the nonsensical and the farcical.
Formal expressions of Subscription are:
and the like, and these may be varied to denote the exact bearing or attitude
the writer wishes to assume to the person addressed: as,
Very sincerely yours,
Very respectfully yours,
With deep respect yours,
Yours very truly, etc.
Such elaborate endings as
"In the meantime with the highest respect, I am yours to command,"
"I have the honor to be, Sir, Your humble Servant,"
"With great expression of esteem, I am Sincerely yours,"
"Believe me, my dear Sir, Ever faithfully yours,"
are condemned as savoring too much of affectation.
It is better to finish formal letters without any such qualifying remarks. If
you are writing to Mr. Ryan to tell him that you have a house for sale, after
describing the house and stating the terms simply sign yourself
Your obedient Servant
Yours very truly,
Yours with respect,
Don't say you have the honor to be anything or ask him to believe anything,
all you want to tell him is that you have a house for sale and that you are
sincere, or hold him in respect as a prospective customer.
Don't abbreviate the signature as: Y'rs Resp'fly and always make your sex
obvious. Write plainly
and not J. Field, so that the person to whom you send it may not take you for
It is always best to write the first name in full. Married women should prefix
Mrs. to their names, as
Very sincerely yours,
Mrs. Theodore Watson.
If you are sending a letter acknowledging a compliment or some kindness done you
may say, Yours gratefully, or Yours very gratefully, in proportion to the act of
It is not customary to sign letters of degrees or titles after your name, except
you are a lord, earl or duke and only known by the title, but as we have no such
titles in America it is unnecessary to bring this matter into consideration.
Don't sign yourself,
Obadiah Jackson, M.A. or L.L. D.
If you're an M. A. or an L.L. D. people generally know it without your
sounding your own trumpet. Many people, and especially clergymen, are fond of
flaunting after their names degrees they have received honoris causa, that is,
degrees as a mark of honor, without examination. Such degrees should be kept in
the background. Many a deadhead has these degrees which he could never have
earned by brain work.
Married women whose husbands are alive may sign the husband's name with the
prefix Mrs: thus,
Mrs. William Southey.
but when the husband is dead the signature should be—
Mrs. Sarah Southey.
So when we receive a letter from a woman we are enabled to tell whether she has
a husband living or is a widow. A woman separated from her husband but not a
divorcee should not sign his name.
The address of a letter consists of the name, the title and the residence.
Mr. Hugh Black,
112 Southgate Street,
Intimate friends have often familiar names for each other, such as pet names,
nicknames, etc., which they use in the freedom of conversation, but such names
should never, under any circumstances, appear on the envelope. The subscription
on the envelope should be always written with propriety and correctness and as
if penned by an entire stranger. The only difficulty in the envelope inscription
is the title. Every man is entitled to Mr. and every lady to Mrs. and every
unmarried lady to Miss. Even a boy is entitled to Master. When more than one is
addressed the title is Messrs. Mesdames is sometimes written of women. If the
person addressed has a title it is courteous to use it, but titles never must be
duplicated. Thus, we can write
Robert Stitt, M. D., but never
Dr. Robert Stitt, M. D, or
Mr. Robert Stitt, M. D.
In writing to a medical doctor it is well to indicate his profession by the
letters M. D. so as to differentiate him from a D. D. It is better to write
Robert Stitt, M. D., than Dr. Robert Stitt.
In the case of clergymen the prefix Rev. is retained even when they have other
Rev. Tracy Tooke, LL. D.
When a person has more titles than one it is customary to only give him the
leading one. Thus instead of writing Rev. Samuel MacComb, B. A., M. A., B. Sc.,
Ph. D., LL. D., D. D. the form employed is Rev. Samuel MacComb, LL. D. LL. D. is
appended in preference to D. D. because in most cases the "Rev." implies a "D.
D." while comparatively few with the prefix "Rev." are entitled to "LL. D."
In the case of Honorables such as Governors, Judges, Members of Congress, and
others of the Civil Government the prefix "Hon." does away with Mr. and Esq.
Thus we write Hon. Josiah Snifkins, not Hon. Mr. Josiah Snifkins or Hon. Josiah
Snifkins, Esq. Though this prefix Hon. is also often applied to Governors they
should be addressed as Excellency. For instance:
Charles E. Hughes,
In writing to the President the superscription on the envelope should be
To the President,
Washington, D. C.
Professional men such as doctors and lawyers as well as those having
legitimately earned College Degrees may be addressed on the envelopes by their
Jonathan Janeway, M. D.
Hubert Houston, B. L.
Matthew Marks, M. A., etc.
The residence of the person addressed should be plainly written out in full.
The street and numbers should be given and the city or town written very
legibly. If the abbreviation of the State is liable to be confounded or confused
with that of another then the full name of the State should be written. In
writing the residence on the envelope, instead of putting it all in one line as
is done at the head of a letter, each item of the residence forms a separate
215 Minna St.,
There should be left a space for the postage stamp in the upper right hand
corner. The name and title should occupy a line that is about central between
the top of the envelope and the bottom. The name should neither be too much to
right or left but located in the centre, the beginning and end at equal
distances from either end.
In writing to large business concerns which are well known or to public or city
officials it is sometimes customary to leave out number and street. Thus,
Messrs. Seigel, Cooper Co.,
New York City,
Hon. William J. Gaynor,
New York City.
Notes may be regarded as letters in miniature confined chiefly to invitations,
acceptances, regrets and introductions, and modern etiquette tends towards
informality in their composition. Card etiquette, in fact, has taken the place
of ceremonious correspondence and informal notes are now the rule. Invitations
to dinner and receptions are now mostly written on cards. "Regrets" are sent
back on visiting cards with just the one word "Regrets" plainly written thereon.
Often on cards and notes of invitation we find the letters R. S. V. P. at the
bottom. These letters stand for the French repondez s'il vous plait, which means
"Reply, if you please," but there is no necessity to put this on an invitation
card as every well-bred person knows that a reply is expected. In writing notes
to young ladies of the same family it should be noted that the eldest daughter
of the house is entitled to the designation Miss without any Christian name,
only the surname appended. Thus if there are three daughters in the Thompson
family Martha, the eldest, Susan and Jemina, Martha is addressed as Miss
Thompson and the other two as Miss Susan Thompson and Miss Jemina Thompson
Don't write the word addressed on the envelope of a note.
Don't seal a note delivered by a friend.
Don't write a note on a postal card.
Here are a few common forms:—
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wagstaff request the
honor of Mr. McAdoo's presence on Friday
evening, June 15th, at 8 o'clock to meet the
Governor of the Fort.
19 Woodbine Terrace
June 8th, 1910.
This is an invitation to a formal reception calling for evening dress. Here
is Mr. McAdoo's reply in the third person:—
Mr. McAdoo presents his compliments to
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wagstaff and accepts with
great pleasure their invitation to meet the
Governor of the Fort on the evening of June
215 Beacon Street,
June 10th, 1910.
Here is how Mr. McAdoo might decline the invitation:—
Mr. McAdoo regrets that owing to a prior
engagement he must forego the honor of paying
his respects to Mr. and Mrs. Wagstaff and the
Governor of the Fort on the evening of June
215 Beacon St.,
June 10th, 1910.
Here is a note addressed, say to Mr. Jeremiah Reynolds.
Mr. and Mrs. Oldham at home on Wednesday
evening October ninth from seven to eleven.
21 Ashland Avenue,
Mr. Reynolds makes reply:—
Mr. Reynolds accepts with high appreciation
the honor of Mr. and Mrs. Oldham's invitation
for Wednesday evening October ninth.
Mr. Reynolds regrets that his duties render
it impossible for him to accept Mr. and Mrs.
Oldham's kind invitation for the evening of
Sometimes less informal invitations are sent on small specially designed note
paper in which the first person takes the place of the third. Thus
360 Pine St.,
Dec. 11th, 1910.
Dear Mr. Saintsbury:
Mr. Johnson and I should be much pleased to
have you dine with us and a few friends next
Thursday, the fifteenth, at half past seven.
Mr. Saintsbury's reply:
57 Carlyle Strand
Dec. 13th, 1910.
Dear Mrs. Burnside:
Let me accept very appreciatively your
invitation to dine with Mr. Burnside and you
on next Thursday, the fifteenth, at half past
Mrs. Alexander Burnside.
NOTES OF INTRODUCTION
Notes of introduction should be very circumspect as the writers are in reality
vouching for those whom they introduce. Here is a specimen of such a note.
603 Lexington Ave.,
New York City,
June 15th, 1910.
Rev. Cyrus C. Wiley, D. D.,
Newark, N. J.
My dear Dr. Wiley:
I take the liberty of
presenting to you my friend, Stacy Redfern,
M. D., a young practitioner, who is anxious
to locate in Newark. I have known him many
years and can vouch for his integrity and
professional standing. Any courtesy and
kindness which you may show him will be very
much appreciated by me.
Very sincerely yours,
Mistakes—Slips of Authors—Examples and Corrections—Errors of Redundancy.
In the following examples the word or words in parentheses are uncalled for and
should be omitted:
Fill the glass (full).
They appeared to be talking (together) on private affairs.
I saw the boy and his sister (both) in the garden.
He went into the country last week and returned (back) yesterday.
The subject (matter) of his discourse was excellent.
You need not wonder that the (subject) matter of his discourse was excellent; it
was taken from the Bible.
They followed (after) him, but could not overtake him.
The same sentiments may be found throughout (the whole of) the book.
I was very ill every day (of my life) last week.
That was the (sum and) substance of his discourse.
He took wine and water and mixed them (both) together.
He descended (down) the steps to the cellar.
He fell (down) from the top of the house.
I hope you will return (again) soon.
The things he took away he restored (again).
The thief who stole my watch was compelled to restore it (back again).
It is equally (the same) to me whether I have it today or tomorrow.
She said, (says she) the report is false; and he replied, (says he) if it be not
correct I have been misinformed.
I took my place in the cars (for) to go to New York.
They need not (to) call upon him.
Nothing (else) but that would satisfy him.
Whenever I ride in the cars I (always) find it prejudicial to my health.
He was the first (of all) at the meeting.
He was the tallest of (all) the brothers.
You are the tallest of (all) your family.
Whenever I pass the house he is (always) at the door.
The rain has penetrated (through) the roof.
Besides my uncle and aunt there was (also) my grandfather at the church.
It should (ever) be your constant endeavor to please your family.
If it is true as you have heard (then) his situation is indeed pitiful.
Either this (here) man or that (there) woman has (got) it.
Where is the fire (at)?
Did you sleep in church? Not that I know (of).
I never before (in my life) met (with) such a stupid man.
(For) why did he postpone it?
Because (why) he could not attend.
What age is he? (Why) I don't know.
He called on me (for) to ask my opinion.
I don't know where I am (at).
I looked in (at) the window.
I passed (by) the house.
He (always) came every Sunday.
Moreover, (also) we wish to say he was in error.
It is not long (ago) since he was here.
Two men went into the wood (in order) to cut (down) trees.
Further examples of redundancy might be multiplied. It is very common in
newspaper writing where not alone single words but entire phrases are sometimes
brought in, which are unnecessary to the sense or explanation of what is
GRAMMATICAL ERRORS OF STANDARD AUTHORS
Even the best speakers and writers are sometimes caught napping. Many of our
standard authors to whom we have been accustomed to look up as infallible have
sinned more or less against the fundamental principles of grammar by breaking
the rules regarding one or more of the nine parts of speech. In fact some of
them have recklessly trespassed against all nine, and still they sit on their
pedestals of fame for the admiration of the crowd. Macaulay mistreated the
article. He wrote,—"That a historian should not record trifles is perfectly
true." He should have used an.
Dickens also used the article incorrectly. He refers to "Robinson Crusoe" as "an
universally popular book," instead of a universally popular book.
The relation between nouns and pronouns has always been a stumbling block to
speakers and writers. Hallam in his Literature of Europe writes, "No one as yet
had exhibited the structure of the human kidneys, Vesalius having only examined
them in dogs." This means that Vesalius examined human kidneys in dogs. The
sentence should have been, "No one had as yet exhibited the kidneys in human
beings, Vesalius having examined such organs in dogs only."
Sir Arthur Helps in writing of Dickens, states—"I knew a brother author of his
who received such criticisms from him (Dickens) very lately and profited by it."
Instead of it the word should be them to agree with criticisms.
Here are a few other pronominal errors from leading authors:
"Sir Thomas Moore in general so writes it, although not many others so late as
him." Should be he.—Trench's English Past and Present.
"What should we gain by it but that we should speedily become as poor as them."
Should be they.—Alison's Essay on Macaulay.
"If the king gives us leave you or I may as lawfully preach, as them that do."
Should be they or those, the latter having persons understood.—Hobbes's History
of Civil Wars.
"The drift of all his sermons was, to prepare the Jews for the reception of a
prophet, mightier than him, and whose shoes he was not worthy to bear." Should
be than he.—Atterbury's Sermons.
"Phalaris, who was so much older than her." Should be she.—Bentley's
Dissertation on Phalaris.
"King Charles, and more than him, the duke and the Popish faction were at
liberty to form new schemes." Should be than he.—Bolingbroke's Dissertations on
"We contributed a third more than the Dutch, who were obliged to the same
proportion more than us." Should be than we.—Swift's Conduct of the Allies.
In all the above examples the objective cases of the pronouns have been used
while the construction calls for nominative cases.
"Let thou and I the battle try"—Anon.
Here let is the governing verb and requires an objective case after it;
therefore instead of thou and I, the words should be you (sing.) and me.
"Forever in this humble cell, Let thee and I, my fair one, dwell"—Prior.
Here thee and I should be the objectives you and me.
The use of the relative pronoun trips the greatest number of authors.
Even in the Bible we find the relative wrongly translated:
Whom do men say that I am?—St. Matthew.
Whom think ye that I am?—Acts of the Apostles.
Who should be written in both cases because the word is not in the objective
governed by say or think, but in the nominative dependent on the verb am.
