books / editing / grammar / writing



[From The Elements of Style (illustrated), with the caption “Polly loves cake more than she loves me.”]

Would Maira Kalman mind too much that I “Instragrammed” her work in the illustrated version of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White and posted it above? This drawing inspires me enough to write and it’s not just because it is an illustration in my writing bible, but because it is by Maira Kalman, whose profound yet simple, unpretentious yet whimsical view of our world has taken my breath away even in The Principles of Uncertainty, her solo effort, her own book, words and pictures and all.

I know why it came upon me to revisit Strunk and White at this hour of the night. I wanted to see exactly how these grammar Nazis set down the rule that no sentence should end in a preposition.

In principle, I’ve been subject to this rule as far as I can remember, but I’m subject only in that I always try to find a way to follow it. I end up breaking it after all if I can’t find a way.

I was going to say, “I’m sorry, Mr. Strunk, I know that right is always good, but in some cases, such as where prepositions end a sentence, wrong can be — or at least sound — better.”

Below is a portrait of William Strunk, Jr., also by Maira Kalman, which is also in my illustrated copy of The Elements of Style.


I am glad, however, that should Mr. Strunk turn over in his grave, it wouldn’t be on my account, but on account of E.B. White, once a student of his, who revived one of his textbooks and immortalized it into The Elements of Style we know today.

How thrilled I am to find a passage that assuages my guilt in the chapter “An Approach to Style,” written by E.B. White to sort of incorporate the age-old rules into the modern day.

I can’t wait to share my newfound freedom with you. In my copy, based on the fourth edition released in 2000, the liberating passage was on page 112, in the last paragraph.

Below is the exact quote, with which I choose to end this post. Or, if I may bask in my emancipation, let me say, without batting an eyelash: Below is the exact quote I choose to end this post with.

 Years ago, students were warned not to end a sentence with a preposition; time, of course, has softened that rigid decree. Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else. “A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool he murdered her with.” This is preferable to “A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool with which he murdered her.” Why? Because it sounds more violent, more like murder. A matter of ear.



  1. Pingback: The impossibility of February « Lost and Found Books

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