The Century Handbook of Writing
by Garland Greever
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[Transcriber's Notes:

1. Italic text is rendered with underscores like this, and bold with equal signs like this.

2. Misprints and punctuation errors were corrected. A list of corrections can be found at the end of the text.]




Copyright, 1918, by THE CENTURY CO.



This handbook treats essential matters of grammar, diction, spelling, mechanics; and develops with thoroughness the principles of sentence structure. Larger units of composition it leaves to the texts in formal rhetoric.

The book is built on a decimal plan, the material being simplified and reduced to one hundred articles. Headings of these articles are summarized on two opposite pages by a chart. Here the student can see at a glance the resources of the volume, and the instructor can find immediately the number he wishes to write in the margin of a theme. The chart and the decimal scheme together make the rules accessible for instant reference.

By a device equally efficient, the book throws upon the student the responsibility of teaching himself. Each article begins with a concise rule, which is illustrated by examples; then follows a short "parallel exercise" which the instructor may assign by adding an x to the number he writes in the margin of a theme. While correcting this exercise, the student will give attention to the rule, and will acquire theory and practice at the same time. Moreover, every group of ten articles is followed by mixed exercises; these may be used for review, or imposed in the margin of a theme as a penalty for flagrant or repeated error. Thus friendly counsel is backed by discipline, and the instructor has the means of compelling the student to make rapid progress toward good English.

Although a handbook of this nature is in some ways arbitrary, the arbitrariness is always in the interest of simplicity. The book does have simplicity, permits instant reference, and provides an adequate drill which may be assigned at the stroke of a pen.




1. Fragments wrongly used as sentences 2. Incomplete constructions 3. Necessary words omitted 4. Comparisons not logically completed 5. Cause and reason 6. Is when and is where clauses 7. Undeveloped thought 8. Transitions 9. EXERCISE A. Incomplete sentences B. Incomplete constructions C. Incomplete logic D. Undeveloped thought and transitions


10. Unrelated ideas in one sentence 11. Excessive detail 12. Stringy sentences to be broken up 13. Choppy sentences to be combined 14. Excessive coordination 15. Faulty subordination of the main thought 16. Subordination thwarted by and 17. The and which construction 18. The comma splice 19. EXERCISE A. The comma splice B. One thought in a sentence C. Excessive coordination D. Upside-down subordination


REFERENCE 20. Divided reference 21. Weak reference 22. Broad reference 23. Dangling participle or gerund

COHERENCE 24. General incoherence 25. Logical sequence 26. Squinting modifier 27. Misplaced word 28. Split construction 29. EXERCISE A. Reference of pronouns B. Dangling modifiers C. Coherence

PARALLEL STRUCTURE 30. Parallel structure for parallel thoughts 31. Correlatives

CONSISTENCY 32. Shift in subject or voice 33. Shift in number, person, or tense 34. Mixed constructions 35. Mixed imagery

USE OF CONNECTIVES 36. The exact connective 37. Repetition of connective with gain in clearness 38. Repetition of connective with loss in clearness 39. EXERCISE A. Parallel structure B. Shift in subject or voice C. Shift in number, person, or tense D. The exact connective E. Repetition of connectives


40. Emphasis by position 41. Emphasis by separation 42. Emphasis by subordination 43. The periodic sentence 44. Order of climax 45. The balanced sentence 46. Weak effect of the passive voice 47. Repetition effective: a Words; b Structure 48. Repetition offensive: a Words; b Structure 49. EXERCISE A. Lack of emphasis in general B. Loose structure C. Repetition


50. Case: a Nominative, especially after than or as; b Nominative who and whoever; c Predicate nominative; d Objective; e Objective with infinitive; f Possessive; g Possessive with gerund; h Possession by inanimate objects; i Agreement of pronouns 51. Number: a Each, every one, etc.; b Those kind, etc.; c Collective nouns; d Don't 52. Agreement—not to be thwarted by: a Intervening nouns; b Together with phrases; c Or or nor after subject; d And in the subject; e A predicate noun; f An introductory there 53. Shall and will 54. Principal parts. List 55. Tense, mode, auxiliaries: a Tense in dependent clauses or infinitives; b The past perfect; c Present tense for a general statement; d Mode; e Auxiliaries 56. Adjective and adverb: a Adjective misused for adverb; b Ambiguous cases; c After verbs pertaining to the senses 57. A word in a double capacity 58. List of the terms of grammar 59. EXERCISE A. Case of pronouns B. Agreement C. Shall and will D. Lie, lay; sit, set; rise, raise E. Principal parts of verbs F. General


60. Wordiness 61. Triteness 62. The exact word 63. Concreteness 64. Sound 65. Subtle violations of good use: a Faulty idiom; b Colloquialism 66. Gross violations of good use: a Barbarisms; b Improprieties; c Slang 67. Words often confused in meaning. List 68. Glossary of faulty diction 69. EXERCISE A. Wordiness B. The exact word C. Words sometimes confused in meaning D. Colloquialisms, slang, faulty idioms


70. Recording errors 71. Pronouncing accurately 72. Logical kinship in words 73. Superficial resemblances. List 74. Words in ei and ie 75. Doubling a final consonant 76. Dropping final e 77. Plurals: a Plurals in s or es; b Nouns ending in y; c Compound nouns; d Letters, figures, and signs; e Old plurals; f Foreign plurals 78. Compounds: a Compound adjectives; b Compound nouns; c Numbers; d Words written solid; e General principle 79. SPELLING LIST (500 words, 200 in bold-face type)


80. Manuscript: a Titles; b Spacing; c Handwriting 81. Capitals: a To begin a sentence or a quotation; b Proper names; c Proper adjectives; d In titles of books or themes; e Miscellaneous uses 82. Italics: a Titles of books; b Foreign words; c Names of ships; d Words taken out of context; e For emphasis 83. Abbreviations: a In ordinary writing; b In business writing 84. Numbers: a Dates and street numbers; b Long figures; Sums of money, etc. 85. Syllabication: a Position of hyphen; b Division between syllables; c Monosyllabic words not divided; d One consonant between syllables; e Two consonants between syllables; f Prefixes and suffixes; g Short words; h Misleading division 86. Outlines: a Topic Outline; b Sentence Outline; c Paragraph Outline; d Indention; e Parallel form; f Faulty coordination; g Too detailed subordination 87. Letters: a Heading; b Inside address and greeting; c Body, Language; d Close; e Outside address; f Miscellaneous directions; g Model business letter; h Formal notes 88. Paragraphs: a Indention; b Length; c Dialogue 89. EXERCISE Capitals, numbers, abbreviations, etc.


90. The Period: a After sentences; b But not after fragments of sentences; c After abbreviations 91. The Comma: a Between clauses joined by but, for, and; b But NOT to splice clauses not joined by a conjunction; c After a subordinate clause preceding a main clause; d To set off non-restrictive clauses and phrases; e To set off parenthetical elements; f Between adjectives; g Between words in a series; h Before a quotation; i To compel a pause for clearness; j Superfluous uses 92. The Semicolon: a Between coordinate clauses not joined by a conjunction; b Between long coordinate clauses; c Before a formal conjunctive adverb; d But not before a quotation 93. The Colon: a To introduce a formal series or quotation; b Before concrete illustrations of a previous general statement 94. The Dash: a To enclose a parenthetical statement; b To mark a breaking-off in thought; c Before a summarizing statement; d But not to be used in place of a period; e Not to be confused with the hyphen 95. Parenthesis Marks: a Uses; b With other marks; c Confirmatory symbols; d Not used to cancel words; e Brackets 96. Quotation Marks: a With quotations; b With paragraphs; c In dialogue; d With slang, etc.; e With words set apart; f Quotation within a quotation; g Together with other marks; h Quotation interrupted by he said; i Omission from a quotation; j Unnecessary in the title of a theme, or as a label for humor or irony 97. The Apostrophe: a In contractions; b To form the possessive; c To form the possessive of nouns ending in s; d Not used with personal possessive pronouns; e To form the plural of certain signs and letters 98. The Question Mark: a After a direct question; b Not followed by a comma within a sentence; c In parentheses to express uncertainty; d Not used to label irony; e The Exclamation Point 99. EXERCISE 100. GENERAL EXERCISE


When a number is written in the margin of your theme, you are to turn to the article which corresponds to the number. Read the rule (printed in bold-face type), and study the examples. When an r follows the number on your theme, you are, in addition, to copy the rule. When an x follows the number, you are, besides acquainting yourself with the rule, to write the exercise of five sentences, to correct your own faulty sentence, and to hand in the six on theme paper. If the number ends in 9 (9, 19, 29, etc.), you will find, not a rule, but a long exercise which you are to write and hand in on theme paper. In the absence of special instructions from your teacher, you are invariably to proceed as this paragraph requires.

