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Copyright, 1895, by Harper & Brothers
All rights reserved.
W.P. 17


The art of using one's native tongue correctly and forcibly is acquired
for the most part through imitation and practice, and is not so much a
matter of knowledge as of habit. As regards English, then, the first duty
of our schools is to set before pupils excellent models, and, in all
departments of school-work, to keep a watchful eye on the innumerable acts
of expression, oral and written, which go to form habit. Since, however,
pupils come to school with many of their habits of expression already
formed on bad models, our schools must give some attention to the special
work of pointing out common errors of speech, and of leading pupils to
convert knowledge of these errors into new and correct habits of
expression. This is the branch of English teaching in which this little
book hopes to be useful.

All the "Exercises in English" with which I am acquainted consist chiefly
of "sentences to be corrected." To such exercises there are grave
objections. If, on the one hand, the fault in the given sentence is not
seen at a glance, the pupil is likely, as experience has shown, to pass it
by and to change something that is not wrong. If, on the other hand, the
fault is obvious, the exercise has no value in the formation of habit.
Take, for example, two "sentences for correction" which I select at random
from one of the most widely used books of its class: "I knew it was him,"
and "Sit the plates on the table." A pupil of any wit will at once see
that the mistakes must be in "him" and "sit," and knowing that the
alternatives are "he" and "set," he will at once correct the sentences
without knowing, perhaps, why one form is wrong, the other right. He has
not gained anything valuable; he has simply "slid" through his exercise.
Moreover, such "sentences for correction" violate a fundamental principle
of teaching English by setting before the impressionable minds of pupils
bad models. Finally, such exercises are unnatural, because the habit which
we hope to form in our pupils is not the habit of correcting mistakes, but
the habit of avoiding them.

Correct English is largely a matter of correct choice between two or more
forms of expression, and in this book an attempt has been made, as a
glance at the pages will show, to throw the exercises, whenever possible,
into a form consistent with this truth. Though a pupil may _change_ "who"
to "whom" without knowing why, he cannot repeatedly _choose_ correctly
between these forms without strengthening his own habit of correct

This book has been prepared primarily as a companion to Professor A.S.
Hill's "Foundations of Rhetoric," in answer to the request of many
teachers for exercises to use with that admirable work.[1] Without the
friendly encouragement of Professor Hill the task would not have been
undertaken, and to him above all others I am indebted for assistance in
completing it. He has permitted me to draw freely on his published works;
he has provided me with advance sheets of the revised edition of
"Principles of Rhetoric;" he has put at my disposal much useful material
gleaned from his own experience; he has read the manuscript and proofs,
and, without assuming any responsibility for shortcomings, he has
suggested many improvements. I am also indebted to Mr. E.G. Coy,
Headmaster of the Hotchkiss School, for many valuable suggestions, and to
my colleague, Mr. J.E. Barss, for assistance in the proof-reading.

The quotations from "The Century Dictionary" are made under an arrangement
with the owners of the copyright of that work. I am also indebted to
Professor Barrett Wendell, Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., and Messrs.
Macmillan & Co. for permission to use brief quotations from their works.


LAKEVILLE, CONN., _September_, 1895.

[1] See Appendix: Suggestions to Teachers.




* * * * *



Why is it that for the purposes of English composition one word is not so
good as another? To this question we shall get a general answer if we
examine the effect of certain classes of expressions.

PRESENT USE. - Let us examine first the effect produced by three
passages in the authorized version of the English Bible - a version made by
order of King James in 1611: -

"For these two years hath the famine been in the land, and yet there are
five years, in the which there shall neither be _earing_ nor harvest"
(Gen. xlv. 6).

"O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long
will ye love vanity, and seek after _leasing_?" (Psa. iv. 2).

"Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed
to come unto you, but was _let_ hitherto" (Rom. i. 18).

See also Gen. xxv. 29; Matt. iii 8; Acts viii. 3; 1 Thess. iv. 15.

