How to Speak and Write Correctly How to Speak and Write CorrectlyINTRODUCTIONCHAPTER ICHAPTER IICHAPTER IIICHAPTER IVCHAPTER VCHAPTER VICHAPTER VIICHAPTER VIIICHAPTER IXCHAPTER XCHAPTER XICHAPTER XIICHAPTER XIIICHAPTER XIVCHAPTER XVCopyright
How to Speak and Write Correctly
In the preparation of this little work the writer has kept one end
in view, viz.: To make it serviceable for those for whom it is
intended, that is, for those who have neither the time nor the
opportunity, the learning nor the inclination, to peruse elaborate
and abstruse treatises on Rhetoric, Grammar, and Composition. To
them such works are as gold enclosed in chests of steel and locked
beyond power of opening. This book has no pretension about it
whatever,—it is neither a Manual of Rhetoric, expatiating on the
dogmas of style, nor a Grammar full of arbitrary rules and
exceptions. It is merely an effort to help ordinary, everyday
people to express themselves in ordinary, everyday language, in a
proper manner. Some broad rules are laid down, the observance of
which will enable the reader to keep within the pale of propriety
in oral and written language. Many idiomatic words and expressions,
peculiar to the language, have been given, besides which a number
of the common mistakes and pitfalls have been placed before the
reader so that he may know and avoid them.
The writer has to acknowledge his indebtedness to no one in
particular, but to all in general who have ever written on the
The little book goes forth—a finger-post on the road of language
pointing in the right direction. It is hoped that they who go
according to its index will arrive at the goal of correct speaking
REQUIREMENTS OF SPEECH
It is very easy to learn how to speak and write correctly, as for
all purposes of ordinary conversation and communication, only about
2,000 different words are required. The mastery of just twenty
hundred words, the knowing where to place them, will make us not
masters of the English language, but masters of correct speaking
and writing. Small number, you will say, compared with what is in
the dictionary! But nobody ever uses all the words in the
dictionary or could use them did he live to be the age of
Methuselah, and there is no necessity for using them.
There are upwards of 200,000 words in the recent editions of the
large dictionaries, but the one-hundredth part of this number will
suffice for all your wants. Of course you may think not, and you
may not be content to call things by their common names; you may be
ambitious to show superiority over others and display your learning
or, rather, your pedantry and lack of learning. For instance, you
may not want to call a spade a spade. You may prefer to call it a
spatulous device for abrading the surface of the soil. Better,
however, to stick to the old familiar, simple name that your
grandfather called it. It has stood the test of time, and old
friends are always good friends.
To use a big word or a foreign word when a small one and a familiar
one will answer the same purpose, is a sign of ignorance. Great
scholars and writers and polite speakers use simple words.
To go back to the number necessary for all purposes of conversation
correspondence and writing, 2,000, we find that a great many people
who pass in society as being polished, refined and educated use
less, for they know less. The greatest scholar alive hasn't more
than four thousand different words at his command, and he never has
occasion to use half the number.
In the works of Shakespeare, the most wonderful genius the world
has ever known, there is the enormous number of 15,000 different
words, but almost 10,000 of them are obsolete or meaningless
Every person of intelligence should be able to use his mother
tongue correctly. It only requires a little pains, a little care, a
little study to enable one to do so, and the recompense is
Consider the contrast between the well-bred, polite man who knows
how to choose and use his words correctly and the underbred, vulgar
boor, whose language grates upon the ear and jars the sensitiveness
of the finer feelings. The blunders of the latter, his infringement
of all the canons of grammar, his absurdities and monstrosities of
language, make his very presence a pain, and one is glad to escape
from his company.
The proper grammatical formation of the English language, so that
one may acquit himself as a correct conversationalist in the best
society or be able to write and express his thoughts and ideas upon
paper in the right manner, may be acquired in a few lessons.
It is the purpose of this book, as briefly and concisely as
possible, to direct the reader along a straight course, pointing
out the mistakes he must avoid and giving him such assistance as
will enable him to reach the goal of a correct knowledge of the
English language. It is not a Grammar in any sense, but a guide, a
silent signal-post pointing the way in the right direction.
