How to Write Clearly - Rules and Exercises on English Composition
by Edwin A. Abbott
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All these difficulties and dangers are quite as real, and require as much attention, and are fit subjects for practical teaching in our schools, quite as much as many points which, at present, receive perhaps an excessive attention in some of our text-books. To use the right word in the right place is an accomplishment not less valuable than the knowledge of the truth (carefully recorded in most English Grammars, and often inflicted as a task upon younger pupils) that the plural of cherub is cherubim, and the feminine of bull is cow.

To smooth the reader's way through these difficulties is the object of the first three Parts of this book. Difficulties connected with Vocabulary are considered first. The student is introduced, almost at once, to Synonyms. He is taught how to define a word, with and without the aid of its synonyms. He is shown how to eliminate from a word whatever is not essential to its meaning. The processes of Definition and Elimination are carefully explained: a system or scheme is laid down which he can exactly follow; and examples are subjoined, worked out to illustrate the method which he is to pursue. A system is also given by which the reader may enlarge his vocabulary, and furnish himself easily and naturally with those general or abstract terms which are often misunderstood and misused, and still more often not understood and not used at all. Some information is also given to help the reader to connect words with their roots, and at the same time to caution him against supposing that, because he knows the roots of a word, he necessarily knows the meaning of the word itself. Exercises are interspersed throughout this Part which can be worked out with, or without, an English Etymological Dictionary,[44] as the nature of the case may require. The exercises have not been selected at random; many of them have been subjected to the practical test of experience, and have been used in class teaching.

The Second Part deals with Diction. It attempts to illustrate with some detail the distinction—often ignored by those who are beginning to write English, and sometimes by others also—between the Diction of Prose, and that of Poetry. It endeavors to dissipate that excessive and vulgar dread of tautology which, together with a fondness for misplaced pleasantry, gives rise to the vicious style described above. It gives some practical rules for writing a long sentence clearly and impressively; and it also examines the difference between slang, conversation, and written prose. Both for translating from foreign languages into English, and for writing original English composition, these rules have been used in teaching, and, we venture to think, with encouraging results.

A Chapter on Simile and Metaphor concludes the subject of Diction. We have found, in the course of teaching, that a great deal of confusion in speaking and writing, and still more in reading and attempting to understand the works of our classical English authors, arises from the inability to express the literal meaning conveyed in a Metaphor. The application of the principle of Proportion to the explanation of Metaphor has been found to dissipate much of this confusion. The youngest pupils readily learn how to "expand a Metaphor into its Simile;" and it is really astonishing to see how many difficulties that perplex young heads, and sometimes old ones too, vanish at once when the key of "expansion" is applied. More important still, perhaps, is the exactness of thought introduced by this method. The pupil knows that, if he cannot expand a metaphor, he does not understand it. All teachers will admit that to force a pupil to see that he does not understand any thing is a great stride of progress. It is difficult to exaggerate the value of a process which makes it impossible for a pupil to delude himself into the belief that he understands when he does not understand.

Metre is the subject of the Third Part. The object of this Part (as also, in a great measure, of the Chapter just mentioned belonging to the Second Part) is to enable the pupil to read English Poetry with intelligence, interest, and appreciation. To teach any one how to read a verse so as to mark the metre on the one hand, without on the other hand converting the metrical line into a monotonous doggerel, is not so easy a task as might be supposed. Many of the rules stated in this Part have been found of practical utility in teaching pupils to hit the mean. Rules and illustrations have therefore been given, and the different kinds of metre and varieties of the same metre have been explained at considerable length.

This Chapter may seem to some to enter rather too much into detail. We desire, however, to urge as an explanation, that in all probability the study of English metre will rapidly assume more importance in English schools. At present, very little is generally taught, and perhaps known, about this subject. In a recent elaborate edition of the works of Pope, the skill of that consummate master of the art of epigrammatic versification is impugned because in one of his lines he suffers the to receive the metrical accent. When one of the commonest customs (for it is in no sense a license) of English poets—a custom sanctioned by Shakspeare, Dryden, Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Tennyson—can be censured as a fault, and this in a leading edition of a leading poet of our literature, it must be evident that much still remains to be done in teaching English Metre. At present this Part may seem too detailed. Probably, some few years hence, when a knowledge of English Metre has become more widely diffused, it will seem not detailed enough.

The Fourth Part (like the Chapter on Metaphor) is concerned not more with English than with other languages. It treats of the different Styles of Composition, the appropriate subjects for each, and the arrangement of the subject-matter. We hope that this may be of some interest to the general reader, as well as of practical utility in the higher classes of schools. It seems desirable that before pupils begin to write essays, imaginary dialogues, speeches, and poems, they should receive some instruction as to the difference of arrangement in a poem, a speech, a conversation, and an essay.

