Different English Styles Page 2


Here are the Ten Commandments of English style:

1. Do not use foreign words.
2. Do not use a long word when a short one will serve your purpose. Fire is much better than conflagration.
3. Do not use technical words, or those understood only by specialists in their respective lines, except when you are writing especially for such people.
4. Do not use slang.
5. Do not use provincialisms, as “I guess” for “I think”; “I reckon” for “I know,” etc.
6.Do not in writing prose, use poetical or antiquated words: as “lore, e’er, morn, yea, nay, verily, peradventure.”
7. Do not use trite and hackneyed words and expressions; as, “on the job,” “up and in”; “down and out.”
8. Do not use newspaper words which have not established a place in the language as “to bugle”; “to suicide,” etc.
9. Do not use ungrammatical words and forms; as, “I ain’t;” “he don’t.”
10. Do not use ambiguous words or phrases; as—”He showed me all about the house.”

Trite words, similes and metaphors which have become hackneyed and worn out should be allowed to rest in the oblivion of past usage. Such expressions and phrases as “Sweet sixteen” “the Almighty dollar,” “Uncle Sam,” “On the fence,” “The Glorious Fourth,” “Young America,” “The lords of creation,” “The rising generation,” “The weaker sex,” “The weaker vessel,” “Sweetness long drawn out” and “chief cook and bottle washer,” should be put on the shelf as they are utterly worn out from too much usage.

Some of the old similes which have outlived their usefulness and should be pensioned off, are “Sweet as sugar,” “Bold as a lion,” “Strong as an ox,” “Quick as a flash,” “Cold as ice,” “Stiff as a poker,” “White as snow,” “Busy as a bee,” “Pale as a ghost,” “Rich as Croesus,” “Cross as a bear” and a great many more far too numerous to mention.

Be as original as possible in the use of expression. Don’t follow in the old rut but try and strike out for yourself. This does not mean that you should try to set the style, or do anything outlandish or out of the way, or be an innovator on the prevailing custom. In order to be original there is no necessity for you to introduce something novel or establish a precedent. The probability is you are not fit to do either, by education or talent. While following the style of those who are acknowledged leaders you can be original in your language. Try and clothe an idea different from what it has been clothed and better. If you are speaking or writing of dancing don’t talk or write about “tripping the light fantastic toe.” It is over two hundred years since Milton expressed it that way in “L’Allegro.” You’re not a Milton and besides over a million have stolen it from Milton until it is now no longer worth stealing.

Don’t resurrect obsolete words such as whilom, yclept, wis, etc., and be careful in regard to obsolescent words, that is, words that are at the present time gradually passing from use such as quoth, trow, betwixt, amongst, froward, etc.

And beware of new words. Be original in the construction and arrangement of your language, but don’t try to originate words. Leave that to the Masters of language, and don’t be the first to try such words, wait until the chemists of speech have tested them and passed upon their merits.

Quintilian said—”Prefer the oldest of the new and the newest of the old.” Pope put this in rhyme and it still holds good:

In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold, Alike fantastic, if too new or old: Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.


Propriety of style consists in using words in their proper sense and as in the case of purity, good usage is the principal test. Many words have acquired in actual use a meaning very different from what they once possessed. “Prevent” formerly meant to go before, and that meaning is implied in its Latin derivation. Now it means to put a stop to, to hinder. To attain propriety of style it is necessary to avoid confounding words derived from the same root; as respectfully and respectively; it is necessary to use words in their accepted sense or the sense which everyday use sanctions.


Simplicity of style has reference to the choice of simple words and their unaffected presentation. Simple words should always be used in preference to compound, and complicated ones when they express the same or almost the same meaning. The Anglo-Saxon element in our language comprises the simple words which express the relations of everyday life, strong, terse, vigorous, the language of the fireside, street, market and farm. It is this style which characterizes the Bible and many of the great English classics such as the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Robinson Crusoe,” and “Gulliver’s Travels.”