An ordinary reader of our time cannot without assistance fully understand
these passages, because the words "earing," "leasing," and "let" convey to
his mind either no idea at all or a wrong idea. Two hundred and eighty
years ago, when this translation of the Bible was made, these words were
common words with plain meanings; but "earing" and "leasing" have since
dropped out of common use, and "let" has acquired a different meaning;
consequently an ordinary reader of the present time must consult a
dictionary before he can be sure what the passages mean. Words and
meanings which have gone out of use are called _obsolete_. There is not
much temptation to use obsolete words; but the temptation sometimes comes.
Therefore we note, as our first conclusion, that a person who wishes to be
understood must avoid expressions and meanings which are not in _present

NATIONAL USE. - A boy from southern Pennsylvania was visiting in New
York State. In the midst of some preparations for a fishing excursion he
said to his host, "Shall I take my _gums_ along?" His host burst out
laughing and said, "Of course; did you think of taking them out of your
mouth and leaving them at home?"[2] Unconsciously the boy had used a good
English word in a sense peculiar to the district in which he lived; his
host had understood the word in its proper sense.

On another occasion a gentleman who had just arrived at a hotel in
Kennebunkport, Me., agreed to a proposal to "go down to the beach in the
_barge_." Going to his room, he prepared for a little excursion on the
river which flowed by the hotel. When he returned, he was greatly
surprised to find his friends about to start for the beach in _a large
omnibus_. Another gentleman once asked a young lady to go "_riding_" with
him. At the appointed hour he drove to her house in a buggy, and she came
down to meet him in her riding habit.

These incidents show that if we use expressions that are only local, or
use words in local senses, we are liable either to be misunderstood or not
to be understood at all. Obscurity also arises from the use of words in
senses which are peculiar to a certain class or profession. For example,
to a person who is not familiar with commercial slang, this sentence from
the market columns of a newspaper is a puzzle: -

"Java coffees are _dull_ and _easy_, though they are _statistically

The following directions for anchoring in a gale of wind are taken from a
book called "How to Sail a Boat": -

"When everything is ready, bring the yacht _to the wind_, and let
the sails shake _in the wind's eye_; and, so soon as she gets
_stern-way_, let go the _best bower_ anchor, taking care not to
_snub her_ too quickly, but to let considerable of the cable run
out before checking her; then take a turn or two around the
_knight-heads_," etc.

If a landsman's safety depended on his understanding these directions,
there would not be much hope for him.

The following extract is from a newspaper report of a game of ball: -

"In the eighth inning Anson jumped from one box into the other and
whacked a wide one into extreme right. It was a three-base jolt
and was made when Gastright intended to force the old man to
first. The Brooklyns howled and claimed that Anson was out, but
McQuaid thought differently. Both teams were crippled. Lange will
be laid up for a week or so. One pitcher was batted out of the

This narrative may seem commonplace to school-boys, but to their mothers
and sisters it must seem alarming.

Our second conclusion, therefore, is that a person who wishes to be
understood must avoid words and phrases that are not understood, and
understood in the same sense, in every part of the country, and in every
class or profession.[3]

REPUTABLE USE. - Let us examine now the effect produced by a third
kind of expression, namely, words and phrases "not used by writers and
speakers of established reputation."[4] Let us take as our illustrations
the familiar expressions, "He _done_ it" and "Please _set_ in this seat."
Each of these expressions is common at the present time, and its meaning
is instantly clear to any one who speaks English. But these expressions,
not being used by well-informed and careful speakers, produce in the mind
of a well-informed bearer an impression of vulgarity like that which we
get from seeing a person eat with his knife. In language, as in manners
and fashions, the law is found in the custom of the best people; and
persons who wish to be classed as cultivated people must speak and write
like cultivated people. There is no moral wrong in a person's saying
"Please _set_ in this seat," and if he does say it he will probably be
understood; but persons who use this or any other expression which is not
in reputable use run the risk of being classed as ignorant, affected, or

GOOD USE. - It appears, therefore, that words and phrases, in order to
be proper expressions for use in English prose, (1) must be in common use
at the present time; (2) they must be used, and used in the same sense, in
every part of the country, and in every class and profession; (3) they
must be expressions used by writers and speakers of established
reputation. In other words, our expressions must be in _present,
national_, and _reputable_ use. Expressions which fulfil these three
conditions are said to be in _good use_.