An Appendix adds a few hints on some Errors in Reasoning. This addition may interfere with the symmetry of the book; but if it is found of use, the utility will be ample compensation. In reading literature, pupils are continually meeting instances of false reasoning, which, if passed over without comment, do harm, and, if commented upon, require some little basis of knowledge in the pupil to enable him to understand the explanation. Without entering into the details of formal Logic, we have found it possible to give pupils some few hints which have appeared to help them. The hints are so elementary, and so few, that they cannot possibly delude the youngest reader into imagining that they are any thing more than hints. They may induce him hereafter to study the subject thoroughly in a complete treatise, when he has leisure and opportunity; but, in any case, a boy will leave school all the better prepared for the work of life, whatever that work may be, if he knows the meaning of induction, and has been cautioned against the error, post hoc, ergo propter hoc. No lesson, so far as our experience in teaching goes, interests and stimulates pupils more than this; and our experience of debating societies, in the higher forms of schools, forces upon us the conviction that such lessons are not more interesting than necessary.

Questions on the different paragraphs have been added at the end of the book, for the purpose of enabling the student to test his knowledge of the contents, and also to serve as home lessons to be prepared by pupils in classes.[45]

A desire, expressed by some teachers of experience, that these lessons should be published as soon as possible, has rather accelerated the publication. Some misprints and other inaccuracies may possibly be found in the following pages, in consequence of the short time Which has been allowed us for correcting them. Our thanks are due to several friends who have kindly assisted us in this task, and who have also aided us with many valuable and practical suggestions. Among these we desire to mention Mr. Joseph Payne, whose labors on Norman French are well known; Mr. T.G. Philpotts, late Fellow of New College, Oxford, and one of the Assistant Masters of Rugby School; Mr. Edwin Abbott, Head Master of the Philological School; Mr. Howard Candler, Mathematical Master of Uppingham School; and the Rev. R. H. Quick, one of the Assistant Masters of Harrow School.

In conclusion, we repeat that we do not wish our book to be regarded as an exhaustive treatise, or as adapted for the use of foreigners. It is intended primarily for boys, but, in the present unsatisfactory state of English education, we entertain a hope that it may possibly be found not unfit for some who have passed the age of boyhood; and in this hope we have ventured to give it the title of English Lessons for English People.


[44] An Etymological Dictionary is necessary for pupils studying the First Part. Chambers's or Ogilvie's will answer the purpose.

[45] Some of the passages quoted to illustrate style are intended to be committed to memory and used as repetition-lessons.—See pp. 180, 181, 212, 237, 238, etc.

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A LECTURE. By WILLIAM P. ATKINSON, Professor of English and History in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 16mo. Cloth. Price 50 cents.

"Full of good sense, sound taste, and quiet humor.... It is the easiest thing in the world to waste time over books, which are merely tools of knowledge like any other tools.... It is the function of a good book not only to fructify, but to inspire, not only to fill the memory with evanescent treasures, but to enrich the imagination with forms of beauty and goodness which leave a lasting impression on the character."—N. Y. Tribune.

"Contains so many wise suggestions concerning methods in study and so excellent a summary of the nature and principles of a really liberal education that it well deserves publication for the benefit of the reading public. Though it makes only a slight volume, its quality in thought and style is so admirable that all who are interested in the subject of good education will give to it a prominent and honorable position among the many books upon education which have recently been published. For it takes only a brief reading to perceive that in this single lecture the results of wide experience in teaching and of long study of the true principles of education are generalized and presented in a few pages, each one of which contains so much that it might be easily expanded into an excellent chapter."—The Library Table.

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By ERNEST LEGOUVE, of the Academie Francaise. Translated from the Ninth Edition by ABBY LANGDON ALGER. 16mo. Cloth. 50 cents.



For you this sketch was written: permit me to dedicate it to you, in fact, to intrust it to your care. Pupils to-day, to-morrow you will be teachers; to-morrow, generation after generation of youth will pass through your guardian hands. An idea received by you must of necessity reach thousands of minds. Help me, then, to spread abroad the work in which you have some share, and allow me to add to the great pleasure of having numbered you among my hearers the still greater happiness of calling you my assistants. E. LEGOUVE.

We commend this valuable little book to the attention of teachers and others interested in the instruction of the pupils of our public schools. It treats of the "First Steps in Reading," "Learning to Read," "Should we read as we talk," "The Use and Management of the Voice," "The Art of Breathing," "Pronunciation," "Stuttering," "Punctuation," "Readers and Speakers," "Reading as a Means of Criticism," "On Reading Poetry," &c., and makes a strong claim as to the value of reading aloud, as being the most wholesome of gymnastics, for to strengthen the voice is to strengthen the whole system and develop vocal power.

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AN ATTEMPT TO APPLY THE PRINCIPLES OF SCHOLARSHIP TO ENGLISH GRAMMAR. With Appendixes in Analysis, Spelling, and Punctuation. By EDWIN A. ABBOTT, M.A., Head Master of the City of London School. 16mo. Cloth. Price $1.00.