"Who should I meet at the coffee house t'other night, but my old
"It is another pattern of this answerer's fair dealing, to give us hints that
the author is dead, and yet lay the suspicion upon somebody, I know not who, in
the country."—Swift's Tale of a Tub.
"My son is going to be married to I don't know who." —Goldsmith's Good-natured
The nominative who in the above examples should be the objective whom.
The plural nominative ye of the pronoun thou is very often used for the
objective you, as in the following:
"His wrath which will one day destroy ye both." —Milton.
"The more shame for ye; holy men I thought ye."—Shakespeare.
"I feel the gales that from ye blow."—Gray.
"Tyrants dread ye, lest your just decree Transfer the power and set the people
Many of the great writers have played havoc with the adjective in the
indiscriminate use of the degrees of comparison.
"Of two forms of the same word, use the fittest."—Morell.
The author here in trying to give good advice sets a bad example. He should have
used the comparative degree, "Fitter."
Adjectives which have a comparative or superlative signification do not admit
the addition of the words more, most, or the terminations, er, est, hence the
following examples break this rule:
"Money is the most universal incitement of human misery."—Gibbon's Decline and
"The chiefest of which was known by the name of Archon among the
Grecians."—Dryden's Life of Plutarch.
"The chiefest and largest are removed to certain magazines they call
libraries."—Swift's Battle of the Books.
The two chiefest properties of air, its gravity and elastic force, have been
discovered by mechanical experiments.—Arbuthno
"From these various causes, which in greater or lesser degree, affected every
individual in the colony, the indignation of the people became
general."—Robertson's History of America.
"The extremest parts of the earth were meditating a submission."—Atterbury's
"The last are indeed more preferable because they are founded on some new
knowledge or improvement in the mind of man."—Addison, Spectator.
"This was in reality the easiest manner of the two."—Shaftesbury's Advice to an
"In every well formed mind this second desire seems to be the strongest of the
two."—Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.
In these examples the superlative is wrongly used for the comparative. When only
two objects are compared the comparative form must be used.
Of impossibility there are no degrees of comparison, yet we find the following:
"As it was impossible they should know the words, thoughts and secret actions of
all men, so it was more impossible they should pass judgment on them according
to these things."—Whitby's Necessity of the Christian Religion.
A great number of authors employ adjectives for adverbs. Thus we find:
"I shall endeavor to live hereafter suitable to a man in my station."—Addison.
"I can never think so very mean of him."—Bentley's Dissertation on Phalaris.
"His expectations run high and the fund to supply them is extreme
scanty,—Lancaster's Essay on Delicacy.
The commonest error in the use of the verb is the disregard of the concord
between the verb and its subject. This occurs most frequently when the subject
and the verb are widely separated, especially if some other noun of a different
number immediately precedes the verb. False concords occur very often after
either, or, neither, nor, and much, more, many, everyone, each.
Here are a few authors' slips:—
"The terms in which the sale of a patent were communicated to the
"The richness of her arms and apparel were conspicuous."—Gibbon's Decline and
"Everyone of this grotesque family were the creatures of national
"He knows not what spleen, languor or listlessness are."—Blair's Sermons.
"Each of these words imply, some pursuit or object relinquished."—Ibid.
"Magnus, with four thousand of his supposed accomplices were put to
"No nation gives greater encouragements to learning than we do; yet at the same
time none are so injudicious in the application."—Goldsmith.
"There's two or three of us have seen strange sights."—Shakespeare.
The past participle should not be used for the past tense, yet the learned Byron
overlooked this fact. He thus writes in the Lament of Tasso:—
"And with my years my soul begun to pant With feelings of strange tumult and
Here is another example from Savage's Wanderer in which there is double sinning:
"From liberty each nobler science sprung, A Bacon brighten'd and a Spenser
Other breaches in regard to the participles occur in the following:—
"Every book ought to be read with the same spirit and in the same manner as it
is writ"—Fielding's Tom Jones.
"The Court of Augustus had not wore off the manners of the republic "—Hume's
"Moses tells us that the fountains of the earth were broke open or clove
"A free constitution when it has been shook by the iniquity of former
"In this respect the seeds of future divisions were sowed abundantly."—Ibid.
In the following example the present participle is used for the infinitive mood:
"It is easy distinguishing the rude fragment of a rock from the splinter of a
statue."—Gilfillan's Literary Portraits.
Distinguishing here should be replaced by to distinguish.
The rules regarding shall and will are violated in the following:
"If we look within the rough and awkward outside, we will be richly rewarded by
its perusal."—Gilfillan's Literary Portraits.
"If I should declare them and speak of them, they should be more than I am able
to express."—Prayer Book Revision of Psalms XI.
"If I would declare them and speak of them, they are more than can be
"Without having attended to this, we will be at a loss, in understanding several
passages in the classics."—Blair's Lectures.
"We know to what cause our past reverses have been owing and we will have
ourselves to blame, if they are again incurred."—Alison's History of Europe.
Adverbial mistakes often occur in the best writers. The adverb rather is a word
very frequently misplaced. Archbishop Trench in his "English Past and Present"
writes, "It rather modified the structure of our sentences than the elements of
our vocabulary." This should have been written,—"It modified the structure of
our sentences rather than the elements of our vocabulary."
"So far as his mode of teaching goes he is rather a disciple of Socrates than of
St. Paul or Wesley." Thus writes Leslie Stephens of Dr. Johnson. He should have
written,—" So far as his mode of teaching goes he is a disciple of Socrates
rather than of St. Paul or Wesley."
The preposition is a part of speech which is often wrongly used by some of the
best writers. Certain nouns, adjectives and verbs require particular
prepositions after them, for instance, the word different always takes the
preposition from after it; prevail takes upon; averse takes to; accord takes
with, and so on.
In the following examples the prepositions in parentheses are the ones that
should have been used:
"He found the greatest difficulty of (in) writing."—Hume's History of England.
"If policy can prevail upon (over) force."—Addison.
"He made the discovery and communicated to (with) his friends."—Swift's Tale of
"Every office of command should be intrusted to persons on (in) whom the
parliament shall confide."—Macaulay.
Several of the most celebrated writers infringe the canons of style by placing
prepositions at the end of sentences. For instance Carlyle, in referring to the
Study of Burns, writes:—"Our own contributions to it, we are aware, can be but
scanty and feeble; but we offer them with good will, and trust they may meet
with acceptance from those they are intended for."
—"for whom they are intended," he should have written.
"Most writers have some one vein which they peculiarly and obviously excel
This sentence should read,—Most writers have some one vein in which they
peculiarly and obviously excel.
Many authors use redundant words which repeat the same thought and idea. This is
"Notwithstanding which (however) poor Polly embraced them all around."—Dickens.
"I judged that they would (mutually) find each other."—Crockett.
"....as having created a (joint) partnership between the two Powers in the
Morocco question."—The Times.
"The only sensible position (there seems to be) is to frankly acknowledge our
ignorance of what lies beyond."—Daily Telegraph.
"Lord Rosebery has not budged from his position—splendid, no doubt,—of (lonely)
"Miss Fox was (often) in the habit of assuring Mrs. Chick."—Dickens.
"The deck (it) was their field of fame."—Campbell.
"He had come up one morning, as was now (frequently) his wont,"—Trollope.
The counsellors of the Sultan (continue to) remain sceptical—The Times.
Seriously, (and apart from jesting), this is no light matter.—Bagehot.
To go back to your own country with (the consciousness that you go back with)
the sense of duty well done.—Lord Halsbury.
The Peresviet lost both her fighting-tops and (in appearance) looked the most
damaged of all the ships—The Times.
Counsel admitted that, that was a fair suggestion to make, but he submitted that
it was borne out by the (surrounding) circumstances.—Ibid.
Another unnecessary use of words and phrases is that which is termed
circumlocution, a going around the bush when there is no occasion for it,—save
to fill space.
It may be likened to a person walking the distance of two sides of a triangle to
reach the objective point. For instance in the quotation: "Pope professed to
have learned his poetry from Dryden, whom, whenever an opportunity was
presented, he praised through the whole period of his existence with unvaried
liberality; and perhaps his character may receive some illustration, of a
comparison he instituted between him and the man whose pupil he was" much of the
verbiage may be eliminated and the sentence thus condensed:
"Pope professed himself the pupil of Dryden, whom he lost no opportunity of
praising; and his character may be illustrated by a comparison with his master."
"His life was brought to a close in 1910 at an age not far from the one fixed by
the sacred writer as the term of human existence."
This in brevity can be put, "His life was brought to a close at the age of
seventy;" or, better yet, "He died at the age of seventy."
"The day was intensely cold, so cold in fact that the thermometer crept down to
the zero mark," can be expressed: "The day was so cold the thermometer
Many authors resort to circumlocution for the purpose of "padding," that is,
filling space, or when they strike a snag in writing upon subjects of which they
know little or nothing. The young writer should steer clear of it and learn to
express his thoughts and ideas as briefly as possible commensurate with lucidity
Volumes of errors in fact, in grammar, diction and general style, could be
selected from the works of the great writers, a fact which eloquently testifies
that no one is infallible and that the very best is liable to err at times.
However, most of the erring in the case of these writers arises from
carelessness or hurry, not from a lack of knowledge.
As a general rule it is in writing that the scholar is liable to slip; in oral
speech he seldom makes a blunder. In fact, there are many people who are perfect
masters of speech,—who never make a blunder in conversation, yet who are
ignorant of the very principles of grammar and would not know how to write a
sentence correctly on paper. Such persons have been accustomed from infancy to
hear the language spoken correctly and so the use of the proper words and forms
becomes a second nature to them. A child can learn what is right as easy as what
is wrong and whatever impressions are made on the mind when it is plastic will
remain there. Even a parrot can be taught the proper use of language. Repeat to
a parrot.—"Two and two make four" and it never will say "two and two makes
In writing, however, it is different. Without a knowledge of the fundamentals of
grammar we may be able to speak correctly from association with good speakers,
but without such a knowledge we cannot hope to write the language correctly. To
write even a common letter we must know the principles of construction, the
relationship of one word to another. Therefore, it is necessary for everybody to
understand at least the essentials of the grammar of his own language.
PITFALLS TO AVOID
Common Stumbling Blocks—Peculiar Constructions—Misused Forms.
Very often the verb is separated from its real nominative or subject by several
intervening words and in such cases one is liable to make the verb agree with
the subject nearest to it. Here are a few examples showing that the leading
writers now and then take a tumble into this pitfall:
"The partition which the two ministers made of the powers of government were
(Should be was to agree with its subject, partition.)
"One at least of the qualities which fit it for training ordinary men unfit it
for training an extraordinary man."—Bagehot.
(Should be unfits to agree with subject one.)
"The Tibetans have engaged to exclude from their country those dangerous
influences whose appearance were the chief cause of our action."—The Times.
(Should be was to agree with appearance.)
"An immense amount of confusion and indifference prevail in these
(Should be prevails to agree with amount.)
Errors in ellipsis occur chiefly with prepositions.
His objection and condoning of the boy's course, seemed to say the least,
(The preposition to should come after objection.)
Many men of brilliant parts are crushed by force of circumstances and their
genius forever lost to the world.
(Some maintain that the missing verb after genius is are, but such is
ungrammatical. In such cases the right verb should be always expressed: as—their
genius is forever lost to the world.
THE SPLIT INFINITIVE
Even the best speakers and writers are in the habit of placing a modifying word
or words between the to and the remaining part of the infinitive. It is possible
that such will come to be looked upon in time as the proper form but at present
the splitting of the infinitive is decidedly wrong. "He was scarcely able to
even talk" "She commenced to rapidly walk around the room." "To have really
loved is better than not to have at all loved." In these constructions it is
much better not to split the infinitive. In every-day speech the best speakers
sin against this observance.
In New York City there is a certain magistrate, a member of "the 400," who
prides himself on his diction in language. He tells this story: A prisoner, a
faded, battered specimen of mankind, on whose haggard face, deeply lined with
the marks of dissipation, there still lingered faint reminders of better days
long past, stood dejected before the judge. "Where are you from?" asked the
magistrate. "From Boston," answered the accused. "Indeed," said the judge,
"indeed, yours is a sad case, and yet you don't seem to thoroughly realise how
low you have sunk." The man stared as if struck. "Your honor does me an
injustice," he said bitterly. "The disgrace of arrest for drunkenness, the
mortification of being thrust into a noisome dungeon, the publicity and
humiliation of trial in a crowded and dingy courtroom I can bear, but to be
sentenced by a Police Magistrate who splits his infinitives—that is indeed the
The indefinite adjective pronoun one when put in place of a personal substantive
is liable to raise confusion. When a sentence or expression is begun with the
impersonal one the word must be used throughout in all references to the
subject. Thus, "One must mind one's own business if one wishes to succeed" may
seem prolix and awkward, nevertheless it is the proper form. You must not
say—"One must mind his business if he wishes to succeed," for the subject is
impersonal and therefore cannot exclusively take the masculine pronoun. With any
one it is different. You may say—"If any one sins he should acknowledge it; let
him not try to hide it by another sin."
This is a word that is a pitfall to the most of us whether learned or unlearned.
Probably it is the most indiscriminately used word in the language. From the
different positions it is made to occupy in a sentence it can relatively change
the meaning. For instance in the sentence—"I only struck him that time," the
meaning to be inferred is, that the only thing I did to him was to strike him,
not kick or otherwise abuse him. But if the only is shifted, so as to make the
sentence read-"I struck him only that time" the meaning conveyed is, that only
on that occasion and at no other time did I strike him. If another shift is made
to-"I struck only him that time," the meaning is again altered so that it
signifies he was the only person I struck.
In speaking we can by emphasis impress our meaning on our hearers, but in
writing we have nothing to depend upon but the position of the word in the
sentence. The best rule in regard to only is to place it immediately before the
word or phrase it modifies or limits.
is another word which creates ambiguity and alters meaning. If we substitute it
for only in the preceding example the meaning of the sentence will depend upon
the arrangement. Thus "I alone struck him at that time" signifies that I and no
other struck him. When the sentence reads "I struck him alone at that time" it
must be interpreted that he was the only person that received a blow. Again if
it is made to read "I struck him at that time alone" the sense conveyed is that
that was the only occasion on which I struck him. The rule which governs the
correct use of only is also applicable to alone.