Clearness of style should be one of the leading considerations with the beginner in composition. He must avoid all obscurity and ambiguous phrases. If he write a sentence or phrase and see that a meaning might be inferred from it otherwise than intended, he should re-write it in such a way that there can be no possible doubt. Words, phrases or clauses that are closely related should be placed as near to each other as possible that their mutual relation may clearly appear, and no word should be omitted that is necessary to the complete expression of thought.


Unity is that property of style which keeps all parts of a sentence in connection with the principal thought and logically subordinate to it. A sentence may be constructed as to suggest the idea of oneness to the mind, or it may be so loosely put together as to produce a confused and indefinite impression. Ideas that have but little connection should be expressed in separate sentences, and not crowded into one.

Keep long parentheses out of the middle of your sentences and when you have apparently brought your sentences to a close don’t try to continue the thought or idea by adding supplementary clauses.


Strength is that property of style which gives animation, energy and vivacity to language and sustains the interest of the reader. It is as necessary to language as good food is to the body. Without it the words are weak and feeble and create little or no impression on the mind. In order to have strength the language must be concise, that is, much expressed in little compass, you must hit the nail fairly on the head and drive it in straight. Go critically over what you write and strike out every word, phrase and clause the omission of which impairs neither the clearness nor force of the sentence and so avoid redundancy, tautology and circumlocution. Give the most important words the most prominent places, which, as has been pointed out elsewhere, are the beginning and end of the sentence.


Harmony is that property of style which gives a smoothness to the sentence, so that when the words are sounded their connection becomes pleasing to the ear. It adapts sound to sense. Most people construct their sentences without giving thought to the way they will sound and as a consequence we have many jarring and discordant combinations such as “Thou strengthenedst thy position and actedst arbitrarily and derogatorily to my interests.”

Harsh, disagreeable verbs are liable to occur with the Quaker form Thou of the personal pronoun. This form is now nearly obsolete, the plural you being almost universally used. To obtain harmony in the sentence long words that are hard to pronounce and combinations of letters of one kind should be avoided.


Style is expressive of the writer, as to who he is and what he is. As a matter of structure in composition it is the indication of what a man can do; as a matter of quality it is an indication of what he is.


Style has been classified in different ways, but it admits of so many designations that it is very hard to enumerate a table. In fact there are as many styles as there are writers, for no two authors write exactly after the same form. However, we may classify the styles of the various authors in broad divisions as (1) dry, (2) plain, (3) neat, (4) elegant, (5) florid, (6) bombastic.

The dry style excludes all ornament and makes no effort to appeal to any sense of beauty. Its object is simply to express the thoughts in a correct manner. This style is exemplified by Berkeley.

The plain style does not seek ornamentation either, but aims to make clear and concise statements without any elaboration or embellishment. Locke and Whately illustrate the plain style.

The neat style only aspires after ornament sparingly. Its object is to have correct figures, pure diction and clear and harmonious sentences. Goldsmith and Gray are the acknowledged leaders in this kind of style.

The elegant style uses every ornament that can beautify and avoids every excess which would degrade. Macaulay and Addison have been enthroned as the kings of this style. To them all writers bend the knee in homage.

The florid style goes to excess in superfluous and superficial ornamentation and strains after a highly colored imagery. The poems of Ossian typify this style.

The bombastic is characterized by such an excess of words, figures and ornaments as to be ridiculous and disgusting. It is like a circus clown dressed up in gold tinsel Dickens gives a fine example of it in Sergeant Buzfuz’ speech in the “Pickwick Papers.” Among other varieties of style may be mentioned the colloquial, the laconic, the concise, the diffuse, the abrupt the flowing, the quaint, the epigrammatic, the flowery, the feeble, the nervous, the vehement, and the affected. The manner of these is sufficiently indicated by the adjective used to describe them.

In fact style is as various as character and expresses the individuality of the writer, or in other words, as the French writer Buffon very aptly remarks, “the style is the man himself.”

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