"We recommend this little book to the careful attention of teachers and others interested in instruction. In the hands of an able teacher, the book should help to relieve parsing from the reproach of being the bane of the school-room. The Etymological Glossary of Grammatical Terms will also supply a long-felt want." N.Y. Nation.

"'How to Parse' is likely to prove to teachers a valuable, and to scholars an agreeable, substitute for most of the grammars in common use."—Boston Daily Advertiser.

"The Rev. E.A. Abbott, whose books, 'English Lessons for English People,' and 'How to Write Clearly,' have been accepted as standard text-books on both sides of the ocean, has added another work to his list of sensible treatises on the use of English. It is called 'How to Parse,' and is best described by the further title, 'An Attempt to apply the Principles of Scholarship to English Grammar, with Appendices on Analysis, Spelling, and Punctuation.' The little book is so sensible and so simple that the greater number of its readers will perhaps forget to observe that it is profoundly philosophical also, but it is so in the best sense of the term."—N. Y. Evening Post.

"Of all subjects of study, it may be safely admitted that grammar possesses as a rule the fewest attractions for the youthful mind. To prepare a work capable of imparting a thorough knowledge of this important part of education in an attractive and entertaining form, to many may appear extremely difficult, if not impossible; nevertheless, the task has been accomplished in a highly successful manner by Edwin A. Abbott, Head Master of the City of London School, in a neat little volume entitled 'How to Parse.' The author has succeeded admirably in combining with the exercises a vast amount of useful information, which impacts to the principles and rules of the main subject a degree of interest that renders the study as attractive as history or fiction. The value of the book is greatly increased by an excellent glossary of grammatical forms and a nicely arranged index. The work deserves the attention and consideration of teachers and pupils, and will doubtless prove a highly popular addition to the list of school-books."—N.Y. Graphic.

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Messrs. Roberts Brothers' Publications.






Thin 8vo, cloth, gilt, bevelled boards. Price $2.00. A cheaper edition, 16mo, cloth. Price $1.00.

"Miss Frothingham's translation is something to be glad of: it lends itself kindly to perusal, and it presents Goethe's charming poem in the metre of the original.... It is not a poem which could be profitably used in an argument for the enlargement of the sphere of woman: it teaches her subjection, indeed, from the lips of a beautiful girl, which are always so fatally convincing; but it has its charm, nevertheless, and will serve at least for an agreeable picture of an age when the ideal woman was a creature around which grew the beauty and comfort and security of home."—Atlantic Monthly.

"The poem itself is bewitching. Of the same metre as Longfellow's 'Evangeline,' its sweet and measured cadences carry the reader onward with a real pleasure as he becomes more and more absorbed in this descriptive wooing song. It is a sweet volume to read aloud in a select circle of intelligent friends."—Providence Press.

"Miss Frothingham has done a good service, and done it well, in translating this famous idyl, which has been justly called 'one of the most faultless poems of modern times.' Nothing can surpass the simplicity, tenderness, and grace of the original, and these have been well preserved in Miss Frothingham's version. Her success is worthy of the highest praise, and the mere English reader can scarcely fail to read the poem with the same delight with which it has always been read by those familiar with the German. Its charming pictures of domestic life, the strength and delicacy of its characterization, the purity of tone and ardent love of country which breathe through it, must always make it one of the most admired of Goethe's works."—Boston Christian Register.

Sold everywhere. Mailed, postpaid, by the Publishers,


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HOW TO PARSE. An Attempt to Apply the Principles of Scholarship to English Grammar. With Appendixes on Analysis, Spelling, and Punctuation. 16mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.

HOW TO TELL THE PARTS OF SPEECH. An Introduction to English Grammar. American edition, revised and enlarged by Prof. JOHN G. R. McELROY, of the University of Pennsylvania. 16mo. Cloth. Price, 75 cents.

HOW TO WRITE CLEARLY. Rules and Exercises in English Composition. 16mo. Cloth. Price, 60 cents.

ENGLISH LESSONS FOR ENGLISH PEOPLE. Jointly by Dr. ABBOTT and Prof. J. R. SEELEY, M.A., of Cambridge University, Eng. 16mo. Cloth. Price, $1.50.



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[Transcriber's Notes:

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings and other inconsistencies.

The transcriber made the following changes to the text to correct obvious errors:

1. p. 90, "inpugned" —> "impugned" 2. p. 51, to qualify "enemy. —> to qualify "enemy."

Text set in bold print is indicated by asterisks, i.e., *Bold*.

It is common to have footnotes referenced multiple times in the text.

Advertisements for Dr. Abbott's other works published by Roberts Brothers have been moved from the front of the book to the end.

End of Transcriber's Notes]

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