Try to grasp the principle which underlies the rule. In many places in this book the reason for the existence of the rule is clearly stated. Thus under 20, the reason for the rule on parallel structure is explained in a prologue. In other instances, as in the rule on divided reference (20), the reason becomes clear the moment you read the examples. In certain other instances the rule may appear arbitrary and without a basis in reason. But there is a basis in reason, as you will observe in the following illustration.

Suppose you write, "He is twenty one years old." The instructor asks you to put a hyphen in twenty-one, and refers you to 78. You cannot see why a hyphen is necessary, since the meaning is clear without it. But tomorrow you may write. "I will send you twenty five dollar bills." The reader cannot tell whether you mean twenty five-dollar bills or twenty-five dollar bills. In the first sentence the use of the hyphen in twenty-one did not make much difference. In the second sentence the hyphen makes seventy-five dollars' worth of difference. Thus the instructor, in asking you to write, "He is twenty-one years old," is helping you to form a habit that will save you from serious error in other sentences. Whenever you cannot understand the reason for a rule, ask yourself whether the usage of many clear-thinking men for long years past may not be protecting you from difficulties which you do not foresee. Instructors and writers of text books (impressive as is the evidence to the contrary) are human, and do not invent rules to puzzle you. They do not, in fact, invent rules at all, but only make convenient applications of principles which generations of writers have found to be wisest and best.



The first thing to make certain is that the thought of a sentence is complete. A fragment which has no meaning when read alone, or a sentence from which is omitted a necessary word, phrase, or idea, violates an elementary principle of writing.

Fragments Wrongly Used as Sentences

1. Do not write a subordinate part of a sentence as if it were a complete sentence.

Wrong: He stopped short. Hearing some one approach.

Right: He stopped short, hearing some one approach. [Or] Hearing some one approach, he stopped short.

Wrong: The winters are cold. Although the summers are pleasant.

Right: Although the summers are pleasant, the winters are cold.

Wrong: The hunter tried to move the stone. Which he found very heavy.

Right: The hunter tried to move the stone, which he found very heavy. [Or] The hunter tried to move the stone. He found it very heavy.

Note.—A sentence must in itself express a complete thought. Phrases or subordinate clauses, if used alone, carry only an incomplete meaning. They must therefore be attached to a sentence, or restated in independent form. Elliptical expressions used in conversation may be regarded as exceptions: Where? At what time? Ten o'clock. By no means. Certainly. Go.


1. My next experience was in a grain elevator. Where I worked for two summers.

2. The parts of a fountain pen are: first, the point. This is gold. Second, the body.

3. The form is set rigidly. So that it will not be displaced when the concrete is thrown in.

4. There are several reasons to account for the swarming of bees. One of these having already been mentioned.

5. Since June the company has increased its trade three per cent. Since August, five per cent.

Incomplete Constructions

2. Do not leave uncompleted a construction which you have begun.

Wrong: You remember that in his speech in which he said he would oppose the bill.

Right: You remember that in his speech he said he would oppose the bill. [Or] You remember the speech in which he said he would oppose the bill.

Wrong: He was a young man who, coming from the country, with ignorance of city ways, but with plenty of determination to succeed.

Right: He was a young man who, coming from the country, was ignorant of city ways, but had plenty of determination to succeed.

Wrong: From the window of the train I perceived one of those unsightly structures.

Right: From the window of the train I perceived one of those unsightly structures which are always to be seen near a station.


1. As far as his having been deceived, there is a difference of opinion on that matter.

2. The fact that he was always in trouble, his parents wondered whether he should remain in school or not.

3. People who go back to the scenes of their childhood everything looks strangely small.

4. It was the custom that whenever a political party came into office, for the incoming men to discharge all employees of the opposite party.

5. Although the average man, if asked whether he could shoot a rabbit, would answer in the affirmative, even though he had never hunted rabbits, would find himself badly mistaken.

Necessary Words Omitted

3. Do not omit a word or a phrase which is necessary to an immediate understanding of a sentence.

Ambiguous: I consulted the secretary and president. [Did the speaker consult one man or two?]

Right: I consulted the secretary and the president. [Or] I consulted the man who was president and secretary.

Ambiguous: Water passes through the cement as well as the bricks.

Right: Water passes through the cement as well as through the bricks.

Wrong: I have had experience in every phase of the automobile.

Right: I have had experience in every phase of automobile driving and repairing.

Wrong: About him were men whom he could not tell whether they were friends or foes.

Right: About him were men regarding whom he could not tell whether they were friends or foes. [Or, better] About him were men who might have been either friends or foes.


1. When still a small boy, my family moved to Centerville.

2. Constantly in conversation with some one broadens our ideas and our vocabulary.

3. It was a trick which opposing teams were sure to be baffled.

4. They departed for the battle front with the knowledge they might never return.

5. At the banquet were all classes of people; I met a banker and plumber.


4. Comparisons must be completed logically.

Wrong: His speed was equal to a racehorse.

Wrong: Of course my opinion is worth less than a lawyer.

Wrong: The shells which are used in quail hunting are different than in rabbit hunting.

Compare a thing with another thing, an abstraction with another abstraction. Do not carelessly compare a thing with a part or quality of another thing. Always ask yourself: What is compared with what?

Right: His speed was equal to that of a racehorse.

Right: Of course my opinion is worth less than a lawyer's.

Right: The shells used in quail hunting are different from those used in rabbit hunting.

Self-contradictory: Chicago is larger than any city in Illinois.

Right: Chicago is larger than any other city in Illinois.

Impossible: Chicago is the largest of any other city in Illinois.

Right: Chicago is the largest of all the cities in Illinois. [Or] Chicago is the largest city in Illinois.

Note.—After a comparative, the subject of the comparison should be excluded from the class with which it is compared; after a superlative, the subject of the comparison should be included within the class.

Wrong: {taller of all the girls. {tallest of any girl.

Right: {taller than any other girl [comparative]. {tallest of all the girls [superlative].


1. The climate of America helps her athletes to become superior to other countries.

2. This tobacco is the best of any other on the market.

3. You men are paid three dollars more than any other factory in the city.

4. I thought I was best fitted for an engineering course than any other.

5. Care should be taken not to turn in more cattle than the grass in the pasture.

Cause and Reason

5. A simple statement of fact may be completed by a because clause.

Right: I am late because I was sick.

But a statement containing the reason is must be completed by a that clause.

Wrong: The reason I am late is because I was sick. [The "reason" is not a "because"; the "reason" is the fact of sickness.]

Right: The reason I am late is that I was sick.

Because, the conjunction, may introduce an adverbial clause only.

Wrong: Because a man wears old clothes is no proof that he is poor. [A because clause cannot be the subject of is.]

Right: The fact that a man wears old clothes is no proof that he is poor. [Or] The wearing of old clothes is not proof that a man is poor.

Note.—Because of, owing to, on account of, introduce adverbial phrases only. Due to and caused by introduce adjectival phrases only.

Wrong: He failed, due to weak eyes. [Due is an adjective; it cannot modify a verb.]

Right: His failure was {due to } weak eyes {caused by}

{because of } Right: He failed {owing to } weak eyes. {on account of}


1. The reason why I would not buy a Ford car is because it is too light.

2. My second reason for coming here is because of social advantages.

3. Because John is rich does not make him happier than I.

4. Because I like farming is the reason I chose it.

5. The only reason why vegetation does not grow here is because of the lack of water.

is when or is where Clauses

6. Do not use a when or where clause as a predicate noun. Do not define a word by saying it is a "when" or a "where". Define a noun by another noun, a verb by another verb, etc.

Wrong: The great event is when the train arrives.

Right: The great event is the arrival of the train.

Wrong: Immigration is where foreigners come into a country.

Right: Immigration is the entering of foreigners into a country.

Wrong: A simile is when one object is compared with another.

Right: A simile is a figure of speech in which one object is compared with another.

Note.—A definition of a term is a statement which (1) names the class to which the term belongs, and (2) distinguishes it from other members of the class. Example. A quadrilateral is a plane figure having four sides and four angles. To test a definition ask whether it separates the term defined from all other things. If the definition does not do this, it is incomplete. Define California (so as to exclude other states), window (so as to exclude door), star (exclude moon), night, rain, circle, Bible, metal, mile, rectangle.


1. The pistol shot is when the race begins.

2. A snob is when a man treats others as inferior socially.

3. The wireless telegraph is where messages are sent a long distance through the air.

4. The definition of usury is where one charges interest higher than the legal rate.

5. Biology is when one studies plant and animal life.

Undeveloped Thought

7. Do not halfway express an idea. If the idea is important, develop it. If it is not important, omit it.

Incomplete: We were now quite sure that we had lost our way, and Jack said he had a business engagement that night.

Better: We were now quite sure that we had lost our way, a fact which was all the more annoying as Jack said he had a business engagement that night.

Puzzling: Since McAndrew had inherited money, his suitcase was plastered with labels.

Right: Since McAndrew had inherited money, he had traveled extensively. His suitcase was plastered with the labels of foreign hotels.

Careless: In looking for gasoline troubles, we forgot to see whether the tank was supplied.

