One hundred years ago, William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University in America, wrote a small book titled Elements of Style.
After a revision by one of his students, named E. B. White, the book was published and, to this day, remains the premier authority on English linguistics.
English teachers in America as well as the UK, and Esl teachers around the world recommend that their students include this volume in their English language study materials, alongside their dictionary and thesaurus.
This article pays tribute to those learned instructors so influential to English writing and speaking.
Few aspects of the English language style and form have changed over the years. They are reflected in the minimal revisions made to the book since its first edition.
Today, we will look at what is different in English vocabulary and grammar since Mr. Strunk prowled the halls of Cornell, as well as reflect on what globalization and modernization mean to the English language.
Advantages of Good Grammar
Teachers and parents have suggested that learning technical grammar terminology might even be unnecessary, and that it can have a negative impact on creative storytelling skills.
However, whether or not knowing your modal verbs from your relative clauses is an essential part of primary education, a good command of English grammar is in fact an invaluable life-skill.
In the workplace, people are communicating through writing more than ever, often choosing to fire off an email rather than reach for the phone.
Whether in the form of internal newsletters, business reports, emails or company blogs, using correct spellings and good English grammar affects strongly the impression made by you and your company.
Grammatical errors can detract from the strength of an argument, call into question your professionalism and even make the difference when being considered for a pay-rise or promotion.
Using standard English grammar becomes particularly important when applying for jobs.
If recruiters are inundated with applications, they often immediately discard those that fail to impress at first glance. Even if the job you are applying for doesn’t require strong writing skills, attention to spelling and grammar on your CV and cover letter will simply make you appear more employable.
Make sure you avoid the most common grammar mistakes by following advice from recruitment sites such as Reed.
With the dramatic rise of social media, online dating and discussion forums on the internet, improper use of the English language could also have a impact on your social life.
Poor use of grammar might even make you appear less intelligent or trustworthy, even if this judgement is made subconsciously, which in turn might lead to fewer replies on dating and social media sites.
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Within the very first chapter of Elements of Style, section 6 states: Do not break sentences in two.
That is strange advice for this day and age, where run-on sentences are growing ever more popular and entire paragraphs are written without so much as a comma – let alone a period to mark their end.
A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses with no punctuation.
I like my English classes Mrs Jones is a great English teacher.
This is an example of a run-on sentence. Clearly, the two grammatical clauses should be separated, at least by a semi-colon, if not by a period, making two complete sentences.
You can try writing it with proper punctuation.
The subheader of Section Six is: do not use a period in the place of a comma.
That is in fact an aspect of grammar that many English learners find difficult to master.
In some languages, punctuation is not used at all.
Several of the world's languages, such as Greek and Urdu have only recently incorporated such marks into their written language. Others, like Thai and Lao, still do not use them.
Punctuation is a relatively new addition in Mandarin Chinese, as well.
The English learner in Asia has difficulty, not just with periods and commas, but in leaving a space between the punctuation mark and the next word. For example:
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Punctuation is defined as: the marks and spaces used in writing to separate words and sentences.
To develop your writing skills and increase your ability to write effectively in English, you should learn and apply fundamentals of punctuation.
How to Use Adjectives
Esl students in some countries are encouraged to describe each noun with as many adjectives as possible. That directive results in overwrought, flowery prose.
One reason could be because refined speaking and quality writing in their native language demands multiple descriptors.
American novelist Stephen King advocates clean writing, specifically: using adverbs only sparingly.
His point is proven in today's overuse – and misuse of the adverb literally.
Native English speakers have have incorporated this word into their slang vocabulary.
Proponents of excessive description pepper their speech (and writing) with it, as though the listener/reader should be in awe of whatever condition is being endured in such a literal manner.
I am literally so hungry I could eat a horse!
While the idiom 'so hungry I could eat a horse' is time-honored, it is hard to believe that anyone could consume an entire equine in one sitting.
If ever an instance of adverb use could underscore the directive of America's pre-eminent author, the word literally fits the bill.