OTHER AND ANOTHER
These are words which often give to expressions a meaning far from that
intended. Thus, "I have nothing to do with that other rascal across the street,"
certainly means that I am a rascal myself. "I sent the despatch to my friend,
but another villain intercepted it," clearly signifies that my friend is a
A good plan is to omit these words when they can be readily done without, as in
the above examples, but when it is necessary to use them make your meaning
clear. You can do this by making each sentence or phrase in which they occur
independent of contextual aid.
AND WITH THE RELATIVE
Never use and with the relative in this manner: "That is the dog I meant and
which I know is of pure breed." This is an error quite common. The use of and is
permissible when there is a parallel relative in the preceding sentence or
clause. Thus: "There is the dog which I meant and.which I know is of pure breed"
is quite correct.
A participle or participial phrase is naturally referred to the nearest
nominative. If only one nominative is expressed it claims all the participles
that are not by the construction of the sentence otherwise fixed. "John, working
in the field all day and getting thirsty, drank from the running stream." Here
the participles working and getting clearly refer to John. But in the
sentence,—"Swept along by the mob I could not save him," the participle as it
were is lying around loose and may be taken to refer to either the person
speaking or to the person spoken about. It may mean that I was swept along by
the mob or the individual whom I tried to save was swept along.
"Going into the store the roof fell" can be taken that it was the roof which was
going into the store when it fell. Of course the meaning intended is that some
person or persons were going into the store just as the roof fell.
In all sentence construction with participles there should be such clearness as
to preclude all possibility of ambiguity. The participle should be so placed
that there can be no doubt as to the noun to which it refers. Often it is
advisable to supply such words as will make the meaning obvious.
Sometimes the beginning of a sentence presents quite a different grammatical
construction from its end. This arises from the fact probably, that the
beginning is lost sight of before the end is reached. This occurs frequently in
long sentences. Thus: "Honesty, integrity and square-dealing will bring anybody
much better through life than the absence of either." Here the construction is
broken at than. The use of either, only used in referring to one of two, shows
that the fact is forgotten that three qualities and not two are under
consideration. Any one of the three meanings might be intended in the sentence,
viz., absence of any one quality, absence of any two of the qualities or absence
of the whole three qualities. Either denotes one or the other of two and should
never be applied to any one of more than two. When we fall into the error of
constructing such sentences as above, we should take them apart and reconstruct
them in a different grammatical form. Thus,—"Honesty, integrity and
square-dealing will bring a man much better through life than a lack of these
qualities which are almost essential to success."
It must be remembered that two negatives in the English language destroy each
other and are equivalent to an affirmative. Thus "I don't know nothing about it"
is intended to convey, that I am ignorant of the matter under consideration, but
it defeats its own purpose, inasmuch as the use of nothing implies that I know
something about it. The sentence should read—"I don't know anything about it."
Often we hear such expressions as "He was not asked to give no opinion,"
expressing the very opposite of what is intended. This sentence implies that he
was asked to give his opinion. The double negative, therefore, should be
carefully avoided, for it is insidious and is liable to slip in and the writer
remain unconscious of its presence until the eye of the critic detects it.
FIRST PERSONAL PRONOUN
The use of the first personal pronoun should be avoided as much as possible in
composition. Don't introduce it by way of apology and never use such expressions
as "In my opinion," "As far as I can see," "It appears to me," "I believe," etc.
In what you write, the whole composition is expressive of your views, since you
are the author, therefore, there is no necessity for you to accentuate or
emphasize yourself at certain portions of it.
Moreover, the big I's savor of egotism! Steer clear of them as far as you can.
The only place where the first person is permissible is in passages where you
are stating a view that is not generally held and which is likely to meet with
SEQUENCE OF TENSES
When two verbs depend on each other their tenses must have a definite relation
to each other. "I shall have much pleasure in accepting your kind invitation" is
wrong, unless you really mean that just now you decline though by-and-by you
intend to accept; or unless you mean that you do accept now, though you have no
pleasure in doing so, but look forward to be more pleased by-and-by. In fact the
sequence of the compound tenses puzzle experienced writers. The best plan is to
go back in thought to the time in question and use the tense you would then
naturally use. Now in the sentence "I should have liked to have gone to see the
circus" the way to find out the proper sequence is to ask yourself the
question—what is it I "should have liked" to do? and the plain answer is "to go
to see the circus." I cannot answer—"To have gone to see the circus" for that
would imply that at a certain moment I would have liked to be in the position of
having gone to the circus. But I do not mean this; I mean that at the moment at
which I am speaking I wish I had gone to see the circus. The verbal phrase I
should have liked carries me back to the time when there was a chance of seeing
the circus and once back at the time, the going to the circus is a thing of the
present. This whole explanation resolves itself into the simple question,—what
should I have liked at that time, and the answer is "to go to see the circus,"
therefore this is the proper sequence, and the expression should be "I should
have liked to go to see the circus."
If we wish to speak of something relating to a time prior to that indicated in
the past tense we must use the perfect tense of the infinitive; as, "He appeared
to have seen better days." We should say "I expected to meet him," not "I
expected to have met him." "We intended to visit you," not "to have visited
you." "I hoped they would arrive," not "I hoped they would have arrived." "I
thought I should catch the bird," not "I thought I should have caught the bird."
"I had intended to go to the meeting," not "I had intended to have gone to the
These prepositions are often carelessly interchanged. Between has reference to
two objects only, among to more than two. "The money was equally divided between
them" is right when there are only two, but if there are more than two it should
be "the money was equally divided among them."
Less refers is quantity, fewer to number. "No man has less virtues" should be
"No man has fewer virtues." "The farmer had some oats and a fewer quantity of
wheat" should be "the farmer had some oats and a less quantity of wheat."
Further is commonly used to denote quantity, farther to denote distance. "I have
walked farther than you," "I need no further supply" are correct.
EACH OTHER—ONE ANOTHER
Each other refers to two, one another to more than two. "Jones and Smith
quarreled; they struck each other" is correct. "Jones, Smith and Brown
quarreled; they struck one another" is also correct. Don't say, "The two boys
teach one another" nor "The three girls love each other."
EACH, EVERY, EITHER, NEITHER
These words are continually misapplied. Each can be applied to two or any higher
number of objects to signify every one of the number independently. Every
requires more than two to be spoken of and denotes all the persons or things
taken separately. Either denotes one or the other of two, and should not be used
to include both. Neither is the negative of either, denoting not the other, and
not the one, and relating to two persons or things considered separately.
The following examples illustrate the correct usage of these words:
Each man of the crew received a reward.
Every man in the regiment displayed bravery.
We can walk on either side of the street.
Neither of the two is to blame.
When two singular subjects are connected by neither, nor use a singular verb;
as, Neither John nor James was there," not were there.
Custom Has sanctioned the use of this word both with a singular and plural;
as—"None is so blind as he who will not see" and "None are so blind as they who
will not see." However, as it is a contraction of no one it is better to use the
These verbs are very often confounded. Rise is to move or pass upward in any
manner; as to "rise from bed;" to increase in value, to improve in position or
rank, as "stocks rise;" "politicians rise;" "they have risen to honor."
Raise is to lift up, to exalt, to enhance, as "I raise the table;" "He raised
his servant;" "The baker raised the price of bread."
The transitive verb lay, and lay, the past tense of the neuter verb lie, are
often confounded, though quite different in meaning. The neuter verb to lie,
meaning to lie down or rest, cannot take the objective after it except with a
preposition. We can say "He lies on the ground," but we cannot say "He lies the
ground," since the verb is neuter and intransitive and, as such, cannot have a
direct object. With lay it is different. Lay is a transitive verb, therefore it
takes a direct object after it; as "I lay a wager," "I laid the carpet," etc.
Of a carpet or any inanimate subject we should say, "It lies on the floor," "A
knife lies on the table," not lays. But of a person we say—"He lays the knife on
the table," not "He lies——." Lay being the past tense of the neuter to lie
(down) we should say, "He lay on the bed," and lain being its past participle we
must also say "He has lain on the bed."
We can say "I lay myself down." "He laid himself down" and such expressions.
It is imperative to remember in using these verbs that to lay means to do
something, and to lie means to be in a state of rest.
SAYS I—I SAID
"Says I" is a vulgarism; don't use it. "I said" is correct form.
Be careful to distinguish the meaning of these two little prepositions and don't
interchange them. Don't say "He went in the room" nor "My brother is into the
navy." In denotes the place where a person or thing, whether at rest or in
motion, is present; and into denotes entrance. "He went into the room;" "My
brother is in the navy" are correct.
Don't confound the two. Eat is present, ate is past. "I eat the bread" means
that I am continuing the eating; "I ate the bread" means that the act of eating
is past. Eaten is the perfect participle, but often eat is used instead, and as
it has the same pronunciation (et) of ate, care should be taken to distinguish
the past tense, I ate from the perfect I have eaten (eat).
SEQUENCE OF PERSON
Remember that the first person takes precedence of the second and the second
takes precedence of the third. When Cardinal Wolsey said Ego et Rex (I and the
King), he showed he was a good grammarian, but a bad courtier.
AM COME—HAVE COME
"I am come" points to my being here, while "I have come" intimates that I have
just arrived. When the subject is not a person, the verb to be should be used in
preference to the verb to have; as, "The box is come" instead of "The box has
PAST TENSE—PAST PARTICIPLE
The interchange of these two parts of the irregular or so-called strong verbs
is, perhaps, the breach oftenest committed by careless speakers and writers. To
avoid mistakes it is requisite to know the principal parts of these verbs, and
this knowledge is very easy of acquirement, as there are not more than a couple
of hundred of such verbs, and of this number but a small part is in daily use.
Here are some of the most common blunders: "I seen" for "I saw;" "I done it" for
"I did it;" "I drunk" for "I drank;" "I begun" for "I began;" "I rung" for "I
rang;" "I run" for "I ran;" "I sung" for "I sang;" "I have chose" for "I have
chosen;" "I have drove" for "I have driven;" "I have wore" for "I have worn;" "I
have trod" for "I have trodden;" "I have shook" for "I have shaken;" "I have
fell" for "I have fallen;" "I have drank" for "I have drunk;" "I have began" for
"I have begun;" "I have rang" for "I have rung;" "I have rose" for "I have
risen;" "I have spoke" for "I have spoken;" "I have broke" for "I have broken."
"It has froze" for "It has frozen." "It has blowed" for "It has blown." "It has
flowed" (of a bird) for "It has flown."
N. B.—The past tense and past participle of To Hang is hanged or hung. When you
are talking about a man meeting death on the gallows, say "He was hanged"; when
you are talking about the carcass of an animal say, "It was hung," as "The beef
was hung dry." Also say your coat "was hung on a hook."
PREPOSITIONS AND THE OBJECTIVE CASE
Don't forget that prepositions always take the objective case. Don't say
"Between you and I"; say "Between you and me"
Two prepositions should not govern one objective unless there is an immediate
connection between them. "He was refused admission to and forcibly ejected from
the school" should be "He was refused admission to the school and forcibly
ejected from it."
Don't say "I shall summons him," but "I shall summon him." Summon is a verb,
summons, a noun.
It is correct to say "I shall get a summons for him," not a summon.
"My brother has an undeniable character" is wrong if I wish to convey the idea
that he has a good character. The expression should be in that case "My brother
has an unexceptionable character." An undeniable character is a character that
cannot be denied, whether bad or good. An unexceptionable character is one to
which no one can take exception.
Very many mistakes occur in the use of the pronouns. "Let you and I go" should
be "Let you and me go." "Let them and we go" should be "Let them and us go." The
verb let is transitive and therefore takes the objective case.
"Give me them flowers" should be "Give me those flowers"; "I mean them three"
should be "I mean those three." Them is the objective case of the personal
pronoun and cannot be used adjectively like the demonstrative adjective pronoun.
"I am as strong as him" should be "I am as strong as he"; "I am younger than
her" should be "I am younger than she;" "He can write better than me" should be
"He can write better than I," for in these examples the objective cases him, her
and me are used wrongfully for the nominatives. After each of the misapplied
pronouns a verb is understood of which each pronoun is the subject. Thus, "I am
as strong as he (is)." "I am younger than she (is)." "He can write better than I
Don't say "It is me;" say "It is I" The verb To Be of which is is a part takes
the same case after it that it has before it. This holds good in all situations
as well as with pronouns.
The verb To Be also requires the pronouns joined to it to be in the same case as
a pronoun asking a question; The nominative I requires the nominative who and
the objectives me, him, her, its, you, them, require the objective whom.
"Whom do you think I am?" should be "Who do you think I am?" and "Who do they
suppose me to be?" should be "Whom do they suppose me to be?" The objective form
of the Relative should be always used, in connection with a preposition. "Who do
you take me for?" should be "Whom do, etc." "Who did you give the apple to?"
should be "Whom did you give the apple to," but as pointed out elsewhere the
preposition should never end a sentence, therefore, it is better to say, "To
whom did you give the apple?"
After transitive verbs always use the objective cases of the pronouns. For "He
and they we have seen," say "Him and them we have seen."
THAT FOR SO
"The hurt it was that painful it made him cry," say "so painful."
Don't say, These kind; those sort. Kind and sort are each singular and require
the singular pronouns this and that. In connection with these demonstrative
adjective pronouns remember that this and these refer to what is near at hand,
that and those to what is more distant; as, this book (near me), that book (over
there), these boys (near), those boys (at a distance).
THIS MUCH—THUS MUCH
"This much is certain" should be "Thus much or so much is certain."
These are two separate verbs and must not be interchanged. The principal parts
of flee are flee, fled, fled; those of fly are fly, flew, flown. To flee is
generally used in the meaning of getting out of danger. To fly means to soar as
a bird. To say of a man "He has flown from the place" is wrong; it should be "He
has fled from the place." We can say with propriety that "A bird has flown from
Don't say "He is well known through the land," but "He is well known throughout
VOCATION AND AVOCATION
Don't mistake these two words so nearly alike. Vocation is the employment,
business or profession one follows for a living; avocation is some pursuit or
occupation which diverts the person from such employment, business or
"His vocation was the law, his avocation, farming."