Right: In looking for the cause of the trouble, we forgot to see whether the tank was supplied with gasoline.

Note.—In giving information about books, do not confuse the title with the contents or some part of the contents. Be accurate in referring to the time, scene, action, plot, or characters.

Loose thinking: Shakespeare's Hamlet occurs in Denmark [The scene is laid?]. Many passages are powerful, especially the grave-digging [Is grave-digging a passage?]. The character of Horatio is a noble fellow [conception], and the same is true of Ophelia [Ophelia a fellow?]. The drama takes place over several weeks. [The action covers a period of several weeks.]


1. The victrola brings to the home the world's musical ability.

2. The user of Dietzgen instruments is not vexed by numerous troubles that accompany the inferior makes.

3. To the picnicker rainy weather is bad weather, while the farmer raises a big crop.

4. Some diseases can be checked by preventives, and in many cases can be of great use to an army.

5. This idea of breaking all records held for eating is naturally harmful to the digestion, and these important organs may thank their stars that Christmas does not come very often.


The state of mind of a writer is not the state of mind of his reader. The writer knows his ideas, and has spent much time with them. The reader meets these ideas for the first time, and must gather them in at a glance. The relation between two ideas may be clear to the writer, and not at all clear to the reader. Therefore,

8. In passing from one thought to another, make the connection clear. If necessary, insert a word, a phrase, or even a sentence, to carry the reader safely across.

Space transition needed: We were surprised to see a house in the distance, but we went to the door and knocked. [This sentence does not give a reader the effect of distance.]

Better: We were surprised to see a house in the distance. But we hastened toward it with thoughts of a warm meal and a good lodging. We entered the yard, and went up to the door, and knocked.

Exterior-interior transition needed: We noticed that the house was built of cobblestones. There was a broad window from which we could look out upon the small stream that dashed down the rocky hillside.

Better: We noticed that the house was built of cobblestones. We went inside, and found that the living room was large and airy. There was a broad window from which we could look out upon the small stream that dashed down the rocky hillside.

Cause transition lacking: The Romans were great road-builders. They wished to maintain their empire.

Better: The Romans were great road-builders, because means of moving troops quickly were necessary to the maintenance of their empire.

General-to-particular transition needed: Modern machinery often makes men its slaves. Last summer I worked for the Chandler Company. [This gap in thought occurs oftenest between the first two sentences of a paragraph or theme.]

Better: Modern machinery often makes men its slaves. This truth is well illustrated by my own experience. Last summer I worked for the Chandler Company.

Transition to be improved by changing order: A careless trainer may spoil a good colt. A good horse can never be made of a vicious colt. [Here the order of ideas is: "Trainer ... colt. Horse ... colt." Turn the last sentence end for end.]

Better: A careless trainer may spoil a good colt. And a vicious colt can never be made a good horse. [Now the order of ideas is "Trainer ... colt. Colt ... horse."]

Transition to be improved by removal of a disturbing element: Our class in physics last week visited a pumping station in which the Corliss type of steam engine is used. The engines are manufactured by the Allis-Chalmers Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This type of engine is used because it has several advantages. [The italicized sentence should be omitted here, and used later in the theme.]

Note.—The divisions of thought within a paragraph may likewise be indicated by connectives: however, on the other hand, equally important, another interesting problem is, for this reason, the remedy for this, so much for, it remains to mention, of course I admit, finally. (For a longer list see 36.) Such phrases are also useful in linking one paragraph to another.

When a student first learns the art, he is likely to use transition phrases in excess, and produce something like the following: "When I have to write a theme, I first think of my subject. As soon as I have my subject, I take out my paper. On the paper I then make a rough outline." This abuse of transition causes an overlapping of thought, like shingles laid three inches to the weather. An abrupt transition is better than wordiness.


1. The shore looked far off. Then we reached it.

2. A light snow was falling last night. This is a good day for hunting rabbits.

3. A dollar is often a large sum. I sold newspapers when I was a boy.

4. Many English words still preserve their old meanings. There is the teller in the bank.

5. We had to walk half a mile across the pastures in the fresh morning air. Exercise indoors does not arouse much zest or enthusiasm.


A. Fragments Misused as Sentences

Rewrite the following statements in sentences each of which expresses a complete thought.

1. He gave me a flower. Which was wilted.

2. The gasoline flows through the supply tube to the carburetor. Where it should vaporize and enter the cylinders.

3. People of all ages were there. Old men, young women, and even children.

4. He told us that you had a good standing among business men. That you always met your bills promptly.

5. Excuse Everett Smith from school this morning. He having the measles.

6. The internal combustion engine may be either one of two types. The two cycle or the four cycle.

7. The young men and women acted like children. Who should have known better.

8. There was a cross cow in the pasture. Which had long horns.

9. Bacteria are microscopic organisms. Especially found where milk or some other substance decomposes.

10. We pass on down the street. The buildings rising two or three stories high on either side.

11. The Y. M. C. A. enables you to keep your religious interests alive. As well as to associate with clean young men.

12. She wasted her time on foolish clothes. While her mother took in washing.

13. He was dressed in a ridiculous fashion. Wearing, for instance, an orange necktie.

14. The point is similar to that of the ordinary steel pen, except that it is made of gold. Gold being used on account of its greater smoothness and durability.

15. Tire troubles have been made less formidable by the invention of a compact, efficient little vulcanizer. A factory for making which is now being built.

B. Incomplete Constructions

Improve the following statements. Supply missing words. Make sure that each construction and each sentence is complete.

1. When one year old, my mother died.

2. Yours received, and in reply would say your order has been filled.

3. While in there a man came in and bought a quarter's worth of soap.

4. War is largely dependent upon the engineers to design new machinery.

5. When you talk to a man look at him, not the floor or ceiling.

6. In writing a book, an author's first one is usually not very good.

7. Every summer while in high school, our family has gone to our cottage on Lake Michigan.

8. When a boy, Mary was my best friend.

9. There is, however, another reason a person should know how to swim.

10. I think more of her than anyone else.

11. Corrupt laws are often the means rich people obtain the earnings of others.

12. A hundred dollars invested in a warning signal, future accidents would be prevented.

13. Electric transmission is sometimes used on automobiles more of an experiment than anything else.

14. Was delighted to hear from you. Glad to hear you entered the wholesale business. Wish you success.

15. As a rule people eat too much. This point should be noticed, and not overwork the digestive organs.

C. Incomplete Logic

The following sentences are inadequate statements of cause, comparison, etc. Complete the thought.

1. His neck is as long as a giraffe.

2. His name was David Meek, from New Hampshire.

3. The Pacific Ocean is larger than any ocean.

4. Because he never worked led to his failure.

5. A monitor is where a heavily armored boat of light draft can go near the shore.

6. Democracy is when people, through representatives, govern themselves.

7. The story of Huckleberry Finn is in reality Mark Twain himself.

8. Because a man has money is no reason why he should be lazy.

9. The character of Sydney Carton is the real hero of this novel.

10. A forester leads an interesting life is the reason I want to be one.

11. Tact is where a man anticipates the criticism of others, and acts with discretion.

12. The comfort of a modern house is much greater than the old-time house.

13. Free trade is when no revenue is collected on imports, beyond enough to run the government.

14. The cost of room, board, and tuition is low at this school, compared to the more fashionable schools.

15. The theme of this novel tells how a peasant, Jean Valjean, from a convict comes to be a respected citizen.

D. Undeveloped Thought and Transitions

Complete the thought of the following sentences, and secure a smooth transition between parts.

1. As you enter this room, to the left is an interesting painting of the Canterbury Pilgrims.

2. Poe delights in fantastic plots. A pirate's treasure chest was discovered in The Gold Bug.

3. I got up and ate a bite of breakfast. A few of my friends came over. We went to play golf.

4. All the loose material on the trail is carried off by the rush of the water. The last time I was on it was in early summer, and I found it in this rough condition.

5. I managed to find the softest board in the floor and went to sleep. Some of the boys found pleasure in arousing me with a shower of cold water.

6. Under guise of friendly escort the Indians accompanied the inhabitants of the fort a few miles. Only three escaped the massacre.

7. Many people say that in civil engineering it depends on the prosperity of the country; in hard times they do not build and in good times they do build.

8. Canada has more forests than minerals. Canada has made only a start in the lumber industry. The minerals are found, for the most part, in the mountain district near Lake Superior.

9. Thanksgiving day, as we are told, is a day on which our Puritan forefathers gathered round the roast turkey and gave thanks to God for his goodness. Last Thanksgiving I was at home.

10. The old method was to dig the holes by hand, and drop two or three kernels in each hole. Corn has become a staple crop. Machinery is used. The preparing of a field for corn has become a science.


Unity means oneness. A sentence should contain one thought. It may contain two or more statements only when these are closely related parts of a larger thought or impression. A writer should make certain, first, that his thought has unity; and second, that this unity will be obvious to the reader.

