Strunk & White’s classic writing guide, The Elements of Style, has been derided recently by Steven Pinker.  But one of Strunk & White’s rules stands unchallenged:

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.  The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.

Writing experts, including Garner, Flesch and McKee agree.

In English:

  • you can form a grammatically correct sentence with just a verb (e.g “Go!”); and
  • the next shortest sentence structure is a noun and a verb, e.g. “Fish swim.”.

Our language is built on nouns and verbs: names and actions.  Words that describe nouns (adjectives) and verbs (adverbs) can provide readers with more detail.  But if you choose the right nouns and verbs – strong, specific and picturesque – you won’t need them as much.

So you could write:

He inserted vigorously a strong wooden post with a point at one end into the pale corpse that is supposed to leave its grave at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with long pointed canine teeth.


He stabbed the vampire with a stake.

Which is more effective?

Source: Strunk, W. & White, E.B. (1979), The Elements of Style.


Banter Speech & Language Banter Speech & Language
Banter Speech & Language is an independent firm of speech pathologists for adults and children. We help clients in our local area, including Concord, Rhodes, Strathfield and all other suburbs of Sydney’s Inner West.

Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.

David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP).

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