In the subjunctive mood the plural form were should be used with a singular
subject; as, "If I were," not was. Remember the plural form of the personal
pronoun you always takes were, though it may denote but one. Thus, "You were,"
never "you was." "If I was him" is a very common expression. Note the two
mistakes in it,—that of the verb implying a condition, and that of the objective
case of the pronoun. It should read If I were he. This is another illustration
of the rule regarding the verb To Be, taking the same case after it as before
it; were is part of the verb To Be, therefore as the nominative (I) goes before
it, the nominative (he) should come after it.
A OR AN
A becomes an before a vowel or before h mute for the sake of euphony or
agreeable sound to the ear. An apple, an orange, an heir, an honor, etc.
It is the object of every writer to put his thoughts into as effective form as
possible so as to make a good impression on the reader. A person may have noble
thoughts and ideas but be unable to express them in such a way as to appeal to
others, consequently he cannot exert the full force of his intellectuality nor
leave the imprint of his character upon his time, whereas many a man but
indifferently gifted may wield such a facile pen as to attract attention and win
for himself an envious place among his contemporaries.
In everyday life one sees illustrations of men of excellent mentality being cast
aside and ones of mediocre or in some cases, little, if any, ability chosen to
fill important places. The former are unable to impress their personality; they
have great thoughts, great ideas, but these thoughts and ideas are locked up in
their brains and are like prisoners behind the bars struggling to get free. The
key of language which would open the door is wanting, hence they have to remain
Many a man has to pass through the world unheard of and of little benefit to it
or himself, simply because he cannot bring out what is in him and make it
subservient to his will. It is the duty of every one to develop his best, not
only for the benefit of himself but for the good of his fellow men. It is not at
all necessary to have great learning or acquirements, the laborer is as useful
in his own place as the philosopher in his; nor is it necessary to have many
talents. One talent rightly used is much better than ten wrongly used. Often a
man can do more with one than his contemporary can do with ten, often a man can
make one dollar go farther than twenty in the hands of his neighbor, often the
poor man lives more comfortably than the millionaire. All depends upon the
individual himself. If he make right use of what the Creator has given him and
live according to the laws of God and nature he is fulfilling his allotted place
in the universal scheme of creation, in other words, when he does his best, he
is living up to the standard of a useful manhood.
Now in order to do his best a man of ordinary intelligence and education should
be able to express himself correctly both in speaking and writing, that is, he
should be able to convey his thoughts in an intelligent manner which the
simplest can understand. The manner in which a speaker or writer conveys his
thoughts is known as his Style. In other words Style may be defined as the
peculiar manner in which a man expresses his conceptions through the medium of
language. It depends upon the choice of words and their arrangement to convey a
meaning. Scarcely any two writers have exactly the same style, that is to say,
express their ideas after the same peculiar form, just as no two mortals are
fashioned by nature in the same mould, so that one is an exact counterpart of
Just as men differ in the accent and tones of their voices, so do they differ in
the construction of their language.
Two reporters sent out on the same mission, say to report a fire, will verbally
differ in their accounts though materially both descriptions will be the same as
far as the leading facts are concerned. One will express himself in a style
different from the other.
If you are asked to describe the dancing of a red-haired lady at the last
charity ball you can either say—"The ruby Circe, with the Titian locks glowing
like the oriflamme which surrounds the golden god of day as he sinks to rest
amid the crimson glory of the burnished West, gave a divine exhibition of the
Terpsichorean art which thrilled the souls of the multitude" or, you can simply
say—"The red-haired lady danced very well and pleased the audience."
The former is a specimen of the ultra florid or bombastic style which may be
said to depend upon the pomposity of verbosity for its effect, the latter is a
specimen of simple natural Style. Needless to say it is to be preferred. The
other should be avoided. It stamps the writer as a person of shallowness,
ignorance and inexperience. It has been eliminated from the newspapers. Even the
most flatulent of yellow sheets no longer tolerate it in their columns.
Affectation and pedantry in style are now universally condemned.
It is the duty of every speaker and writer to labor after a pleasing style. It
gains him an entrance where he would otherwise be debarred. Often the interest
of a subject depends as much on the way it is presented as on the subject
itself. One writer will make it attractive, another repulsive. For instance take
a passage in history. Treated by one historian it is like a desiccated mummy,
dry, dull, disgusting, while under the spell of another it is, as it were,
galvanized into a virile living thing which not only pleases but captivates the
The first requisite of style is choice of words, and this comes under the head
of Diction, the property of style which has reference to the words and phrases
used in speaking and writing. The secret of literary skill from any standpoint
consists in putting the right word in the right place. In order to do this it is
imperative to know the meaning of the words we use, their exact literal meaning.
Many synonymous words are seemingly interchangeable and appear as if the same
meaning were applicable to three or four of them at the same time, but when all
such words are reduced to a final analysis it is clearly seen that there is a
marked difference in their meaning. For instance grief and sorrow seem to be
identical, but they are not. Grief is active, sorrow is more or less passive;
grief is caused by troubles and misfortunes which come to us from the outside,
while sorrow is often the consequence of our own acts. Grief is frequently loud
and violent, sorrow is always quiet and retiring. Grief shouts, Sorrow remains
If you are not sure of the exact meaning of a word look it up immediately in the
dictionary. Sometimes some of our great scholars are puzzled over simple words
in regard to meaning, spelling or pronunciation. Whenever you meet a strange
word note it down until you discover its meaning and use. Read the best books
you can get, books written by men and women who are acknowledged masters of
language, and study how they use their words, where they place them in the
sentences, and the meanings they convey to the readers.
Mix in good society. Listen attentively to good talkers and try to imitate their
manner of expression. If a word is used you do not understand, don't be ashamed
to ask its meaning.
True, a small vocabulary will carry you through, but it is an advantage to have
a large one. When you live alone a little pot serves just as well as a large one
to cook your victuals and it is handy and convenient, but when your friends or
neighbors come to dine with you, you will need a much larger pot and it is
better to have it in store, so that you will not be put to shame for your
scantiness of furnishings.
Get as many words as you possibly can—if you don't need them now, pack them away
in the garrets of your brain so that you can call upon them if you require them.
Keep a note book, jot down the words you don't understand or clearly understand
and consult the dictionary when you get time.
Purity of style consists in using words which are reputable, national and
present, which means that the words are in current use by the best authorities,
that they are used throughout the nation and not confined to one particular
part, and that they are words in constant use at the present time.
There are two guiding principles in the choice of words,—good use and good
taste. Good use tells us whether a word is right or wrong; good taste, whether
it is adapted to our purpose or not.
A word that is obsolete or too new to have gained a place in the language, or
that is a provincialism, should not be used.
Here are the Ten Commandments of English style:
Do not use foreign words.
Do not use a long word when a short one will serve your purpose. Fire is much
better than conflagration.
Do not use technical words, or those understood only by specialists in their
respective lines, except when you are writing especially for such people.
Do not use slang.
Do not use provincialisms, as "I guess" for "I think"; "I reckon" for "I know,"
Do not in writing prose, use poetical or antiquated words: as "lore, e'er, morn,
yea, nay, verily, peradventure."
Do not use trite and hackneyed words and expressions; as, "on the job," "up and
in"; "down and out."
Do not use newspaper words which have not established a place in the language as
"to bugle"; "to suicide," etc.
Do not use ungrammatical words and forms; as, "I ain't;" "he don't."
Do not use ambiguous words or phrases; as—"He showed me all about the house."
Trite words, similes and metaphors which have become hackneyed and worn out
should be allowed to rest in the oblivion of past usage. Such expressions and
phrases as "Sweet sixteen" "the Almighty dollar," "Uncle Sam," "On the fence,"
"The Glorious Fourth," "Young America," "The lords of creation," "The rising
generation," "The weaker sex," "The weaker vessel," "Sweetness long drawn out"
and "chief cook and bottle washer," should be put on the shelf as they are
utterly worn out from too much usage.
Some of the old similes which have outlived their usefulness and should be
pensioned off, are "Sweet as sugar," "Bold as a lion," "Strong as an ox," "Quick
as a flash," "Cold as ice," "Stiff as a poker," "White as snow," "Busy as a
bee," "Pale as a ghost," "Rich as Croesus," "Cross as a bear" and a great many
more far too numerous to mention.
Be as original as possible in the use of expression. Don't follow in the old rut
but try and strike out for yourself. This does not mean that you should try to
set the style, or do anything outlandish or out of the way, or be an innovator
on the prevailing custom. In order to be original there is no necessity for you
to introduce something novel or establish a precedent. The probability is you
are not fit to do either, by education or talent. While following the style of
those who are acknowledged leaders you can be original in your language. Try and
clothe an idea different from what it has been clothed and better. If you are
speaking or writing of dancing don't talk or write about "tripping the light
fantastic toe." It is over two hundred years since Milton expressed it that way
in "L'Allegro." You're not a Milton and besides over a million have stolen it
from Milton until it is now no longer worth stealing.
Don't resurrect obsolete words such as whilom, yclept, wis, etc., and be careful
in regard to obsolescent words, that is, words that are at the present time
gradually passing from use such as quoth, trow, betwixt, amongst, froward, etc.
And beware of new words. Be original in the construction and arrangement of your
language, but don't try to originate words. Leave that to the Masters of
language, and don't be the first to try such words, wait until the chemists of
speech have tested them and passed upon their merits.
Quintilian said—"Prefer the oldest of the new and the newest of the old." Pope
put this in rhyme and it still holds good:
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold, Alike fantastic, if too new or
old: Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old
Propriety of style consists in using words in their proper sense and as in the
case of purity, good usage is the principal test. Many words have acquired in
actual use a meaning very different from what they once possessed. "Prevent"
formerly meant to go before, and that meaning is implied in its Latin
derivation. Now it means to put a stop to, to hinder. To attain propriety of
style it is necessary to avoid confounding words derived from the same root; as
respectfully and respectively; it is necessary to use words in their accepted
sense or the sense which everyday use sanctions.
Simplicity of style has reference to the choice of simple words and their
unaffected presentation. Simple words should always be used in preference to
compound, and complicated ones when they express the same or almost the same
meaning. The Anglo-Saxon element in our language comprises the simple words
which express the relations of everyday life, strong, terse, vigorous, the
language of the fireside, street, market and farm. It is this style which
characterizes the Bible and many of the great English classics such as the
"Pilgrim's Progress," "Robinson Crusoe," and "Gulliver's Travels."
Clearness of style should be one of the leading considerations with the beginner
in composition. He must avoid all obscurity and ambiguous phrases. If he write a
sentence or phrase and see that a meaning might be inferred from it otherwise
than intended, he should re-write it in such a way that there can be no possible
doubt. Words, phrases or clauses that are closely related should be placed as
near to each other as possible that their mutual relation may clearly appear,
and no word should be omitted that is necessary to the complete expression of
Unity is that property of style which keeps all parts of a sentence in
connection with the principal thought and logically subordinate to it. A
sentence may be constructed as to suggest the idea of oneness to the mind, or it
may be so loosely put together as to produce a confused and indefinite
impression. Ideas that have but little connection should be expressed in
separate sentences, and not crowded into one.
Keep long parentheses out of the middle of your sentences and when you have
apparently brought your sentences to a close don't try to continue the thought
or idea by adding supplementary clauses.
Strength is that property of style which gives animation, energy and vivacity to
language and sustains the interest of the reader. It is as necessary to language
as good food is to the body. Without it the words are weak and feeble and create
little or no impression on the mind. In order to have strength the language must
be concise, that is, much expressed in little compass, you must hit the nail
fairly on the head and drive it in straight. Go critically over what you write
and strike out every word, phrase and clause the omission of which impairs
neither the clearness nor force of the sentence and so avoid redundancy,
tautology and circumlocution. Give the most important words the most prominent
places, which, as has been pointed out elsewhere, are the beginning and end of
Harmony is that property of style which gives a smoothness to the sentence, so
that when the words are sounded their connection becomes pleasing to the ear. It
adapts sound to sense. Most people construct their sentences without giving
thought to the way they will sound and as a consequence we have many jarring and
discordant combinations such as "Thou strengthenedst thy position and actedst
arbitrarily and derogatorily to my interests."
Harsh, disagreeable verbs are liable to occur with the Quaker form Thou of the
personal pronoun. This form is now nearly obsolete, the plural you being almost
universally used. To obtain harmony in the sentence long words that are hard to
pronounce and combinations of letters of one kind should be avoided.
EXPRESSIVE OF WRITER
Style is expressive of the writer, as to who he is and what he is. As a matter
of structure in composition it is the indication of what a man can do; as a
matter of quality it is an indication of what he is.
KINDS OF STYLE
Style has been classified in different ways, but it admits of so many
designations that it is very hard to enumerate a table. In fact there are as
many styles as there are writers, for no two authors write exactly after the
same form. However, we may classify the styles of the various authors in broad
divisions as (1) dry, (2) plain, (3) neat, (4) elegant, (5) florid, (6)
The dry style excludes all ornament and makes no effort to appeal to any sense
of beauty. Its object is simply to express the thoughts in a correct manner.
This style is exemplified by Berkeley.
The plain style does not seek ornamentation either, but aims to make clear and
concise statements without any elaboration or embellishment. Locke and Whately
illustrate the plain style.
The neat style only aspires after ornament sparingly. Its object is to have
correct figures, pure diction and clear and harmonious sentences. Goldsmith and
Gray are the acknowledged leaders in this kind of style.
The elegant style uses every ornament that can beautify and avoids every excess
which would degrade. Macaulay and Addison have been enthroned as the kings of
this style. To them all writers bend the knee in homage.
The florid style goes to excess in superfluous and superficial ornamentation and
strains after a highly colored imagery. The poems of Ossian typify this style.