Unrelated Ideas in One Sentence

10. Do not combine ideas which have no obvious relation to each other. Place the ideas in separate sentences. Or, write the ideas as one sentence, making their relation obvious.

Wrong: The Spartans did not care for literature, and lived in the southern part of Greece.

Wrong: The coffee business is not difficult to learn, and the most important work in preparing coffee for the market is the roasting of the green berries.

The simplest method of correction is to divide the sentence.

Right: The Spartans lived in the southern part of Greece. They did not care for literature.

Right: The coffee business is not difficult to learn. The most important work in preparing the coffee for the market is the roasting of the green berries.

Another method of correction is to subordinate one idea to the other, or to change the wording until the relation between the ideas is obvious.

Right: The Spartans, who lived in the southern part of Greece, did not care for literature.

Right: The coffee business is not difficult to learn, since the only important work in preparing the coffee for the market is the roasting of the green berries.


1. Franklin is often regarded as the typical American, and wrote an interesting autobiography.

2. Coal miners wear little oil lamps in their caps, and they seldom receive very good wages.

3. My neighbor, Mr. Houghton, was always a very good friend of mine, and died last night.

4. I dropped the clock and injured the works, but the jeweler told me it would be cheaper for me to buy a new clock.

5. The next thing the camper should do is to make a bed, and the branches of the spruce are the best.

Excessive Detail

11. Do not encumber the main idea of a sentence with superfluous details. Place some of the details in another sentence, or omit them.

Faulty: In the town in which I live there are several large churches, and about six o'clock one morning, in a violent storm, one of these churches was struck by lightning.

Right: In my home town there are several large churches. One morning about six o'clock, in a violent storm, one of these churches was struck by lightning.

Wrong: In 1836, in Baltimore, Poe married Virginia Clemm, his cousin, who was hardly more than a child, being then fourteen years old, while Poe himself was twenty-eight, and to her he wrote much of his best verse.

Right: In 1836 Poe married Virginia Clemm. Poe was then twenty-eight, and Virginia was only fourteen. To this girl Poe wrote much of his best verse.


1. The house with the red tile roof is the finest in the city, and is owned by Mr. Saunders, who made his money speculating in land.

2. Then the engine tilted and fell over on one side, and the boiler exploded and added to the frightful scene.

3. The deer whose antlers you see over the fireplace as you enter the room was shot by my Uncle Will, who is now in South America on a hunting expedition.

4. The seeds, which have previously been soaked in water over night, are now planted carefully, not too deep, in straight rows sixteen inches apart, the best time being in April, when the ground is soft and has been thoroughly spaded.

5. One day last week my employer, Mr. Conway, a jolly, peculiar man, raised my salary, first telling me I was about to be discharged, and laughing at me when I looked so surprised.

Stringy Sentences to be Broken up

12. Avoid stringy compound sentences. The crude, rambling style which results from their use may be corrected by separating the material into shorter sentences, or by subordinating lesser ideas to the main thought.

Faulty: The second speaker had sat quietly waiting, and he was a man of a different type, and he began calmly, yet from the very first words he showed great earnestness.

Right: The second speaker, who had sat quietly waiting, was a man of a different type. He began calmly, yet from his very first words he showed great earnestness.

Faulty: There are many stops on the organ which control the tones of the different pipes and one has to learn how and when to use these and this takes time and practice.

Right: On the organ are many stops which control the tones of the different pipes. To learn how and when to use these takes time and practice.

Faulty: He published prose fiction, and this was then the accepted literary form, and the drama was neglected.

Better: He published prose fiction, which was then the accepted literary form, the drama being neglected. [This sentence makes three statements in a diminishing series. The important idea is expressed in a main clause; a less important explanation is fitted into a relative clause; and a still less important comment takes a parenthetical phrase at the end.]

Note.—One of the crying faults of the immature writer is that by excessive coordination he obscures the fine shades of meaning. When two clauses are joined, the meaning will very often be more exact if one is subordinated to the other. For a list of subordinating connectives, see 36.


1. He went down town, and it began to rain, and so he decided to go to the city library.

2. There is an old saying which I have often heard and I believe in it to a certain extent, and it runs as follows: The more you live at your wit's end, the more the wit's end grows.

3. Our salesman, Mr. Powers, has spoken very favorably of your firm, and we feel that our relations will be most pleasant, and the report of the commercial agencies is sufficient evidence of your good financial standing.

4. There was no escaping from this churn, so one of the frogs, after a brief struggle thought that he might just as well die one time as another, and so he gave up and sank to the bottom.

5. Socrates did no writing himself, and the only information we have of him we get from the writings of his pupils and from later writers, and our most reliable knowledge comes from two of these writers, Plato and Xenophon.

Choppy Sentences to be Combined

13. Do not use two or three short sentences to express ideas which will make a more unified impression in one sentence. Place subordinate ideas in subordinate grammatical constructions.

Excessive predication: Excavating is the first operation in street paving. The excavating is usually done by means of a steam shovel. The shovel scoops up the dirt and loads it directly into wagons.

Right: Excavating, the first operation in street paving, is usually done by a steam shovel which loads the dirt directly into wagons.

Monotonous: The doe is wading along the shore. She is nibbling the lily pads as she goes. Now she moves slowly around the point. She has a little spotted fawn with her. The fawn frolics along at the heels of his mother.

Better: Wading along the shore, the doe nibbles the lily pads by the way, and moves slowly around the point. A spotted fawn frolics at her heels.

Primer style: Rooms are marked on the floor. These rooms are about fourteen feet square.

Better: The floor is marked off into rooms about fourteen feet square.

Note.—An occasional short sentence is permissible, even desirable. Successive short sentences may be used to express rapid action, or emphatic assertion, or deliberate simplicity. Otherwise, avoid them.


1. Decatur has wide streets. The streets are paved with brick, asphalt, and creosote blocks.

2. Sixteen posts are set in a row. All of these are at equal intervals.

3. The boat approaches the leeward side of the ship. This side is the side protected from the wind.

4. The Scientific American reports the progress of science. It explains new inventions. It makes practical applications of scientific principles.

5. The beans are usually harvested about the middle of September. They are cut when the plants turn color at the roots and the beans turn white. They are cut by a bean-cutter which takes two rows at a time.

Excessive Coordination

In structure a sentence may be

A. Simple: The rain fell.

B. Compound: The rain continued and the stream rose.

C. Complex: When the rain ceased, the flood came.

In B, the clauses are of almost equal importance, and the first is coordinated with the second. In C, the clauses are not of equal importance, and the first is subordinated to the second. And is a coordinating conjunction. When is a subordinating conjunction. For a list of connectives see 36.

14. Do not use coordination when subordination will secure a more clear and emphatic unit of thought. Especially do not coordinate a main idea with an explanatory detail. The speech of children connects all ideas, important and unimportant, with and. Discriminating writers place minor ideas in subordinate clauses, consign still less important ideas to participial or prepositional phrases, and omit trivial details altogether.

Childish: I went down town and saw a crowd standing in the street, and wanted to know what was the matter, and so I went up and asked a man.

Right: When I went down town, I saw a crowd standing in the street, and since I wanted to know what was the matter, I asked a man. [Two clauses are subordinated by the use of when and since. This change abolishes two ands. The words went up and are struck out. One and remains, and deserves to remain, for it joins two ideas which are truly coordinate.]

Main idea not emphasized: I talked with an old man and his name was Ned.

Better: I talked with an old man named Ned. [A participial phrase replaces a clause. The name is now subordinated.]

Main idea not emphasized: Developing is the next step in preparing the film, and it is very important.

Better: Developing, the next step in preparing the film, is very important. [An appositional phrase replaces the first predicate.]

Main idea not emphasized: They began their perilous journey, and they had four horses.

Right [emphasizing perilous journey]: With four horses they began their perilous journey. [A prepositional phrase replaces a clause.]

Right [emphasizing having the horses]: When they began their perilous journey, they had four horses. [A subordinate clause replaces a main clause.]

Capable of greater unity: The frog is a stupid animal, and may be caught with a hook baited with red flannel. [Is the writer trying to tell us how to catch frogs, or merely that frogs are stupid? Coordination makes the two ideas appear equally important.]

Right [emphasizing frogs are stupid]: The fact that the frog can be caught with a hook baited with red flannel proves his stupidity.

Right [emphasizing how to catch frogs]: The frog, being stupid, will bite at a piece of red flannel.


1. Men were sent to Panama and could not live in such unsanitary conditions.

2. When a letter came and it bore a familiar handwriting, I always opened it eagerly.

3. West Hickory is the name of the place where the tannery is situated, and it is a laboring man's town.

4. She wore a dress and it was silk, and cost her father a lot of money.

5. Every race horse has a care taker or groom, and this man spends all his time and makes the horse comfortable.

Faulty Subordination of the Main Thought

15. Do not put the principal statement of a sentence in a subordinate clause or phrase. This violation of unity is sometimes called "upside-down subordination".