In short: using descriptives to excess, be they adverbs or adjectives, makes your writing timid and weak-sounding.
The Difference Between Active and Passive Writing and Speaking
Active voice reflects the standard subject-verb-object sentence structure every English learner knows.
Mr. Smith graded our IELTS practice quizzes.
The subject performed an action directly onto the object.
That sentence, now written passive-style:
Our IELTS practice quizzes were graded by Mr. Smith.
As you study English, you may find that reversing the subject and object of a sentence gives your text an unusual style.
You may even be tempted to adopt it when speaking English.
While we admire your desire to distinguish yourself in speaking and writing in English, let us explain why using this sentence construction is not a good idea for everyday English conversation.
- Doing so emphasises the object rather than the subject
- Are your practice quizzes more important than your teacher?
- Academic writing demands precision.
- Such sentences can appear vague and be confusing.
- It makes your writing appear tentative and your tone weak, uncertain.
- We will discuss writing with authority in our next segment.
Is There an Effective Use for Such a Sentence Structure?
- When you don't know who performed the action:
- The quizzes were graded.
- When it doesn't matter who will perform the action:
- A spelling bee will be held after class.
- When you are discussing a general truth:
- Rules are made to be broken.
- When you want to emphasise the object:
- Elements of Style was written by William Strunk, Jr.
The last word on this topic: use this grammar construction sparingly, and only when necessary.
Speak and Write With Your Audience in Mind
This is an adage that many who teach English wish to impress upon their students, both native and non native speakers of English.
Naturally, you cannot know who will read your Esol essay: what his or her linguistic preferences and style might be.
From that perspective, the idea that your audience should occupy your mind while you are studying English does not help you learn language skills.
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The reasoning behind Mr. Strunk's seemingly misguided advice is for you to focus your learning to the platform you wish to attain.
If you intend to seek a position in a multi-national firm, hone your language skills toward business English.
Should you aim to sit for TOEFL with the intention of enrolling at a school in the U.S., speak English with an American accent.
Use the American spelling of words, too.
Check out our blog on words with multiple meanings in English.
If you hope to return to your homeland and teach Oxford English, absorbing every language nuance you can while still in the UK will further your language learning.
No matter which direction your English language skills take you, English learning in any form is sure to help.
What About Speaking English?
English is the language spoken by more than one and a half billion people around the world.
Most likely, not one of them have any tried and true method for learning English, or for speaking the language.
Still, there are a few suggestions you can follow to improve your English.
To speak English fluently, use it every day - no matter if you are a beginner or at high-intermediate level.
Build your English skills by participating in English classes.
Some cultures stigmatise failure so heavily, non native English speakers are afraid to say anything in their second language. Don't let that stop you from getting the most out of your english courses in london or beyond!
You can only build proficiency by exercising your grammatical skills.
All of the above is general advice to improve your spoken English. The following will set you apart:
Let your spoken English mirror your writing skills.
As a guide for developing English speaking skills, you only need to focus your speech on your intended audience.
Many who learn English online or at home as a second language drill in tricky grammar phrases and extraordinary vocabulary, reserving their class time for language fundamentals.
The fact is, the more you incorporate essential vocabulary into your unique phraseology, the better you will absorb more sophisticated verbiage and grammar constructs into your everyday English.
In the end, as long as you don't stress over learning, as long as you sound like yourself – not imitate others' speech patterns, the more fluent you will become in English.
Finally: we give you licence to...
Break Archaic Grammar Rules
Despite possibly introducing you to a book that is considered essential reading for proper English usage, the book titled Elements of Style, there are a few grammar rules that are no longer relevant in today's English language.
Your English courses have probably stressed that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. Nor should you start one with a conjunction.
But we would like to tell you it is OK to do so. In fact, it is one breakable grammar rule we are sure about.
You can find other updates to grammar rules in this revealing article.
In using them, you too will be at the forefront of the English language evolution.