The bombastic is characterized by such an excess of words, figures and ornaments
as to be ridiculous and disgusting. It is like a circus clown dressed up in gold
tinsel Dickens gives a fine example of it in Sergeant Buzfuz' speech in the
"Pickwick Papers." Among other varieties of style may be mentioned the
colloquial, the laconic, the concise, the diffuse, the abrupt the flowing, the
quaint, the epigrammatic, the flowery, the feeble, the nervous, the vehement,
and the affected. The manner of these is sufficiently indicated by the adjective
used to describe them.
In fact style is as various as character and expresses the individuality of the
writer, or in other words, as the French writer Buffon very aptly remarks, "the
style is the man himself."
How to Write—What to Write—Correct Speaking and Speakers
Rules of grammar and rhetoric are good in their own place; their laws must be
observed in order to express thoughts and ideas in the right way so that they
shall convey a determinate sense and meaning in a pleasing and acceptable
manner. Hard and fast rules, however, can never make a writer or author. That is
the business of old Mother Nature and nothing can take her place. If nature has
not endowed a man with faculties to put his ideas into proper composition he
cannot do so. He may have no ideas worthy the recording. If a person has not a
thought to express, it cannot be expressed. Something cannot be manufactured out
of nothing. The author must have thoughts and ideas before he can express them
on paper. These come to him by nature and environment and are developed and
strengthened by study. There is an old Latin quotation in regard to the poet
which says "Poeta nascitur non fit" the translation of which is—the poet is
born, not made. To a great degree the same applies to the author. Some men are
great scholars as far as book learning is concerned, yet they cannot express
themselves in passable composition. Their knowledge is like gold locked up in a
chest where it is of no value to themselves or the rest of the world.
The best way to learn to write is to sit down and write, just as the best way
how to learn to ride a bicycle is to mount the wheel and pedal away. Write first
about common things, subjects that are familiar to you. Try for instance an
essay on a cat. Say something original about her. Don't say "she is very playful
when young but becomes grave as she grows old." That has been said more than
fifty thousand times before. Tell what you have seen the family cat doing, how
she caught a mouse in the garret and what she did after catching it. Familiar
themes are always the best for the beginner. Don't attempt to describe a scene
in Australia if you have never been there and know nothing of the country. Never
hunt for subjects, there are thousands around you. Describe what you saw
yesterday—a fire, a runaway horse, a dog-fight on the street and be original in
your description. Imitate the best writers in their style, but not in their
exact words. Get out of the beaten path, make a pathway of your own.
Know what you write about, write about what you know; this is a golden rule to
which you must adhere. To know you must study. The world is an open book in
which all who run may read. Nature is one great volume the pages of which are
open to the peasant as well as to the peer. Study Nature's moods and tenses, for
they are vastly more important than those of the grammar. Book learning is most
desirable, but, after all, it is only theory and not practice. The grandest
allegory in the English, in fact, in any language, was written by an ignorant,
so-called ignorant, tinker named John Bunyan. Shakespeare was not a scholar in
the sense we regard the term to-day, yet no man ever lived or probably ever will
live that equalled or will equal him in the expression of thought. He simply
read the book of nature and interpreted it from the standpoint of his own
Don't imagine that a college education is necessary to success as a writer. Far
from it. Some of our college men are dead-heads, drones, parasites on the body
social, not alone useless to the world but to themselves. A person may be so
ornamental that he is valueless from any other standpoint. As a general rule
ornamental things serve but little purpose. A man may know so much of everything
that he knows little of anything. This may sound paradoxical, but, nevertheless,
experience proves its truth.
If you are poor that is not a detriment but an advantage. Poverty is an
incentive to endeavor, not a drawback. Better to be born with a good, working
brain in your head than with a gold spoon in your mouth. If the world had been
depending on the so-called pets of fortune it would have deteriorated long ago.
From the pits of poverty, from the arenas of suffering, from the hovels of
neglect, from the backwood cabins of obscurity, from the lanes and by-ways of
oppression, from the dingy garrets and basements of unending toil and drudgery
have come men and women who have made history, made the world brighter, better,
higher, holier for their existence in it, made of it a place good to live in and
worthy to die in,—men and women who have hallowed it by their footsteps and
sanctified it with their presence and in many cases consecrated it with their
blood. Poverty is a blessing, not an evil, a benison from the Father's hand if
accepted in the right spirit. Instead of retarding, it has elevated literature
in all ages. Homer was a blind beggarman singing his snatches of song for the
dole of charity; grand old Socrates, oracle of wisdom, many a day went without
his dinner because he had not the wherewithal to get it, while teaching the
youth of Athens. The divine Dante was nothing better than a beggar, houseless,
homeless, friendless, wandering through Italy while he composed his immortal
cantos. Milton, who in his blindness "looked where angels fear to tread," was
steeped in poverty while writing his sublime conception, "Paradise Lost."
Shakespeare was glad to hold and water the horses of patrons outside the White
Horse Theatre for a few pennies in order to buy bread. Burns burst forth in
never-dying song while guiding the ploughshare. Poor Heinrich Heine, neglected
and in poverty, from his "mattress grave" of suffering in Paris added literary
laurels to the wreath of his German Fatherland. In America Elihu Burritt, while
attending the anvil, made himself a master of a score of languages and became
the literary lion of his age and country.
In other fields of endeavor poverty has been the spur to action. Napoleon was
born in obscurity, the son of a hand-to-mouth scrivener in the backward island
of Corsica. Abraham Lincoln, the boast and pride of America, the man who made
this land too hot for the feet of slaves, came from a log cabin in the Ohio
backwoods. So did James A. Garfield. Ulysses Grant came from a tanyard to become
the world's greatest general. Thomas A. Edison commenced as a newsboy on a
The examples of these men are incentives to action. Poverty thrust them forward
instead of keeping them back. Therefore, if you are poor make your circumstances
a means to an end. Have ambition, keep a goal in sight and bend every energy to
reach that goal. A story is told of Thomas Carlyle the day he attained the
highest honor the literary world could confer upon him when he was elected Lord
Rector of Edinburgh University. After his installation speech, in going through
the halls, he met a student seemingly deep in study. In his own peculiar,
abrupt, crusty way the Sage of Chelsea interrogated the young man: "For what
profession are you studying?" "I don't know," returned the youth. "You don't
know," thundered Carlyle, "young man, you are a fool." Then he went on to
qualify his vehement remark, "My boy when I was your age, I was stooped in
grinding, gripping poverty in the little village of Ecclefechan, in the wilds of
[Transcriber's note: First part of word illegible]-frieshire, where in all the
place only the minister and myself could read the Bible, yet poor and obscure as
I was, in my mind's eye I saw a chair awaiting for me in the Temple of Fame and
day and night and night and day I studied until I sat in that chair to-day as
Lord Rector of Edinburgh University."
Another Scotchman, Robert Buchanan, the famous novelist, set out for London from
Glasgow with but half-a-crown in his pocket. "Here goes," said he, "for a grave
in Westminster Abbey." He was not much of a scholar, but his ambition carried
him on and he became one of the great literary lions of the world's metropolis.
Henry M. Stanley was a poorhouse waif whose real name was John Rowlands. He was
brought up in a Welsh workhouse, but he had ambition, so he rose to be a great
explorer, a great writer, became a member of Parliament and was knighted by the
Have ambition to succeed and you will succeed. Cut the word "failure" out of
your lexicon. Don't acknowledge it. Remember
"In life's earnest battle they only prevail
Who daily march onward and never say fail."
Let every obstacle you encounter be but a stepping stone in the path of
onward progress to the goal of success.
If untoward circumstances surround you, resolve to overcome them. Bunyan wrote
the "Pilgrim's Progress" in Bedford jail on scraps of wrapping paper while he
was half starved on a diet of bread and water. That unfortunate American genius,
Edgar Allan Poe, wrote "The Raven," the most wonderful conception as well as the
most highly artistic poem in all English literature, in a little cottage in the
Fordham section of New York while he was in the direst straits of want.
Throughout all his short and wonderfully brilliant career, poor Poe never had a
dollar he could call his own. Such, however, was both his fault and his
misfortune and he is a bad exemplar.
Don't think that the knowledge of a library of books is essential to success as
a writer. Often a multiplicity of books is confusing. Master a few good books
and master them well and you will have all that is necessary. A great authority
has said: "Beware of the man of one book," which means that a man of one book is
a master of the craft. It is claimed that a thorough knowledge of the Bible
alone will make any person a master of literature. Certain it is that the Bible
and Shakespeare constitute an epitome of the essentials of knowledge.
Shakespeare gathered the fruitage of all who went before him, he has sown the
seeds for all who shall ever come after him. He was the great intellectual ocean
whose waves touch the continents of all thought.
Books are cheap now-a-days, the greatest works, thanks to the printing press,
are within the reach of all, and the more you read, the better, provided they
are worth reading. Sometimes a man takes poison into his system unconscious of
the fact that it is poison, as in the case of certain foods, and it is very hard
to throw off its effects. Therefore, be careful in your choice of reading
matter. If you cannot afford a full library, and as has been said, such is not
necessary, select a few of the great works of the master minds, assimilate and
digest them, so that they will be of advantage to your literary system.
Elsewhere in this volume is given a list of some of the world's masterpieces
from which you can make a selection.
Your brain is a storehouse, don't put useless furniture into it to crowd it to
the exclusion of what is useful. Lay up only the valuable and serviceable kind
which you can call into requisition at any moment.
As it is necessary to study the best authors in order to be a writer, so it is
necessary to study the best speakers in order to talk with correctness and in
good style. To talk rightly you must imitate the masters of oral speech. Listen
to the best conversationalists and how they express themselves. Go to hear the
leading lectures, speeches and sermons. No need to imitate the gestures of
elocution, it is nature, not art, that makes the elocutionist and the orator. It
is not how a speaker expresses himself but the language which he uses and the
manner of its use which should interest you. Have you heard the present day
masters of speech? There have been past time masters but their tongues are
stilled in the dust of the grave, and you can only read their eloquence now. You
can, however, listen to the charm of the living. To many of us voices still
speak from the grave, voices to which we have listened when fired with the
divine essence of speech. Perhaps you have hung with rapture on the words of
Beecher and Talmage. Both thrilled the souls of men and won countless thousands
over to a living gospel. Both were masters of words, they scattered the flowers
of rhetoric on the shrine of eloquence and hurled veritable bouquets at their
audiences which were eagerly seized by the latter and treasured in the
storehouse of memory. Both were scholars and philosophers, yet they were far
surpassed by Spurgeon, a plain man of the people with little or no claim to
education in the modern sense of the word. Spurgeon by his speech attracted
thousands to his Tabernacle. The Protestant and Catholic, Turk, Jew and
Mohammedan rushed to hear him and listened, entranced, to his language. Such
another was Dwight L. Moody, the greatest Evangelist the world has ever known.
Moody was not a man of learning; he commenced life as a shoe salesman in
Chicago, yet no man ever lived who drew such audiences and so fascinated them
with the spell of his speech. "Oh, that was personal magnetism," you will say,
but it was nothing of the kind. It was the burning words that fell from the lips
of these men, and the way, the manner, the force with which they used those
words that counted and attracted the crowds to listen unto them. Personal
magnetism or personal appearance entered not as factors into their success.
Indeed as far as physique were concerned, some of them were handicapped.
Spurgeon was a short, podgy, fat little man, Moody was like a country farmer,
Talmage in his big cloak was one of the most slovenly of men and only Beecher
was passable in the way of refinement and gentlemanly bearing. Physical
appearance, as so many think, is not the sesame to the interest of an audience.
Daniel O'Connell, the Irish tribune, was a homely, ugly, awkward, ungainly man,
yet his words attracted millions to his side and gained for him the hostile ear
of the British Parliament, he was a master of verbiage and knew just what to say
to captivate his audiences.
It is words and their placing that count on almost all occasions. No matter how
refined in other respects the person may be, if he use words wrongly and express
himself in language not in accordance with a proper construction, he will repel
you, whereas the man who places his words correctly and employs language in
harmony with the laws of good speech, let him be ever so humble, will attract
and have an influence over you.
The good speaker, the correct speaker, is always able to command attention and
doors are thrown open to him which remain closed to others not equipped with a
like facility of expression. The man who can talk well and to the point need
never fear to go idle. He is required in nearly every walk of life and field of
human endeavor, the world wants him at every turn. Employers are constantly on
the lookout for good talkers, those who are able to attract the public and
convince others by the force of their language. A man may be able, educated,
refined, of unblemished character, nevertheless if he lack the power to express
himself, put forth his views in good and appropriate speech he has to take a
back seat, while some one with much less ability gets the opportunity to come to
the front because he can clothe his ideas in ready words and talk effectively.
You may again say that nature, not art, makes a man a fluent speaker; to a great
degree this is true, but it is art that makes him a correct speaker, and
correctness leads to fluency. It is possible for everyone to become a correct
speaker if he will but persevere and take a little pains and care.
At the risk of repetition good advice may be here emphasized: Listen to the best
speakers and note carefully the words which impress you most. Keep a notebook
and jot down words, phrases, sentences that are in any way striking or out of
the ordinary run. If you do not understand the exact meaning of a word you have
heard, look it up in the dictionary. There are many words, called synonyms,
which have almost a like signification, nevertheless, when examined they express
different shades of meaning and in some cases, instead of being close related,
are widely divergent. Beware of such words, find their exact meaning and learn
to use them in their right places.
Be open to criticism, don't resent it but rather invite it and look upon those
as friends who point out your defects in order that you may remedy them.
Origin—American Slang—Foreign Slang
Slang is more or less common in nearly all ranks of society and in every walk of
life at the present day. Slang words and expressions have crept into our
everyday language, and so insiduously, that they have not been detected by the
great majority of speakers, and so have become part and parcel of their
vocabulary on an equal footing with the legitimate words of speech. They are
called upon to do similar service as the ordinary words used in everyday
conversation—to express thoughts and desires and convey meaning from one to
another. In fact, in some cases, slang has become so useful that it has far
outstripped classic speech and made for itself such a position in the vernacular
that it would be very hard in some cases to get along without it. Slang words
have usurped the place of regular words of language in very many instances and
reign supreme in their own strength and influence.