Faulty: I was going down the street, when I heard an explosion. [If hearing the explosion is the main thought, it should be placed in the main clause.]

Right: When I was going down the street, I heard an explosion.

Faulty: Longstreet received orders to attack the Federal right wing, which he did immediately.

Right: As soon as Longstreet received orders, he attacked the Federal right wing.

Faulty: I suspected that it would rain, although I did not take an umbrella.

Right: Although I suspected that it would rain, I did not take an umbrella.


1. An old man used to work for us, who died yesterday.

2. He became angry, saying he positively refused to go.

3. He is a bright boy, although I should not want to trust him with my pocketbook.

4. He had an ambition which was to become the best lawyer in the state by the time he was forty years old.

5. The cable breaks and the elevator starts to drop, when the safety device always operates at once to prevent an accident.

Subordination Thwarted by and

16. Do not attach to a main clause by means of and, a word, phrase, or clause which you intend shall be subordinate. The presence of and thwarts subordination.

Wrong: Major went to bed, and leaving the work unfinished.

Right: Major went to bed, leaving the work unfinished.

Wrong: He ran home and with coat tails flying.

Right: He ran home with coat tails flying.


1. They denied my request, and giving no reason for the refusal.

2. He gave me his answer and in few words.

3. The girl stood on the edge of the cliff, and thus showing that she was not afraid.

4. A telegraph line is leased by the Associated Press, and thus giving the newspapers quick service.

5. When the summer passed, the fisherman returned home for the winter, and where he renewed his acquaintance with the villagers.

The and which construction

17. Use and which (or but which), and who (or but who) only between relative clauses similar in form. Between a main clause and a relative clause, and or but thwarts subordination.

Wrong: This is an important problem, and which we shall not find easy to solve.

Right: This problem is an important problem, which we shall not find easy to solve.

Right: This problem is one which is important, and which we cannot easily solve.

Wrong: Les Miserables is a novel of great interest and which everybody should read.

Right: Les Miserables is a novel of great interest, and one which everybody should read.

Wrong: Their chief opponent was Winter, a shrewd politician, but who is now less popular than he was.

Right: Their chief opponent was Winter, a shrewd politician, who is now less popular than he was.

Note.—Rule 17 is sometimes briefly stated: "Do not use and which unless you have already used which in the sentence." This statement is generally true, but an exception must be made for sentences like the following: Right: "He told me what countries he had visited, and which ones he liked most."


1. Just outside is a small porch looking out over the street, and which can be used for sleeping purposes.

2. She is a woman of pleasing personality, and who can converse intelligently.

3. It is a difficult task, but which can be accomplished in time.

4. He is a good-looking man, but who is very snobbish.

5. The rule made by the conference of college professors in 1896, and which has been followed ever since, applies to the case we are considering.

Unity Thwarted by Punctuation

The Comma Splice

18. Do not splice two independent statements by means of a comma. Write two sentences. Or, if the two statements together form a unit of thought, combine them (1) by a comma plus a conjunction, (2) by a semicolon, or (3) by reducing one of the statements to a phrase or a subordinate clause.

Wrong: The town has two railroads, it was founded when oil was discovered.

Right: The town has two railroads. It was founded when oil was discovered.

Wrong: The speed of the car seemed slower than it really was, this was due, no doubt, to the absence of all noise. [Here are three commas. The reader cannot quickly discover which one marks the great division of thought.]

Right: The speed of the car seemed slower than it really was. This was due, no doubt, to the absence of all noise.

Wrong: The winters were long and cold, nothing could live without shelter.

Right: The winters were long and cold. Nothing could live without shelter.

Right: The winters were long and cold, and nothing could live without shelter [For the use of the comma, see 91a].

Right: The winters were long and cold; nothing could live without shelter [For the use of the semicolon see 92].

Right: The winters were so long and cold that nothing could live without shelter.

Exception.—Short coordinate clauses which are parallel in structure and leave a unified impression, may be joined by commas, even though the conjunctions be omitted.

Right: All was excitement. The ducks quacked, the pigs squealed, the dogs barked. [The general idea excitement gives the three clauses a certain unity.]


1. The key is turned to the right, this unlocks the door.

2. The author keeps one guessing, there is no hint how the story will end.

3. The farmer is independent, he has no task-master.

4. There has been a change of government, in fact there has been a revolution.

5. Lamb had failed in poetry, in the drama, and in the novel, in the essay, at last, he succeeded.


A. The Comma Splice

Rewrite the following material in sentences each of which is a unit of thought. Most of the statements should be summarily cut apart. If you decide that others taken together have unity of thought, combine them (1) by a comma plus a conjunction, (2) by a semicolon, or (3) by reducing one of the statements to a phrase or a subordinate clause.

1. The canoe is long and narrow, it is made of birch bark.

2. I decided to serve tea, of course cream and sugar would be needed.

3. Some men hunt rabbits for market purposes only, they are the sportsman's enemies.

4. This city furnished many boats for the siege of Calais, when these boats returned they brought the plague with them.

5. The bottom of the box is then put in, it is nailed to the sides.

6. It is not easy to become a good musician, one must practice continually.

7. The Northern and Southern states could not be separate nations, there was no natural boundary between them.

8. The telephone is a great invention, it is very useful to the farmer.

9. Why would no one come to help me, my feet ached and I was thirsty.

10. I know a girl who has a cynical disposition, she is always criticizing.

11. I went into the office hopeless, a dime stood between me and starvation.

12. The construction of the bridge has much to do with the tone of a violin, it should be lower on the side nearest the E string.

13. A private expense account does not require much labor or time, just one hour a week will suffice to keep tract of all expenditures.

14. We offer you sixty dollars a month to start, this is all we can afford to pay at present.

15. He wanted personal success but would not shirk a duty or harm any one in any way to gain that success, at all times he forgot his own personal importance and was ready to do any task set before him.

B. One Thought in a Sentence

By dividing, subordinating, or logically combining the following statements, secure unity of thought.

1. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 30, 1902, where she has lived ever since and is now well known.

2. Franklin was kindly, shrewd, and capable, and was the representative of the United States in France.

3. She said that Mrs. Brown was ill and that she was just caring for the baby, she loved babies anyway, she said.

4. One Sunday afternoon there was an excursion to Beaver and several of us decided to go and take our lunches and return on the eight o'clock car.

5. He gave me the dimensions of the room. The dimensions were ten by twelve feet.

6. Good grades may be obtained in two ways: by honest work, and by cheating; however any one who cheats is doing himself more harm than good.

7. The wall studding is made of two-by-fours. These two-by-fours are placed sixteen inches apart.

8. The returning Crusaders brought with them oriental learning, and found the peasantry impoverished.

9. The articles in this magazine are of high quality. The articles are well written and attractively illustrated.

10. A Japanese woman going abroad at night must carry a lighted lamp and must not speak to any one, women do not have much freedom in Japan.

11. The sugar beets are irrigated by river water. They are irrigated by means of furrows. The furrows run between the rows of beets. The beets are irrigated once a week.

12. The referee asked each captain if his men were ready, after which he blew the whistle, and the game was on, and within five minutes our team scored a touchdown.

13. The ground should be harrowed as soon as possible after it is plowed. It is a good plan to harrow the ground on the same day that it is plowed, or on the day following.

14. Choose the middle of the prepared ground, which is about eighty-five by fifty feet, as your starting point, measure twenty-four feet east and west and set the net posts; then, after marking off the different courts with tape, you are ready for a good game of tennis.

15. There are two places on the island suitable for plays: one in the bungalow and the other down on the sandy point; the latter lends itself to the purpose readily, there are two trees which make a splendid support for wires on which to hang the curtain, and just east of these the ground slopes enough to make a natural amphitheater.

C. Excessive Coordination

The ideas in the following sentences are loosely strung together with coordinating conjunctions. Place the important idea in the main clause. Subordinate other ideas by reducing each to a dependent clause, or a phrase, or a word.

1. Chris has a new coat and it is double-breasted.

2. I had a dog, and his name was Scratcher.

3. He gave a laugh but it was forced.

4. The woodcock is so foolish and deliberately walks into a trap.

5. The engineers fastened rafts to the piles, and which were pulled up when the tide rose.

6. Students often sit all doubled up, and raising their feet high on the table.

7. Dunlap is carrying a palette, but without any paint on it.

8. The government has been successful in its suit, and the tobacco trust was dissolved.

9. The British troops had no protection against poisonous gas and the use of gas by the enemy was unexpected.

10. I make it a rule to study one thing at least an hour and no long rest between.

11. The concrete is spread in a layer, and this is about nine inches thick, and the width being ten feet.

12. Rockwell is our postmaster, and is accommodating, but he has a disposition to be curious.

13. At the Gatun Dam there are concrete locks, and the purpose of these is to lift vessels into the lake.

14. They say to tourists that objects are historic but which are not historic at all.

15. I was lying quietly in the hammock, and I happened to look up in the tree, and there was a green bird and eating a cherry.