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN A NUTSHELL
All the words in the English language are divided into nine great
classes. These classes are called the Parts of Speech. They are
Article, Noun, Adjective, Pronoun, Verb, Adverb, Preposition,
Conjunction and Interjection. Of these, the Noun is the most
important, as all the others are more or less dependent upon it. A
Noun signifies the name of any person, place or thing, in fact,
anything of which we can have either thought or idea. There are two
kinds of Nouns, Proper and Common. Common Nouns are names which
belong in common to a race or class, as man, city. Proper Nouns
distinguish individual members of a race or class as John,
Philadelphia. In the former case man is a name which belongs in
common to the whole race of mankind, and city is also a name which
is common to all large centres of population, but John signifies a
particular individual of the race, while Philadelphia denotes a
particular one from among the cities of the world.
Nouns are varied by Person, Number, Gender, and Case. Person is
that relation existing between the speaker, those addressed and the
subject under consideration, whether by discourse or
correspondence. The Persons are First, Second and Third and they
represent respectively the speaker, the person addressed and the
person or thing mentioned or under consideration.
Number is the distinction of one from more than one. There are two
numbers, singular and plural; the singular denotes one, the plural
two or more. The plural is generally formed from the singular by
the addition of s or es.
Gender has the same relation to nouns that sex has to individuals,
but while there are only two sexes, there are four genders, viz.,
masculine, feminine, neuter and common. The masculine gender
denotes all those of the male kind, the feminine gender all those
of the female kind, the neuter gender denotes inanimate things or
whatever is without life, and common gender is applied to animate
beings, the sex of which for the time being is indeterminable, such
as fish, mouse, bird, etc. Sometimes things which are without life
as we conceive it and which, properly speaking, belong to the
neuter gender, are, by a figure of speech called Personification,
changed into either the masculine or feminine gender, as, for
instance, we say of the sun, He is rising; of the moon, She is
Case is the relation one noun bears to another or to a verb or to a
preposition. There are three cases, the Nominative, the Possessive
and the Objective. The nominative is the subject of which we are
speaking or the agent which directs the action of the verb; the
possessive case denotes possession, while the objective indicates
the person or thing which is affected by the action of the
An Article is a word placed before a noun to show whether the
latter is used in a particular or general sense. There are but two
articles, a or an and the.
An Adjective is a word which qualifies a noun, that is, which shows
some distinguishing mark or characteristic belonging to the
A Pronoun is a word used for or instead of a noun to keep us from
repeating the same noun too often. Pronouns, like nouns, have case,
number, gender and person. There are three kinds of pronouns,
personal, relative and adjective.
A verb is a word which signifies action or the doing of something.
A verb is inflected by tense and mood and by number and person,
though the latter two belong strictly to the subject of the
An adverb is a word which modifies a verb, an adjective and
sometimes another adverb.
A preposition serves to connect words and to show the relation
between the objects which the words express.
A conjunction is a word which joins words, phrases, clauses and
An interjection is a word which expresses surprise or some sudden
emotion of the mind.
The three essentials of the English language are: Purity,
Perspicuity and Precision.
By Purity is signified the use of good English. It precludes the
use of all slang words, vulgar phrases, obsolete terms, foreign
idioms, ambiguous expressions or any ungrammatical language
whatsoever. Neither does it sanction the use of any newly coined
word until such word is adopted by the best writers and
Perspicuity demands the clearest expression of thought conveyed in
unequivocal language, so that there may be no misunderstanding
whatever of the thought or idea the speaker or writer wishes to
convey. All ambiguous words, words of double meaning and words that
might possibly be construed in a sense different from that
intended, are strictly forbidden. Perspicuity requires a style at
once clear and comprehensive and entirely free from pomp and
pedantry and affectation or any straining after effect.
Precision requires concise and exact expression, free from
redundancy and tautology, a style terse and clear and simple enough
to enable the hearer or reader to comprehend immediately the
meaning of the speaker or writer. It forbids, on the one hand, all
long and involved sentences, and, on the other, those that are too
short and abrupt. Its object is to strike the golden mean in such a
way as to rivet the attention of the hearer or reader on the words
uttered or written.