Cant and slang are often confused in the popular mind, yet they are not
synonymous, though very closely allied, and proceeding from a common Gypsy
origin. Cant is the language of a certain class—the peculiar phraseology or
dialect of a certain craft, trade or profession, and is not readily understood
save by the initiated of such craft, trade or profession. It may be correct,
according to the rules of grammar, but it is not universal; it is confined to
certain parts and localities and is only intelligible to those for whom it is
intended. In short, it is an esoteric language which only the initiated can
understand. The jargon, or patter, of thieves is cant and it is only understood
by thieves who have been let into its significance; the initiated language of
professional gamblers is cant, and is only intelligible to gamblers.
On the other hand, slang, as it is nowadays, belongs to no particular class but
is scattered all over and gets entre into every kind of society and is
understood by all where it passes current in everyday expression. Of course, the
nature of the slang, to a great extent, depends upon the locality, as it chiefly
is concerned with colloquialisms or words and phrases common to a particular
section. For instance, the slang of London is slightly different from that of
New York, and some words in the one city may be unintelligible in the other,
though well understood in that in which they are current. Nevertheless, slang
may be said to be universally understood. "To kick the bucket," "to cross the
Jordan," "to hop the twig" are just as expressive of the departing from life in
the backwoods of America or the wilds of Australia as they are in London or
Slang simply consists of words and phrases which pass current but are not
refined, nor elegant enough, to be admitted into polite speech or literature
whenever they are recognized as such. But, as has been said, a great many use
slang without their knowing it as slang and incorporate it into their everyday
speech and conversation.
Some authors purposely use slang to give emphasis and spice in familiar and
humorous writing, but they should not be imitated by the tyro. A master, such as
Dickens, is forgivable, but in the novice it is unpardonable.
There are several kinds of slang attached to different professions and classes
of society. For instance, there is college slang, political slang, sporting
slang, etc. It is the nature of slang to circulate freely among all classes, yet
there are several kinds of this current form of language corresponding to the
several classes of society. The two great divisions of slang are the vulgar of
the uneducated and coarse-minded, and the high-toned slang of the so-called
upper classes—the educated and the wealthy. The hoyden of the gutter does not
use the same slang as my lady in her boudoir, but both use it, and so expressive
is it that the one might readily understand the other if brought in contact.
Therefore, there are what may be styled an ignorant slang and an educated
slang—the one common to the purlieus and the alleys, the other to the parlor and
In all cases the object of slang is to express an idea in a more vigorous,
piquant and terse manner than standard usage ordinarily admits. A school girl,
when she wants to praise a baby, exclaims: "Oh, isn't he awfully cute!" To say
that he is very nice would be too weak a way to express her admiration. When a
handsome girl appears on the street an enthusiastic masculine admirer, to
express his appreciation of her beauty, tells you: "She is a peach, a bird, a
cuckoo," any of which accentuates his estimation of the young lady and is much
more emphatic than saying: "She is a beautiful girl," "a handsome maiden," or
"lovely young woman."
When a politician defeats his rival he will tell you "it was a cinch," he had a
"walk-over," to impress you how easy it was to gain the victory.
Some slang expressions are of the nature of metaphors and are highly figurative.
Such are "to pass in your checks," "to hold up," "to pull the wool over your
eyes," "to talk through your hat," "to fire out," "to go back on," "to make
yourself solid with," "to have a jag on," "to be loaded," "to freeze on to," "to
bark up the wrong tree," "don't monkey with the buzz-saw," and "in the soup."
Most slang had a bad origin. The greater part originated in the cant of thieves'
Latin, but it broke away from this cant of malefactors in time and gradually
evolved itself from its unsavory past until it developed into a current form of
expressive speech. Some slang, however, can trace its origin back to very
"Stolen fruits are sweet" may be traced to the Bible in sentiment. Proverbs,
ix:17 has it: "Stolen waters are sweet." "What are you giving me," supposed to
be a thorough Americanism, is based upon Genesis, xxxviii:16. The common slang,
"a bad man," in referring to Western desperadoes, in almost the identical sense
now used, is found in Spenser's Faerie Queen, Massinger's play "A New Way to Pay
Old Debts," and in Shakespeare's "King Henry VIII." The expression "to blow on,"
meaning to inform, is in Shakespeare's "As You Like it." "It's all Greek to me"
is traceable to the play of "Julius Caesar." "All cry and no wool" is in
Butler's "Hudibras." "Pious frauds," meaning hypocrites, is from the same
source. "Too thin," referring to an excuse, is from Smollett's "Peregrine
Pickle." Shakespeare also used it.
America has had a large share in contributing to modern slang. "The heathen
Chinee," and "Ways that are dark, and tricks that are vain," are from Bret
Harte's Truthful James. "Not for Joe," arose during the Civil War when one
soldier refused to give a drink to another. "Not if I know myself" had its
origin in Chicago. "What's the matter with——? He's all right," had its beginning
in Chicago also and first was "What's the matter with Hannah." referring to a
lazy domestic servant. "There's millions in it," and "By a large majority" come
from Mark Twain's Gilded Age. "Pull down your vest," "jim-jams," "got 'em bad,"
"that's what's the matter," "go hire a hall," "take in your sign," "dry up,"
"hump yourself," "it's the man around the corner," "putting up a job," "put a
head on him," "no back talk," "bottom dollar," "went off on his ear," "chalk it
down," "staving him off," "making it warm," "dropping him gently," "dead gone,"
"busted," "counter jumper," "put up or shut up," "bang up," "smart Aleck," "too
much jaw," "chin-music," "top heavy," "barefooted on the top of the head," "a
little too fresh," "champion liar," "chief cook and bottle washer," "bag and
baggage," "as fine as silk," "name your poison," "died with his boots on," "old
hoss," "hunkey dorey," "hold your horses," "galoot" and many others in use at
present are all Americanisms in slang.
California especially has been most fecund in this class of figurative language.
To this State we owe "go off and die," "don't you forget it," "rough deal,"
"square deal," "flush times," "pool your issues," "go bury yourself," "go drown
yourself," "give your tongue a vacation," "a bad egg," "go climb a tree," "plug
hats," "Dolly Vardens," "well fixed," "down to bed rock," "hard pan," "pay
dirt," "petered out," "it won't wash," "slug of whiskey," "it pans out well,"
and "I should smile." "Small potatoes, and few in the hill," "soft snap," "all
fired," "gol durn it," "an up-hill job," "slick," "short cut," "guess not,"
"correct thing" are Bostonisms. The terms "innocent," "acknowledge the corn,"
"bark up the wrong tree," "great snakes," "I reckon," "playing 'possum," "dead
shot," had their origin in the Southern States. "Doggone it," "that beats the
Dutch," "you bet," "you bet your boots," sprang from New York. "Step down and
out" originated in the Beecher trial, just as "brain-storm" originated in the
Among the slang phrases that have come directly to us from England may be
mentioned "throw up the sponge," "draw it mild," "give us a rest," "dead beat,"
"on the shelf," "up the spout," "stunning," "gift of the gab," etc.
The newspapers are responsible for a large part of the slang. Reporters, staff
writers, and even editors, put words and phrases into the mouths of individuals
which they never utter. New York is supposed to be the headquarters of slang,
particularly that portion of it known as the Bowery. All transgressions and
corruptions of language are supposed to originate in that unclassic section,
while the truth is that the laws of polite English are as much violated on Fifth
Avenue. Of course, the foreign element mincing their "pidgin" English have given
the Bowery an unenviable reputation, but there are just as good speakers of the
vernacular on the Bowery as elsewhere in the greater city. Yet every
inexperienced newspaper reporter thinks that it is incumbent on him to hold the
Bowery up to ridicule and laughter, so he sits down, and out of his
circumscribed brain, mutilates the English tongue (he can rarely coin a word),
and blames the mutilation on the Bowery.
'Tis the same with newspapers and authors, too, detracting the Irish race. Men
and women who have never seen the green hills of Ireland, paint Irish characters
as boors and blunderers and make them say ludicrous things and use such language
as is never heard within the four walls of Ireland. 'Tis very well known that
Ireland is the most learned country on the face of the earth—is, and has been.
The schoolmaster has been abroad there for hundreds, almost thousands, of years,
and nowhere else in the world to-day is the king's English spoken so purely as
in the cities and towns of the little Western Isle.
Current events, happenings of everyday life, often give rise to slang words, and
these, after a time, come into such general use that they take their places in
everyday speech like ordinary words and, as has been said, their users forget
that they once were slang. For instance, the days of the Land League in Ireland
originated the word boycott, which was the name of a very unpopular landlord,
Captain Boycott. The people refused to work for him, and his crops rotted on the
ground. From this time any one who came into disfavor and whom his neighbors
refused to assist in any way was said to be boycotted. Therefore to boycott
means to punish by abandoning or depriving a person of the assistance of others.
At first it was a notoriously slang word, but now it is standard in the English
Politics add to our slang words and phrases. From this source we get "dark
horse," "the gray mare is the better horse," "barrel of money," "buncombe,"
"gerrymander," "scalawag," "henchman," "logrolling," "pulling the wires,"
"taking the stump," "machine," "slate," etc.
The money market furnishes us with "corner," "bull," "bear," "lamb," "slump,"
and several others.
The custom of the times and the requirements of current expression require the
best of us to use slang words and phrases on occasions. Often we do not know
they are slang, just as a child often uses profane words without consciousness
of their being so. We should avoid the use of slang as much as possible, even
when it serves to convey our ideas in a forceful manner. And when it has not
gained a firm foothold in current speech it should be used not at all. Remember
that most all slang is of vulgar origin and bears upon its face the bend
sinister of vulgarity. Of the slang that is of good birth, pass it by if you
can, for it is like a broken-down gentleman, of little good to any one. Imitate
the great masters as much as you will in classical literature, but when it comes
to their slang, draw the line. Dean Swift, the great Irish satirist, coined the
word "phiz" for face. Don't imitate him. If you are speaking or writing of the
beauty of a lady's face don't call it her "phiz." The Dean, as an intellectual
giant, had a license to do so—you haven't. Shakespeare used the word "flush" to
indicate plenty of money. Well, just remember there was only one Shakespeare,
and he was the only one that had a right to use that word in that sense. You'll
never be a Shakespeare, there will never be such another—Nature exhausted
herself in producing him. Bulwer used the word "stretch" for hang, as to stretch
his neck. Don't follow his example in such use of the word. Above all, avoid the
low, coarse, vulgar slang, which is made to pass for wit among the riff-raff of
the street. If you are speaking or writing of a person having died last night
don't say or write: "He hopped the twig," or "he kicked the bucket." If you are
compelled to listen to a person discoursing on a subject of which he knows
little or nothing, don't say "He is talking through his hat." If you are telling
of having shaken hands with Mr. Roosevelt don't say "He tipped me his flipper."
If you are speaking of a wealthy man don't say "He has plenty of spondulix," or
"the long green." All such slang is low, coarse and vulgar and is to be frowned
upon on any and every occasion.
If you use slang use the refined kind and use it like a gentleman, that it will
not hurt or give offense to any one. Cardinal Newman defined a gentleman as he
who never inflicts pain. Be a gentleman in your slang—never inflict pain.
WRITING FOR NEWSPAPERS
The newspaper nowadays goes into every home in the land; what was formerly
regarded as a luxury is now looked upon as a necessity. No matter how poor the
individual, he is not too poor to afford a penny to learn, not alone what is
taking place around him in his own immediate vicinity, but also what is
happening in every quarter of the globe. The laborer on the street can be as
well posted on the news of the day as the banker in his office. Through the
newspaper he can feel the pulse of the country and find whether its vitality is
increasing or diminishing; he can read the signs of the times and scan the
political horizon for what concerns his own interests. The doings of foreign
countries are spread before him and he can see at a glance the occurrences in
the remotest corners of earth. If a fire occurred in London last night he can
read about it at his breakfast table in New York this morning, and probably get
a better account than the Londoners themselves. If a duel takes place in Paris
he can read all about it even before the contestants have left the field.
There are upwards of 3,000 daily newspapers in the United States, more than
2,000 of which are published in towns containing less than 100,000 inhabitants.
In fact, many places of less than 10,000 population can boast the publishing of
a daily newspaper. There are more than 15,000 weeklies published. Some of the
so-called country papers wield quite an influence in their localities, and even
outside, and are money-making agencies for their owners and those connected with
them, both by way of circulation and advertisements.
It is surprising the number of people in this country who make a living in the
newspaper field. Apart from the regular toilers there are thousands of men and
women who make newspaper work a side issue, who add tidy sums of "pin money" to
their incomes by occasional contributions to the daily, weekly and monthly
press. Most of these people are only persons of ordinary, everyday ability,
having just enough education to express themselves intelligently in writing.
It is a mistake to imagine, as so many do, that an extended education is
necessary for newspaper work. Not at all! On the contrary, in some cases, a
high-class education is a hindrance, not a help in this direction. The general
newspaper does not want learned disquisitions nor philosophical theses; as its
name implies, it wants news, current news, interesting news, something to appeal
to its readers, to arouse them and rivet their attention. In this respect very
often a boy can write a better article than a college professor. The professor
would be apt to use words beyond the capacity of most of the readers, while the
boy, not knowing such words, would probably simply tell what he saw, how great
the damage was, who were killed or injured, etc., and use language which all
Of course, there are some brilliant scholars, deeply-read men and women in the
newspaper realm, but, on the whole, those who have made the greatest names
commenced ignorant enough and most of them graduated by way of the country
paper. Some of the leading writers of England and America at the present time
started their literary careers by contributing to the rural press. They
perfected and polished themselves as they went along until they were able to
make names for themselves in universal literature.