16. They disputed for a time, and afterward the officer became angry, and whipped out his sword.

17. A mirage is an illusion and the traveler thinks he sees water when there really is none.

D. Upside-down Subordination

In the following sentences the important idea is buried in a subordinate clause or phrase. Rescue this main idea, express it in the main clause, and if possible subordinate the rest of the sentence to it.

1. I spoke to her on the street, when she did not answer.

2. She thanked me for my assistance, also asking me to come and visit her the following Sunday.

3. The water froze in the buckets, although they did not burst.

4. The crows cawed angrily and circling around in one place.

5. He is threatened with tuberculosis, although he will not sleep in the open air.

6. We had hacked the bark, the tree dying after a few months.

7. One of the contestants was from Wendover College, who received the prize.

8. You ask a person what a spiral staircase is, when he will go to showing you by motions of his hand.

9. It was about three o'clock, and we decided to return home, which we did.

10. The plumber came, stopping the leak as soon as he arrived.

11. Benton sold stamps, in which business he grew rich.

12. The sun's heat beats down upon the brick tenements, which is terrible.

13. The chemist tested the purity of the water, but which he found unfit to drink.

14. Montaigne wrote an essay on "Solitude," where he pointed out the disadvantages of travel.

15. The house is set close to the edge of the bluff, overlooking a wide bend of the Alleghany River.

16. Things had been going from bad to worse among the Indians, and some Sioux were entertaining a few Chippewas, and murdered them, when the government took a hand in the affair.

17. The slight knowledge of metals and wide-awake observation of an inexperienced miner discovered gold in Arizona.


Clearness is fundamental. The writer should be content, not when his meaning may be understood, but only when his meaning cannot be misunderstood. He may attain this entire clearness by giving attention to five matters:

Reference (20-23) Coherence (24-28) Parallel Structure (30-31) Consistency (32-35) Use of Connectives (36-38)


By the use of pronouns, participles, and other dependent words, language becomes flexible and free. But each dependent part must refer without confusion to a word which is reasonably near, and properly expressed. Ordinarily a reader expects a pronoun or a participle to refer to the nearest noun (or pronoun) or to an emphatic noun.

Divided Reference

20. A pronoun should be placed near the word to which it refers, and separated from words to which it might falsely seem to refer. If this method does not secure clearness, discard the pronoun and change the sentence structure.

Uncertain reference of which: He dropped the bundle in the mud which he was carrying to his mother. [The reader for a moment refers the pronoun to the wrong noun. Bring which nearer to its proper antecedent bundle.]

Right: He dropped in the mud the bundle which he was carrying to his mother.

Vague reference of this: My failure in mathematics was serious. My grades in English, history, and Latin were good enough. But this brought down my average. [This? What this? Five nouns intrude between the pronoun this and its proper antecedent failure.]

Right: In English, history, and Latin I received fairly good grades. But in mathematics I received a failure. This brought down my average.

Remote reference of it: If you want to make a good speech, take your hands out of your pockets, open your mouth wide, and throw yourself into it.

Right: If you want to make a good speech, take your hands out of your pockets, open your mouth wide, and throw yourself into what you are saying. [Or, better] Take your hands out of your pockets, open your mouth wide, and throw yourself into the speech.

Ambiguous reference of he: John spoke to the stranger, and he was very surly.

Right: John spoke to the stranger, who was very surly. [Or] John spoke in a surly manner to the stranger.

Note.—The reference of relative and demonstrative pronouns is largely dependent upon their position. The reference of a personal pronoun (he, she, they, etc.) is not so much dependent upon its position, the main consideration being that the antecedent shall be emphatic (See the next article.)


1. He was driving an old mule attached to a cart that was blind in one eye.

2. There is a grimy streak on the wall over the radiator which can be removed only with great difficulty.

3. The feet of Chinese girls were bandaged so tightly when they were babies that they could not grow.

4. He gave me a receipt for the money which he told me to keep.

5. After the pictures have been taken and the film has been removed, they are sent to the developing room where it is developed and dried.

Weak Reference

21. Do not allow a pronoun to refer to a word not likely to be central in the reader's thought; a word, for example, in the possessive case, or in a parenthetical expression, or in a compound, or not expressed at all. Make the pronoun refer to an emphatic word.

Wrong: When a poor woman came to Jane Addams' famous Hull House, she always gave help. [Poor woman and Hull House are the emphatic words, to which any pronoun used later is instinctively referred by the reader.]

Right: When a poor woman came to Jane Addams' famous Hull House, she always received help. [Or] When a poor woman came to Hull House, Jane Addams always gave help.

Wrong: In biology, which is the study of plants and animals we find that they are made up of unitary structures called cells. [Since the words plants and animals occur only in a parenthetical clause, the reader is surprised to find them used as an antecedent.]

Right: In the study of biology we find that plants and animals are made up of unitary structures called cells.

Wrong: This old scissors-grinder sharpens them for the whole neighborhood. [The center of interest in the reader's mind is a man, not scissors.]

Right: This old scissors-grinder sharpens scissors for the whole neighborhood.

Wrong: I always liked engineers, and I have chosen that as my profession.

Right: I always liked engineering, and I have chosen it as my profession.

Absurd: When the baby is through drinking milk, it should be disconnected and put in boiling water. [The central idea in the reader's mind is baby, not milk-bottle. The writer may have been thinking about the bottle, but he did not make the word emphatic; in fact, he did not express it at all.]

Right: When the baby is through drinking milk, the bottle should be taken apart and put in boiling water.

Note.—Ordinarily, do not refer to the title in the first line of a theme. The reader expects you to assert something, and face forward, not to turn back to what you have said in the title.

Faulty: Color Photography

I am interested in this new development of science. For a long time I ...

Right: Color Photography

Taking pictures in color has long appealed to me as an interesting possibility ...


1. In Shakespeare's play Othello he makes Iago a fiend.

2. The noodle-cutter is a kitchen device which saves time in making this troublesome dish.

3. The life of a forester is interesting, and I intend to follow that profession.

4. He took down his great-grandfather's old sword, who had carried it at Bunker Hill.

5. I was always making experiments in science, and I naturally acquired a liking for periodicals of that nature.

Broad Reference

22. Do not use a pronoun to refer broadly to a general idea. Supply a definite antecedent or abandon the pronoun.

Wrong: The tapper strikes the gong, which continues as long as the push button is pressed. [The writer intends that which shall refer to the entire preceding clause, but the reference is intercepted by the word gong.]

Right [supplying a definite antecedent]: The tapper strikes the gong, a process which continues as long as the push button is pressed. [Or, abandoning the pronoun] The tapper strikes the gong as long as the push button is pressed.

Wrong: Read the directions which are printed on the bottle and it may save you from making a mistake.

Right [supplying a definite antecedent]: Read the directions which are printed on the bottle. This precaution may save you from making a mistake. [Or, abandoning the pronoun] Reading the directions on the bottle may prevent a mistake.

Wrong: The managers told him they would increase his salary if he would represent them in South America. He refused that.

Right: The managers told him they would increase his salary if he would represent them in South America. He refused the offer.

Exception.—It cannot be maintained that a pronoun must always have one definite word for its antecedent. Many of the best English authors occasionally use a pronoun to refer to a clause. But the reference must always be clear.

Note.—Impersonal constructions must be used with caution. "It is raining" is correct, although it has no antecedent. We desire that the antecedent shall be vague, impersonal. But unnecessary use of the indefinite it, you, or they should be avoided.

Faulty: It says in our history that Columbus was an Italian.

Right: Our history says that Columbus was an Italian.

Not complimentary to the reader: You aren't hanged nowadays for stealing.

Right: No one is hanged nowadays for stealing.

Faulty: They are noted for their tact in France.

Right: The French are noted for their tact.


1. You use little slang in your paper which is commendable.

2. They had no reinforcements which caused them to lose the battle.

3. The carbon must be removed from pig iron to make pure steel, and that is done by terrific heat.

4. Our stenographer spends most of her spare time at a cheap movie theater, which is in itself an index of her character.

5. It says in the new rules that you aren't allowed in the building on Sunday.

Dangling Participle or Gerund

23. A participle, being dependent, must refer to a noun or pronoun. The noun or pronoun should be within the sentence which contains the participle, and should be so conspicuous that the participle will be associated with it instantly and without confusion.

Wrong: Coming in on the train, the high school building is seen. [Is the building coming in? If not, who is?]

Right: Coming in on the train, one sees the high school building.

A sentence containing a dangling participle may be corrected (1) by giving the word to which the participle refers a conspicuous position in the sentence, or (2) by replacing the participial phrase by some other construction.

Wrong: Having taken our seats, the umpire announced the batteries.

Right: Having taken our seats, we heard the umpire announce the batteries. [Or] When we had taken our seats, the umpire announced the batteries.

Wrong: She was for a long time sick, caused by overwork. [The participle caused should not modify sick. A participle is used as an adjective, and should therefore modify a noun.]

