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Commonly misused terms for the careful writer

The Elements of StyleBy Nina Munteanu

When I first started writing stories—many more years ago than I care to admit—I knew that I was a poor speller, had generally bad syntax, and often misused grammar. Someone, who believed in my capacity to tell a good story despite my shortcomings in delivery, handed me a slim copy of William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White’s classic guide The Elements of Style. This elegant 105-page book includes elementary rules of usage, elementary principles of composition, a few matters of form, commonly misused words and expressions, and an approach to style.

It is “still a little book, small enough and important enough to carry in your pocket, as I carry mine,” said author and journalist Charles Osgood. And it has helped me out of a few messes. Let’s look at some examples of commonly misused words and expressions. These words and expressions, Strunk and White tell us, “are not so much bad English as bad style, the commonplaces of careless writing.” Being mindful of our language and our style can often make the difference in a publisher or editor’s perception of our professionalism.

Here are some of my favourites, in some cases as much because of Strunk and White’s pithy comments as the actual utility of the advice. Have you used any of these?

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