If you want to contribute to newspapers or enter the newspaper field as a means
of livelihood, don't let lack of a college or university education stand in your
way. As has been said elsewhere in this book, some of the greatest masters of
English literature were men who had but little advantage in the way of book
learning. Shakespeare, Bunyan, Burns, and scores of others, who have left their
names indelibly inscribed on the tablets of fame, had little to boast of in the
way of book education, but they had what is popularly known as "horse" sense and
a good working knowledge of the world; in other words, they understood human
nature, and were natural themselves. Shakespeare understood mankind because he
was himself a man; hence he has portrayed the feelings, the emotions, the
passions with a master's touch, delineating the king in his palace as true to
nature as he has done the peasant in his hut. The monitor within his own breast
gave him warning as to what was right and what was wrong, just as the daemon
ever by the side of old Socrates whispered in his ear the course to pursue under
any and all circumstances. Burns guiding the plough conceived thoughts and
clothed them in a language which has never, nor probably never will be,
surpassed by all the learning which art can confer. These men were natural, and
it was the perfection of this naturality that wreathed their brows with the
never-fading laurels of undying fame.
If you would essay to write for the newspaper you must be natural and express
yourself in your accustomed way without putting on airs or frills; you must not
ape ornaments and indulge in bombast or rhodomontade which stamp a writer as not
only superficial but silly. There is no room for such in the everyday newspaper.
It wants facts stated in plain, unvarnished, unadorned language. True, you
should read the best authors and, as far as possible, imitate their style, but
don't try to literally copy them. Be yourself on every occasion—no one else.
Not like Homer would I write,
Not like Dante if I might,
Not like Shakespeare at his best,
Not like Goethe or the rest,
Like myself, however small,
Like myself, or not at all.
Put yourself in place of the reader and write what will interest yourself and
in such a way that your language will appeal to your own ideas of the fitness of
things. You belong to the great commonplace majority, therefore don't forget
that in writing for the newspapers you are writing for that majority and not for
the learned and aesthetic minority.
Remember you are writing for the man on the street and in the street car, you
want to interest him, to compel him to read what you have to say. He does not
want a display of learning; he wants news about something which concerns
himself, and you must tell it to him in a plain, simple manner just as you would
do if you were face to face with him.
What can you write about? Why about anything that will constitute current news,
some leading event of the day, anything that will appeal to the readers of the
paper to which you wish to submit it. No matter in what locality you may live,
however backward it may be, you can always find something of genuine human
interest to others. If there is no news happening, write of something that
appeals to yourself. We are all constituted alike, and the chances are that what
will interest you will interest others. Descriptions of adventure are generally
acceptable. Tell of a fox hunt, or a badger hunt, or a bear chase.
If there is any important manufacturing plant in your neighborhood describe it
and, if possible, get photographs, for photography plays a very important part
in the news items of to-day. If a "great" man lives near you, one whose name is
on the tip of every tongue, go and get an interview with him, obtain his views
on the public questions of the day, describe his home life and his surroundings
and how he spends his time.
Try and strike something germane to the moment, something that stands out
prominently in the limelight of the passing show. If a noted personage, some
famous man or woman, is visiting the country, it is a good time to write up the
place from which he or she comes and the record he or she has made there. For
instance, it was opportune to write of Sulu and the little Pacific archipelago
during the Sultan's trip through the country. If an attempt is made to blow up
an American battleship, say, in the harbor of Appia, in Samoa, it affords a
chance to write about Samoa and Robert Louis Stephenson. When Manuel was hurled
from the throne of Portugal it was a ripe time to write of Portugal and
Portuguese affairs. If any great occurrence is taking place in a foreign country
such as the crowning of a king or the dethronement of a monarch, it is a good
time to write up the history of the country and describe the events leading up
to the main issue. When a particularly savage outbreak occurs amongst wild
tribes in the dependencies, such as a rising of the Manobos in the Philippines,
it is opportune to write of such tribes and their surroundings, and the causes
leading up to the revolt.
Be constantly on the lookout for something that will suit the passing hour, read
the daily papers and probably in some obscure corner you may find something that
will serve you as a foundation for a good article—something, at least, that will
give you a clue.
Be circumspect in your selection of a paper to which to submit your copy. Know
the tone and general import of the paper, its social leanings and political
affiliations, also its religious sentiments, and, in fact, all the particulars
you can regarding it. It would be injudicious for you to send an article on a
prize fight to a religious paper or, vice versa, an account of a church meeting
to the editor of a sporting sheet.
If you get your copy back don't be disappointed nor yet disheartened.
Perseverance counts more in the newspaper field than anywhere else, and only
perseverance wins in the long run. You must become resilient; if you are pressed
down, spring up again. No matter how many rebuffs you may receive, be not
discouraged but call fresh energy to your assistance and make another stand. If
the right stuff is in you it is sure to be discovered; your light will not
remain long hidden under a bushel in the newspaper domain. If you can deliver
the goods editors will soon be begging you instead of your begging them. Those
men are constantly on the lookout for persons who can make good.
Once you get into print the battle is won, for it will be an incentive to you to
persevere and improve yourself at every turn. Go over everything you write, cut
and slash and prune until you get it into as perfect form as possible. Eliminate
every superfluous word and be careful to strike out all ambiguous expressions
If you are writing for a weekly paper remember it differs from a daily one.
Weeklies want what will not alone interest the man on the street, but the woman
at the fireside; they want out-of-the-way facts, curious scraps of lore,
personal notes of famous or eccentric people, reminiscences of exciting
experiences, interesting gleanings in life's numberless by-ways, in short,
anything that will entertain, amuse, instruct the home circle. There is always
something occurring in your immediate surroundings, some curious event or
thrilling episode that will furnish you with data for an article. You must know
the nature of the weekly to which you submit your copy the same as you must know
the daily. For instance, the Christian Herald, while avowedly a religious
weekly, treats such secular matter as makes the paper appeal to all. On its
religious side it is non-sectarian, covering the broad field of Christianity
throughout the world; on its secular side it deals with human events in such an
impartial way that every one, no matter to what class they may belong or to what
creed they may subscribe, can take a living, personal interest.
The monthlies offer another attractive field for the literary aspirant. Here,
again, don't think you must be an university professor to write for a monthly
magazine. Many, indeed most, of the foremost magazine contributors are men and
women who have never passed through a college except by going in at the front
door and emerging from the back one. However, for the most part, they are
individuals of wide experience who know the practical side of life as
distinguished from the theoretical.
The ordinary monthly magazine treats of the leading questions and issues which
are engaging the attention of the world for the moment, great inventions, great
discoveries, whatever is engrossing the popular mind for the time being, such as
flying machines, battleships, sky-scrapers, the opening of mines, the
development of new lands, the political issues, views of party leaders,
character sketches of distinguished personages, etc. However, before trying your
skill for a monthly magazine it would be well for you to have a good
apprenticeship in writing for the daily press.
Above all things, remember that perseverance is the key that opens the door of
success. Persevere! If you are turned down don't get disheartened; on the
contrary, let the rebuff act as a stimulant to further effort. Many of the most
successful writers of our time have been turned down again and again. For days
and months, and even years, some of them have hawked their wares from one
literary door to another until they found a purchaser. You may be a great writer
in embryo, but you will never develop into a fetus, not to speak of full
maturity, unless you bring out what is in you. Give yourself a chance to grow
and seize upon everything that will enlarge the scope of your horizon. Keep your
eyes wide open and there is not a moment of the day in which you will not see
something to interest you and in which you may be able to interest others.
Learn, too, how to read Nature's book. There's a lesson in everything—in the
stones, the grass, the trees, the babbling brooks and the singing birds.
Interpret the lesson for yourself, then teach it to others. Always be in earnest
in your writing; go about it in a determined kind of way, don't be faint-hearted
or backward, be brave, be brave, and evermore be brave.
On the wide, tented field in the battle of life,
With an army of millions before you;
Like a hero of old gird your soul for the strife
And let not the foeman tramp o'er you;
Act, act like a soldier and proudly rush on
The most valiant in Bravery's van,
With keen, flashing sword cut your way to the front
And show to the world you're a Man.
If you are of the masculine gender be a man in all things in the highest and
best acceptation of the word. That is the noblest title you can boast, higher
far than that of earl or duke, emperor or king. In the same way womanhood is the
grandest crown the feminine head can wear. When the world frowns on you and
everything seems to go wrong, possess your soul in patience and hope for the
dawn of a brighter day. It will come. The sun is always shining behind the
darkest clouds. When you get your manuscripts back again and again, don't
despair, nor think the editor cruel and unkind. He, too, has troubles of his
own. Keep up your spirits until you have made the final test and put your
talents to a last analysis, then if you find you cannot get into print be sure
that newspaper writing or literary work is not your forte, and turn to something
else. If nothing better presents itself, try shoemaking or digging ditches.
Remember honest labor, no matter how humble, is ever dignified. If you are a
woman throw aside the pen, sit down and darn your brother's, your father's, or
your husband's socks, or put on a calico apron, take soap and water and scrub
the floor. No matter who you are do something useful. That old sophistry about
the world owing you a living has been exploded long ago. The world does not owe
you a living, but you owe it servitude, and if you do not pay the debt you are
not serving the purpose of an all-wise Providence and filling the place for
which you were created. It is for you to serve the world, to make it better,
brighter, higher, holier, grander, nobler, richer, for your having lived in it.
This you can do in no matter what position fortune has cast you, whether it be
that of street laborer or president. Fight the good fight and gain the victory.
"Above all, to thine own self be true,
And 'twill follow as the night the
day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
CHOICE OF WORDS
Small Words—Their Importance—The Anglo-Saxon Element
In another place in this book advice has been given to never use a long word
when a short one will serve the same purpose. This advice is to be emphasized.
Words of "learned length and thundering sound" should be avoided on all possible
occasions. They proclaim shallowness of intellect and vanity of mind. The great
purists, the masters of diction, the exemplars of style, used short, simple
words that all could understand; words about which there could be no ambiguity
as to meaning. It must be remembered that by our words we teach others;
therefore, a very great responsibility rests upon us in regard to the use of a
right language. We must take care that we think and speak in a way so clear that
there may be no misapprehension or danger of conveying wrong impressions by
vague and misty ideas enunciated in terms which are liable to be misunderstood
by those whom we address. Words give a body or form to our ideas, without which
they are apt to be so foggy that we do not see where they are weak or false. We
must make the endeavor to employ such words as will put the idea we have in our
own mind into the mind of another. This is the greatest art in the world—to
clothe our ideas in words clear and comprehensive to the intelligence of others.
It is the art which the teacher, the minister, the lawyer, the orator, the
business man, must master if they would command success in their various fields
of endeavor. It is very hard to convey an idea to, and impress it on, another
when he has but a faint conception of the language in which the idea is
expressed; but it is impossible to convey it at all when the words in which it
is clothed are unintelligible to the listener.
If we address an audience of ordinary men and women in the English language, but
use such words as they cannot comprehend, we might as well speak to them in
Coptic or Chinese, for they will derive no benefit from our address, inasmuch as
the ideas we wish to convey are expressed in words which communicate no
intelligent meaning to their minds.
Long words, learned words, words directly derived from other languages are only
understood by those who have had the advantages of an extended education. All
have not had such advantages. The great majority in this grand and glorious
country of ours have to hustle for a living from an early age. Though education
is free, and compulsory also, very many never get further than the "Three R's."
These are the men with whom we have to deal most in the arena of life, the men
with the horny palms and the iron muscles, the men who build our houses,
construct our railroads, drive our street cars and trains, till our fields,
harvest our crops—in a word, the men who form the foundation of all society, the
men on whom the world depends to make its wheels go round. The language of the
colleges and universities is not for them and they can get along very well
without it; they have no need for it at all in their respective callings. The
plain, simple words of everyday life, to which the common people have been used
around their own firesides from childhood, are the words we must use in our
dealings with them.
Such words are understood by them and understood by the learned as well; why
then not use them universally and all the time? Why make a one-sided affair of
language by using words which only one class of the people, the so-called
learned class, can understand? Would it not be better to use, on all occasions,
language which the both classes can understand? If we take the trouble to
investigate we shall find that the men who exerted the greatest sway over the
masses and the multitude as orators, lawyers, preachers and in other public
capacities, were men who used very simple language. Daniel Webster was among the
greatest orators this country has produced. He touched the hearts of senates and
assemblages, of men and women with the burning eloquence of his words. He never
used a long word when he could convey the same, or nearly the same, meaning with
a short one. When he made a speech he always told those who put it in form for
the press to strike out every long word. Study his speeches, go over all he ever
said or wrote, and you will find that his language was always made up of short,
clear, strong terms, although at times, for the sake of sound and oratorical
effect, he was compelled to use a rather long word, but it was always against
his inclination to do so, and where was the man who could paint, with words, as
Webster painted! He could picture things in a way so clear that those who heard
him felt that they had seen that of which he spoke.
Abraham Lincoln was another who stirred the souls of men, yet he was not an
orator, not a scholar; he did not write M.A. or Ph.D. after his name, or any
other college degree, for he had none. He graduated from the University of Hard
Knocks, and he never forgot this severe Alma Mater when he became President of
the United States. He was just as plain, I just as humble, as in the days when
he split rails or plied a boat on the Sangamon. He did not use big words, but he
used the words of the people, and in such a way as to make them beautiful. His
Gettysburg address is an English classic, one of the great masterpieces of the
From the mere fact that a word is short it does not follow that it is always
clear, but it is true that nearly all clear words are short, and that most of
the long words, especially those which we get from other languages, are
misunderstood to a great extent by the ordinary rank and file of the people.
Indeed, it is to be doubted if some of the "scholars" using them, fully
understand their import on occasions. A great many such words admit of several
interpretations. A word has to be in use a great deal before people get
thoroughly familiar with its meaning. Long words, not alone obscure thought and
make the ideas hazy, but at times they tend to mix up things in such a way that
positively harmful results follow from their use.
For instance, crime can be so covered with the folds of long words as to give it
a different appearance. Even the hideousness of sin can be cloaked with such
words until its outlines look like a thing of beauty. When a bank cashier makes
off with a hundred thousand dollars we politely term his crime defalcation
instead of plain theft, and instead of calling himself a thief we grandiosely
allude to him as a defaulter. When we see a wealthy man staggering along a
fashionable thoroughfare under the influence of alcohol, waving his arms in the
air and shouting boisterously, we smile and say, poor gentleman, he is somewhat
exhilarated; or at worst we say, he is slightly inebriated; but when we see a
poor man who has fallen from grace by putting an "enemy into his mouth to steal
away his brain" we express our indignation in the simple language of the words:
"Look at the wretch; he is dead drunk."