Right—using an adjectival modifier:

She had a long sickness, {caused by} overwork. {due to }

Right—using an adverbial modifier:

{because of } She was for a long time sick {owing to } overwork. {on account of}

When a gerund phrase (in passing, while speaking etc.) implies the action of a special agent, indicate what the agent is. Otherwise the phrase will be dangling.

Faulty: In talking to Mr. Brown the other day, he told me that you intend to buy a car.

Better: In talking to Mr. Brown the other day, I learned that you intend to buy a car.

Faulty: The address was concluded by reciting a passage from Wordsworth.

Better: The speaker concluded his address by reciting a passage from Wordsworth. [Or] The address was concluded by the recitation of a passage from Wordsworth.

Note.—Two other kinds of dangling modifier, treated elsewhere in this book, may be briefly mentioned here. A phrase beginning with the adjective due should refer to a noun; otherwise the phrase is left dangling (See 5 Note). An elliptical sentence (one from which words are omitted) is faulty when one of the elements is left dangling (See 3).

Faulty: I was late due to carelessness [Use because of].

Ludicrous: My shoestring always breaks when hurrying to the office at eight o'clock [Say when I am hurrying].


1. Coming out of the house, a street car is seen.

2. While engaged in conversation with my host and hostess, my maid placed upon the table a steaming leg of lamb.

3. A small quantity of gold is thoroughly mixed with a few drops of turpentine, using the spatula to work it smooth.

4. After being in the oven twenty minutes, open the door. When fully baked, you are ready to put the sauce on the pudding.

5. Entering the store, a soda fountain is observed. Passing down the aisle, a candy counter comes into view. The rear of the store is bright and pleasant, caused by a skylight.


The verb cohere means to stick or hold firmly together. And the noun coherence as applied to writing means a close and natural sequence of parts. Order is essential to clearness.

General Incoherence

24. Every part of a sentence must have a clear and natural connection with the adjoining part. Like or related parts should normally be placed together.

Bring related ideas together: Little Helen stood beside the horse wearing white stockings and slippers.

Right: Little Helen, in white stockings and slippers, stood beside the horse.

Keep unlike ideas apart: The colors of purple and green are pleasing to the eye as found in the thistle.

Right: The purple and green colors of the thistle are pleasing.

Distribute unrelated modifiers, instead of bunching them: I found a heap of snow on my bed in the morning which had drifted in through the window. [Subject verb—object—place—time—explanation.]

Right: In the morning I found on my bed a heap of snow which had drifted in through the window. [Time—subject verb—place—object—explanation.]

Bring related modifiers together: When he has prepared his lessons, he will come, as soon as he can put on his old clothes. [Condition—main clause—condition.]

Right: When he has prepared his lessons and put on his old clothes, he will come. [Condition and condition—main clause.]


1. He was gazing at the landscape which he had painted with a smiling face.

2. She turned the steak with a fork which she was cooking for dinner every few minutes.

3. Dickens puts the various experiences he had in the form of a novel when he was a boy.

4. If the roads are made of dirt, the farmer has to wait, if the weather is rainy, till they dry.

5. We received practically very little or none at all experience in writing themes.

Logical Sequence

25. Place first in the sentence the idea which naturally comes first in thought or in the order of time.

Faulty: We went to the station from the house after bidding all goodby.

Right: We said goodby to all, and went from the house to the station.

Do not begin one idea, abandon it for a second, and then return to the first. Complete one idea at a time.

Faulty: She looked up as he approached and smoothed her hair. [The writer begins a main clause, changes to a subordinate clause, and then attempts to add more to the main clause. Unfortunately the last two verbs appear to be coordinate.]

Right: She looked up and smoothed her hair as he approached. [Or] As he approached she looked up, and smoothed her hair.

Ordinarily, let a second thought begin where the first leaves off.

Faulty: An orange grove requires plenty of water. The young trees will die if they do not have plenty of water. [The order of ideas is: "Grove ... water. Trees ... water." Reverse the order of the second sentence.]

Right: An orange grove requires plenty of water. For without water the young trees will die. [Now the order of ideas is: "Grove ... water. Water ... trees."]


1. I boarded the train, after buying a ticket.

2. I dropped my pen when the whistle blew and sighed.

3. Unless the bank clerk has ability he will never be successful unless he works faithfully and hard.

4. I remember the days when Rover was a pup. Now he is not half so interesting as he was then.

5. A chessboard is divided into sixty-four squares, and there is plenty of room between the opposing armies for a terrific battle, since each army occupies only sixteen squares.

Squinting Modifier

26. Avoid the squinting construction. That is, do not place between two parts of a sentence a modifier that may attach itself to either. Place the modifier where it cannot be misunderstood.

Confusing: I told him when the time came I would do it. [When the time came is said to "squint" because the reader cannot tell whether it looks forward to the end of the sentence, or backward to the beginning.]

Right: When the time came, I told him I would do it. [Or] I told him I would do it when the time came.

Confusing: Some friends I knew would enjoy the play. [I knew squints.]

Right: Some friends would enjoy the play, I knew.

Confusing: The orator whom every one was calling for enthusiastically hurried to the platform. [Enthusiastically squints.]

Clear: The orator whom every one was enthusiastically calling for hurried to the platform.


1. The man who laughs half the time does not understand the joke.

2. Playing football in many ways improves the mind.

3. When she reached home much to her disgust the door was locked.

4. When the lightning struck for the first time in my life I was afraid.

5. The landlord wrote that he would if the rent were not paid in thirty days eject the tenant.

Misplaced Word

27. Such an adverb as only, ever, almost, should be placed near the word it modifies, and separated from words which it might falsely seem to modify. Such a conjunction as nevertheless, if required with a clause, should usually be placed near the beginning.

Illogical: I only need a few dollars.

Right: I need only a few dollars.

Illogical: I don't ever intend to go there again.

Right: I don't intend ever to go there again. [Or] I intend never to go there again.

Illogical: She has the sweetest voice I nearly ever heard.

Right: She has nearly [or almost] the sweetest voice I ever heard.

Tardy use of conjunction: I intend to try. I do not expect to accomplish much, however.

Right: I intend to try. I do not, however, expect to accomplish much.


1. Students are only admitted to one lecture.

2. This is the smallest book I almost ever saw.

3. He is so poor he hasn't any food, scarcely.

4. She had one dress that she never expected to wear.

5. The difficulties were tremendous. He said that he would do his best, nevertheless.

Split Construction

28. Elements that have a close grammatical connection should not be separated awkwardly or carelessly. These elements are: (a) subject and verb, or verb and object; (b) the parts of a compound verb; and (c) the parts of an infinitive.

Awkward: One in the struggle for efficiency should not become a machine.

Better: In the struggle for efficiency one should not become a machine.

Awkward: What use of an education could a girl who married a penniless rogue and afterwards knew nothing but hard labor, make?

Better: What use of an education could a girl make who married a penniless rogue and afterward knew nothing but hard labor?

Crude: He was unable to even so much as stir a foot.

Better: He was unable even to stir a foot.

Note.—It is often desirable to separate the forms enumerated under (a) and (b) above, either for emphasis (See 40) or to avoid a bunching of modifiers at the end of a sentence (See 24). The whole point of rule 28 is not to depart from a natural order needlessly.


1. One thing the beginner must remember is to not get excited.

2. Ralph, when he heard the news, came flying out of the house.

3. The president called together, for the need was urgent, his cabinet.

4. Bryce said that it is more patriotic to judiciously vote than to frantically wave the American flag.

5. About the time Florence Nightingale had to give up her plans, a war between Turkey, England, and France on one side and Russia on the other, broke out.


A. Reference of Pronouns

In the following sentences make the reference of pronouns exact and unmistakable.

1. Brown wrote to Roberts that he had made a mistake.

2. We heard a voice through the door which told us to enter.

3. There is a walk leading from the street to the house which is made of thin slabs of stone.

4. A milking stool was beside the cow on which he was accustomed to sit.

5. Should a community, such as a small village, spend the money they do on roads?

6. This magazine prints many special articles on politics and social reforms that are always instructive.

7. I wish I could do something for the protection of birds in our country which is neglected.

8. After a man has failed in one business, it is no sign he will fail in every other.

9. Sometimes cane syrup is mixed with the maple syrup, which reduces the value of the product.

10. It means hard and diligent work to study Latin, but it strengthens our brain or at least it gives it good exercise.

11. In the class room the students become acquainted, which may develop into lifelong friendships.

12. He was delighted with a ride on horseback, which animal he had been familiar with in his childhood on the farm.

13. It says in our history that the battle of New Orleans was fought after the treaty of peace had been signed.

14. Sparks flew about in the air, and it reminded me of a huge Fourth of July celebration.

15. The doctor gave me medicine to stop the dull pain in my head. This made me feel much better.

B. Dangling Modifiers

Remembering that a participle is used as an adjective and must therefore refer to a noun or pronoun, correct the following sentences. Gerund phrases and a few elliptical sentences are included in the list.

1. Having planned the basement, the next thing considered was the first floor.

2. Glancing around the room, the ugly wall paper at once confronted me.

3. After ringing the bell, and waiting a few moments, a maid came to the door.

4. When selecting a site for an orchard, it should be well drained.

5. Not being a skilled dancer, my feet moved awkwardly.

6. Having no watch, the clock must be consulted.

7. He was sick, caused by eating too much dessert.

8. Radium is very difficult to get, making it the most valuable metal.

9. One man goes home and beats his wife, resulting in internal injuries.

10. Over the paper and kindling a few small chunks of coal are scattered, taking care not to choke the draft.

11. In speaking of character, it does not mean to be a governor or a general.

12. This town draws trade for a radius of twenty miles, thus accounting for the large volume of business.

13. While talking to Ralph yesterday, he spoke about his recent success in the hardware business.

14. The bus holds fifteen people, and when full, the bus man shuts the door.

15. If bright and pleasant, the rabbit will be found sitting at the entrance of his burrow.

C. Coherence

Secure a clear, smooth, natural order for the following sentences.

1. I have a lot for sale near the city limits.

2. Many men can only speak their native tongue.

3. I saw yesterday, crossing the street, a beautiful woman.

4. They entered the room, and sitting on the floor they saw a baby.

5. I put down my book when the clock struck and yawned.

6. She dropped the money on the sidewalk which she was carrying home.

7. The horse did not notice that the gate was open for several minutes.

8. It was worth the trouble. I do not wish to have the experience again, however.

9. My first trip away from home, of any distance, was made on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans.

10. He gazed at a young man who was waving his hands violently, called a cheer leader.

11. Any soil will grow some variety of strawberry, except sand and clay.

12. I turned triumphantly to Will, who was still gazing at the place where the muskrat sank with a beaming face.

13. Only the interest, the principal being kept intact, is spent.

14. A student should see that external conditions are favorable for study, such as light, temperature, and clothing.

15. Draw a heavy line using a ruler to connect New York and San Francisco across the map.


When the structure of a sentence is simple and uniform, the important words strike the eye at once. Compare the following:

Parallel: Beggars must not be choosers.

Confusing: Beggars must not be the one who choose.

A reader gives attention partly to the structure of a sentence, and partly to the thought. The less we puzzle him with our structure, the more we shall impress him with our thought.

Parallel: Seeing is believing. [Attention goes to the thought.]

Confusing: Seeing is to believe. [Attention is diverted to structure.]

The reader's expectation is that uniform structure shall accompany uniform ideas, and that a departure from uniformity shall indicate a change of thought.

Parallel Structure for Parallel Thoughts

30. Give parallel structure to those parts of a sentence which are parallel in thought. Do not needlessly interchange an infinitive with a participle, a phrase with a clause, a single word with a phrase or clause, a main clause with a dependent clause, one voice or mode of the verb with another, etc.

Faulty: Riding is sometimes better exercise than to walk.

Right: Riding is sometimes better exercise than walking. [Or] To ride is sometimes better exercise than to walk.

Faulty: He had two desires, of which the first was for money; in the second place, he wanted fame.

Right: He had two desires, of which the first was for money and the second for fame. [Or] He had two desires: in the first place, he wanted money; in the second, fame.

Faulty: His rival handled cigars of better quality and having a higher selling price.

Right: His rival handled cigars of better quality and higher price.

Faulty: When you have mastered the operation of shifting gears, and after a little practice you will be a good driver.

Right: When you have mastered the operation of shifting gears, and had a little practice, you will be a good driver. [Or] After you master the gears and have a little practice, you will be a good driver.

Faulty. These are the duties of the president of a literary society:

(a) To preside at regular meetings, (b) He calls special meetings, (c) Appointment of committees.

Right: These are the duties of the president of a literary society:

(a) To preside at regular meetings, (b) To call special meetings, (c) To appoint committees.

Faulty: She was actively connected with the club, church, and with several organized charities. [Here parallelism is obscured by the omission from the second phrase of both the preposition and the article.]

Right: She was actively connected with the club, with the church, and with several organized charities.

Faulty: He was red-faced, awkward, and had a disposition to eat everything on the table. [The third element is like the others in thought, and should have similar form.]

Right: He had a red face, an awkward manner, and a disposition to eat everything on the table. [Or] He was red-faced, awkward, and voracious.

Note.—Avoid misleading parallelism. For ideas different in kind, do not use parallel structure.

Wrong: He was hot, puffing, and evidently had run very hard. [The third element is unlike the others in thought; hence the and is misleading.]

Right: He was hot and puffing; evidently he had run very hard.

Confusing: He was admired for his knowledge of science, and for his taste for art, and for this I too honor him. [The last for gives a false parallelism to unlike thoughts.]

Better: He was admired for his scientific knowledge and for his artistic taste. I honor him for both these qualities.


1. The duties of the secretary are to answer correspondence, and keeping the minutes of the meetings.

2. This process is the most difficult; it costs the most; and is most important.

3. I make it a rule to be orderly, spend no money foolishly, and keep still when I have nothing to say.

4. The cotton is put up in bales about five feet in length and three feet wide and four thick, and one of them weighing about five hundred pounds.

5. Considerations of economy that one should bear in mind when planning a house are: first, a rectangular ground-plan; second, a one-chimney plan; third, to have only one stairway; fourth, eliminate as many doors as possible; fifth, the bathroom should be above the kitchen so as to reduce the cost of plumbing; and lastly, the rooms should be few and large rather than small and many of them.


Conjunctions that are used in pairs are called correlatives; for example, not only ... but also ..., both ... and ..., either ... or ..., neither ... nor ..., not ... or ..., whether ... or ....

31. Correlatives should usually be followed by elements parallel in form; if a predicate follows one, a predicate should follow the other; if a prepositional phrase follows one, a prepositional phrase should follow the other; and so on.

Faulty: He was not only courteous to rich customers but also to poor ones. [Here the phrases intended to be balanced against each other are to rich customer's and to poor ones. As the sentence stands, it is the word courteous that is balanced against to poor ones.]

Right: He was courteous not only to rich customers but also to poor ones.

Faulty: She could neither make up her mind to go nor could she decide to stay.

Right: She could neither make up her mind to go nor decide to stay. [Or] She could not make up her mind either to go or to stay.

Faulty: I talked both with Brown and Miller. [Here one conjunction is followed by a preposition and the other by a noun.]

Right: I talked with both Brown and Miller. [Or] I talked both with Brown and with Miller.


1. He was courteous to both friends and his enemies.

2. Such conduct is not only dangerous to society but becomes a national disgrace as well.

3. She had neither affectation of manners nor was she sharp-tongued.

4. After reading Thoreau's Walden I appreciate not only the style but also I am inclined to believe in his ideas.

5. The good that the delegates derive from the convention not only helps them, but they tell others what happened.


Shift in Subject or Voice

32. Do not needlessly shift the subject, voice, or mode in the middle of a sentence. Keep one point of view, until there is a reason for changing.

Faulty: In the stream which the road led over, fish were plentiful. [Here the first mental picture is of a stream. Then the thought is jerked away to the road above. Then it returns to the fish in the stream.]

Right: In the stream which flowed under the roadway, fish were plentiful.

Faulty: Mark Twain was born in the West, but the East was his home in later years. [The change of subject is uncalled for.]

Right: Mark Twain was born in the West, but lived in the East in his later years. [Or] The West was the birthplace of Mark Twain, and the East was his home in his later years.

Faulty: A careful driver can go fifteen miles on a gallon of gasoline, and at the same time very little lubricating oil is used. [The shift from active to passive voice is awkward and confusing.]

Right: A careful driver can go fifteen miles on a gallon of gasoline, and at the same time use very little lubricating oil.

Faulty: When a problem in chemistry is given, or when we wish to calculate certain formulas, we find that a knowledge of mathematics is indispensable.

Right: When a problem in chemistry is given, or when certain formulas are to be calculated, a knowledge of mathematics is indispensable. [Or] When we face a problem in chemistry, or wish to calculate certain formulas, we find that a knowledge of mathematics is indispensable.

Faulty: Next the ground should be harrowed. Then you sow the wheat. [The subject changes from ground to you. One verb explains what should be done, the other what somebody does.]

{is } Right: Next the ground { } harrowed. Then it {should be} {is } { } sown to wheat. [Or] Next you should harrow {should be} the ground. Then you should sow the wheat.


1. One end of a camera carries the film, and the lens and shutter are in the other end.

2. When an athlete is in training, good healthful food should be eaten.

3. An engineer's time is not devoted to one branch of science, but should include many.

4. By having only five men in charge of our city government, they would have more power, and we could then fix responsibility.

5. There are two main classes of cake, sponge and butter. We are taught to make both in cooking school. I like the sponge cake. The butter cake is preferred by most persons.

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