When we find a person in downright lying we cover the falsehood with the
finely-spun cloak of the word prevarication. Shakespeare says, "a rose by any
other name would smell as sweet," and by a similar sequence, a lie, no matter by
what name you may call it, is always a lie and should be condemned; then why not
simply call it a lie? Mean what you say and say what you mean; call a spade a
spade, it is the best term you can apply to the implement.
When you try to use short words and shun long ones in a little while you will
find that you can do so with ease. A farmer was showing a horse to a city-bred
gentleman. The animal was led into a paddock in which an old sow-pig was
rooting. "What a fine quadruped!" exclaimed the city man.
"Which of the two do you mean, the pig or the horse?" queried the farmer, "for,
in my opinion, both of them are fine quadrupeds."
Of course the visitor meant the horse, so it would have been much better had he
called the animal by its simple; ordinary name—, there would have been no room
for ambiguity in his remark. He profited, however, by the incident, and never
called a horse a quadruped again.
Most of the small words, the simple words, the beautiful words which express so
much within small bounds belong to the pure Anglo-Saxon element of our language.
This element has given names to the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon and stars; to
three out of the four elements, earth, fire and water; three out of the four
seasons, spring, summer and winter. Its simple words are applied to all the
natural divisions of time, except one, as day, night, morning, evening,
twilight, noon, mid-day, midnight, sunrise and sunset. The names of light, heat,
cold, frost, rain, snow, hail, sleet, thunder, lightning, as well as almost all
those objects which form the component parts of the beautiful, as expressed in
external scenery, such as sea and land, hill and dale, wood and stream, etc.,
are Anglo-Saxon. To this same language we are indebted for those words which
express the earliest and dearest connections, and the strongest and most
powerful feelings of Nature, and which, as a consequence, are interwoven with
the fondest and most hallowed associations. Of such words are father, mother,
husband, wife, brother, sister, son, daughter, child, home, kindred, friend,
hearth, roof and fireside.
The chief emotions of which we are susceptible are expressed in the same
language—love, hope, fear, sorrow, shame, and also the outward signs by which
these emotions are indicated, as tear, smile, laugh, blush, weep, sigh, groan.
Nearly all our national proverbs are Anglo-Saxon. Almost all the terms and
phrases by which we most energetically express anger, contempt and indignation
are of the same origin.
What are known as the Smart Set and so-called polite society, are relegating a
great many of our old Anglo-Saxon words into the shade, faithful friends who
served their ancestors well. These self-appointed arbiters of diction regard
some of the Anglo-Saxon words as too coarse, too plebeian for their aesthetic
tastes and refined ears, so they are eliminating them from their vocabulary and
replacing them with mongrels of foreign birth and hybrids of unknown origin. For
the ordinary people, however, the man in the street or in the field, the woman
in the kitchen or in the factory, they are still tried and true and, like old
friends, should be cherished and preferred to all strangers, no matter from what
source the latter may spring.
Beginning—Different Sources—The Present
The English language is the tongue now current in England and her colonies
throughout the world and also throughout the greater part of the United States
of America. It sprang from the German tongue spoken by the Teutons, who came
over to Britain after the conquest of that country by the Romans. These Teutons
comprised Angles, Saxons, Jutes and several other tribes from the northern part
of Germany. They spoke different dialects, but these became blended in the new
country, and the composite tongue came to be known as the Anglo-Saxon which has
been the main basis for the language as at present constituted and is still the
prevailing element. Therefore those who are trying to do away with some of the
purely Anglo-Saxon words, on the ground that they are not refined enough to
express their aesthetic ideas, are undermining main props which are necessary
for the support of some important parts in the edifice of the language.
The Anglo-Saxon element supplies the essential parts of speech, the article,
pronoun of all kinds, the preposition, the auxiliary verbs, the conjunctions,
and the little particles which bind words into sentences and form the joints,
sinews and ligaments of the language. It furnishes the most indispensable words
of the vocabulary. (See Chap. XIII.) Nowhere is the beauty of Anglo-Saxon better
illustrated than in the Lord's Prayer. Fifty-four words are pure Saxon and the
remaining ones could easily be replaced by Saxon words. The gospel of St. John
is another illustration of the almost exclusive use of Anglo-Saxon words.
Shakespeare, at his best, is Anglo-Saxon. Here is a quotation from the Merchant
of Venice, and of the fifty-five words fifty-two are Anglo-Saxon, the remaining
All that glitters is not gold—
Often have you heard that told;
Many a man his life hath sold,
But my outside to behold.
Guilded tombs do worms infold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscrolled—
Fare you well, your suit is cold.
The lines put into the mouth of Hamlet's father in fierce intenseness, second
only to Dante's inscription on the gate of hell, have one hundred and eight
Anglo-Saxon and but fifteen Latin words.
The second constituent element of present English is Latin which comprises those
words derived directly from the old Roman and those which came indirectly
through the French. The former were introduced by the Roman Christians, who came
to England at the close of the sixth century under Augustine, and relate chiefly
to ecclesiastical affairs, such as saint from sanctus, religion from religio,
chalice from calix, mass from missa, etc. Some of them had origin in Greek, as
priest from presbyter, which in turn was a direct derivative from the Greek
presbuteros, also deacon from the Greek diakonos.
The largest class of Latin words are those which came through the Norman-French,
or Romance. The Normans had adopted, with the Christian religion, the language,
laws and arts of the Romanized Gauls and Romanized Franks, and after a residence
of more than a century in France they successfully invaded England in 1066 under
William the Conqueror and a new era began. The French Latinisms can be
distinguished by the spelling. Thus Saviour comes from the Latin Salvator
through the French Sauveur; judgment from the Latin judiclum through the French
jugement; people, from the Latin populus, through the French peuple, etc.
For a long time the Saxon and Norman tongues refused to coalesce and were like
two distinct currents flowing in different directions. Norman was spoken by the
lords and barons in their feudal castles, in parliament and in the courts of
justice. Saxon by the people in their rural homes, fields and workshops. For
more than three hundred years the streams flowed apart, but finally they
blended, taking in the Celtic and Danish elements, and as a result came the
present English language with its simple system of grammatical inflection and
its rich vocabulary.
The father of English prose is generally regarded as Wycliffe, who translated
the Bible in 1380, while the paternal laurels in the secular poetical field are
twined around the brows of Chaucer.
Besides the Germanic and Romanic, which constitute the greater part of the
English language, many other tongues have furnished their quota. Of these the
Celtic is perhaps the oldest. The Britons at Caesar's invasion, were a part of
the Celtic family. The Celtic idiom is still spoken in two dialects, the Welsh
in Wales, and the Gaelic in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. The Celtic
words in English, are comparatively few; cart, dock, wire, rail, rug, cradle,
babe, grown, griddle, lad, lass, are some in most common use.
The Danish element dates from the piratical invasions of the ninth and tenth
centuries. It includes anger, awe, baffle, bang, bark, bawl, blunder, boulder,
box, club, crash, dairy, dazzle, fellow, gable, gain, ill, jam, kidnap, kill,
kidney, kneel, limber, litter, log, lull, lump, mast, mistake, nag, nasty,
niggard, horse, plough, rug, rump, sale, scald, shriek, skin, skull, sledge,
sleigh, tackle, tangle, tipple, trust, viking, window, wing, etc.
From the Hebrew we have a large number of proper names from Adam and Eve down to
John and Mary and such words as Messiah, rabbi, hallelujah, cherub, seraph,
hosanna, manna, satan, Sabbath, etc.
Many technical terms and names of branches of learning come from the Greek. In
fact, nearly all the terms of learning and art, from the alphabet to the highest
peaks of metaphysics and theology, come directly from the Greek—philosophy,
logic, anthropology, psychology, aesthetics, grammar, rhetoric, history,
philology, mathematics, arithmetic, astronomy, anatomy, geography, stenography,
physiology, architecture, and hundreds more in similar domains; the subdivisions
and ramifications of theology as exegesis, hermeneutics, apologetics, polemics,
dogmatics, ethics, homiletics, etc., are all Greek.
The Dutch have given us some modern sea terms, as sloop, schooner, yacht and
also a number of others as boom, bush, boor, brandy, duck, reef, skate, wagon.
The Dutch of Manhattan island gave us boss, the name for employer or overseer,
also cold slaa (cut cabbage and vinegar), and a number of geographical terms.
Many of our most pleasing euphonic words, especially in the realm of music, have
been given to us directly from the Italian. Of these are piano, violin,
orchestra, canto, allegro, piazza, gazette, umbrella, gondola, bandit, etc.
Spanish has furnished us with alligator, alpaca, bigot, cannibal, cargo,
filibuster, freebooter, guano, hurricane, mosquito, negro, stampede, potato,
tobacco, tomato, tariff, etc.
From Arabic we have several mathematical, astronomical, medical and chemical
terms as alcohol, alcove, alembic, algebra, alkali, almanac, assassin, azure,
cipher, elixir, harem, hegira, sofa, talisman, zenith and zero.
Bazaar, dervish, lilac, pagoda, caravan, scarlet, shawl, tartar, tiara and peach
have come to us from the Persian.
Turban, tulip, divan and firman are Turkish.
Drosky, knout, rouble, steppe, ukase are Russian.
The Indians have helped us considerably and the words they have given us are
extremely euphonic as exemplified in the names of many of our rivers and States,
as Mississippi, Missouri, Minnehaha, Susquehanna, Monongahela, Niagara, Ohio,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Nebraska, Dakota, etc. In addition to these
proper names we have from the Indians wigwam, squaw, hammock, tomahawk, canoe,
mocassin, hominy, etc.
There are many hybrid words in English, that is, words, springing from two or
more different languages. In fact, English has drawn from all sources, and it is
daily adding to its already large family, and not alone is it adding to itself,
but it is spreading all over the world and promises to take in the entire human
family beneath its folds ere long. It is the opinion of many that English, in a
short time, will become the universal language. It is now being taught as a
branch of the higher education in the best colleges and universities of Europe
and in all commercial cities in every land throughout the world. In Asia it
follows the British sway and the highways of commerce through the vast empire of
East India with its two hundred and fifty millions of heathen and Mohammedan
inhabitants. It is largely used in the seaports of Japan and China, and the
number of natives of these countries who are learning it is increasing every
day. It is firmly established in South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and in
many of the islands of the Indian and South Seas. It is the language of
Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Christian missionaries are introducing it
into all the islands of Polynesia. It may be said to be the living commercial
language of the North American continent, from Baffin's Bay to the Gulf of
Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and it is spoken largely in many
of the republics of South America. It is not limited by parallels of latitude,
or meridians of longitude. The two great English-speaking countries, England and
the United States, are disseminating it north, south, east and west over the
MASTERS AND MASTERPIECES OF LITERATURE
Great Authors—Classification—The World's Best Books.
The Bible is the world's greatest book. Apart from its character as a work of
divine revelation, it is the most perfect literature extant.
Leaving out the Bible the three greatest works are those of Homer, Dante and
Shakespeare. These are closely followed by the works of Virgil and Milton.
Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Goethe.
(The best translation of Homer for the ordinary reader is by Chapman. Norton's
translation of Dante and Taylor's translation of Goethe's Faust are
A GOOD LIBRARY
Besides the works mentioned everyone should endeavor to have the following:
Plutarch's Lives, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Chaucer, Imitation of Christ
(Thomas a Kempis), Holy Living and Holy Dying (Jeremy Taylor), Pilgrim's
Progress, Macaulay's Essays, Bacon's Essays, Addison's Essays, Essays of Elia
(Charles Lamb), Les Miserables (Hugo), Heroes and Hero Worship (Carlyle),
Palgrave's Golden Treasury, Wordsworth, Vicar of Wakefield, Adam Bede (George
Eliot), Vanity Fair (Thackeray), Ivanhoe (Scott), On the Heights (Auerbach),
Eugenie Grandet (Balzac), Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne), Emerson's Essays,
Boswell's Life of Johnson, History of the English People (Green), Outlines of
Universal History, Origin of Species, Montaigne's Essays, Longfellow, Tennyson,
Browning, Whittier, Ruskin, Herbert Spencer.
A good encyclopoedia is very desirable and a reliable dictionary indispensable.
MASTERPIECES OF AMERICAN LITERATURE
Scarlet Letter, Parkman's Histories, Motley's Dutch Republic, Grant's Memoirs,
Franklin's Autobiography, Webster's Speeches, Lowell's Bigelow Papers, also his
Critical Essays, Thoreau's Walden, Leaves of Grass (Whitman), Leather-stocking
Tales (Cooper), Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Ben Hur and Uncle Tom's Cabin.
TEN GREATEST AMERICAN POETS
Bryant, Poe, Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell, Emerson, Whitman, Lanier, Aldrich and
TEN GREATEST ENGLISH POETS
Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley,
TEN GREATEST ENGLISH ESSAYISTS
Bacon, Addison, Steele, Macaulay, Lamb, Jeffrey, De Quincey, Carlyle, Thackeray
and Matthew Arnold.
BEST PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE
In order of merit are: Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra,
Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, As You Like It, Winter's Tale, Romeo and
Juliet, Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Tempest.
ONLY THE GOOD
If you are not able to procure a library of the great masterpieces, get at least
a few. Read them carefully, intelligently and with a view to enlarging your own
literary horizon. Remember a good book cannot be read too often, one of a
deteriorating influence should not be read at all. In literature, as in all
things else, the good alone should prevail.
Poster's Note: the words "encyclopoedia", "insiduously", and "Synechdoche"
are thus in the original printing as are the spaces between "B. A." etc.
"Insiduously" and "Synechdoche" are valid variant spellings.
End of How to Speak and Write Correctly, by Joseph Devlin
*** END OF HOW TO SPEAK AND WRITE ***
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