The next question that presents itself to one who wishes to use English
correctly is, How am I to know what words and expressions are in good use?

CONVERSATION AND GOOD USE. - Good use cannot be determined solely by
observing the conversation of our associates; for the chances are that
they use many local expressions, some slang, and possibly some vulgarisms.
"You often hear it" is not proof that an expression is in good use.

NEWSPAPERS AND GOOD USE. - Nor can good use be learned from what we
see in newspapers. Newspapers of high rank contain from time to time,
especially in their editorial columns, some of the best modern prose, and
much literature that has become standard was first printed in periodicals;
but most of the prose in newspapers is written necessarily by contributors
who do not belong to the class of "speakers or writers whom the world
deems the best." As the newspaper in its news records the life of every
day, so in its style it too frequently records the slang of daily life and
the faults of ordinary conversation. A newspaper contains bits of English
prose from hundreds of different pens, some skilled, some unskilled; and
this jumble of styles does not determine good use.

NO ONE BOOK OR WRITER DECISIVE. - Nor is good use to be learned from
our favorite author, unsupported by other authority; not even, as we have
seen, from the English Bible, when it stands alone. No writer, even the
greatest, is free from occasional errors; but these accidental slips are
not to be considered in determining good use. Good use is decided by the
prevailing usage of the writers whose works make up permanent English
literature, not by their inadvertencies. "The fact that Shakspere uses a
word, or Sir Walter Scott, or Burke, or Washington Irving, or whoever
happens to be writing earnestly in Melbourne or Sidney, does not make it
reputable. The fact that all five of these authorities use the word in
the same sense would go very far to establish the usage. On the other
hand, the fact that any number of newspaper reporters agree in usage does
not make the usage reputable. The style of newspaper reporters is not
without merit; it is very rarely unreadable; but for all its virtue it is
rarely a well of English undefiled."[5]

"Reputable use is fixed, not by the practice of those whom A or B deems
the best speakers or writers, but by the practice of those whom the world
deems the best, - those who are in the best repute, not indeed as to
thought, but as to expression, the manner of communicating thought. The
practice of no one writer, however high he may stand in the public
estimation, is enough to settle a point; but the uniform or nearly uniform
practice of reputable speakers or writers is decisive."[6]

question how to become familiar with good use the first answer is, read
the best literature. Language, like manners, is learned for the most part
by imitation; and a person who is familiar with the language of reputable
writers and speakers will use good English without conscious effort, just
as a child brought up among refined people generally has good manners
without knowing it. Good reading is indispensable to good speaking or
writing. Without this, rules and dictionaries are of no avail. In reading
the biographies of eminent writers, it is interesting to note how many of
them were great readers when they were young; and teachers can testify
that the best writers among their pupils are those who have read good
literature or who have been accustomed to hear good English at home. The
student of expression should begin at once to make the acquaintance of
good literature.

THE USE OF DICTIONARIES. - To become acquainted with good literature,
however, takes a long time; and to decide, by direct reference to the
usage of the best writers, every question that arises in composition, is
not possible for beginners. In certain cases beginners must go to
dictionaries to learn what good use approves. Dictionaries do not make
good use, but by recording the facts learned by professional investigators
they answer many questions regarding it. To one who wishes to speak and
write well a good dictionary is indispensable.

"THE FOUNDATIONS OF RHETORIC." - Dictionaries, however, are not always
a sufficient guide; for, being records, they aim to give _all_ the senses
in which a word is used, and do not always tell which sense is approved by
the best usage. Large dictionaries contain many words which have gone out
of good use and other words which have not yet come into good use.
Moreover, they treat of words only, not of constructions and long
expressions. Additional help in determining good use is required by
beginners, and this help is to be found in such books as Professor A.S.
Hill's "Foundations of Rhetoric." The investigations of a specialist are
there recorded in a convenient form, with particular reference to the
needs of beginners and of those who have been under the influence of bad
models. Common errors are explained and corrected, and the fundamental
merits of good expression are set forth and illustrated.

PURPOSE OF THESE EXERCISES. - In the following exercises, which are
intended for drill on some of these elements of good expression, care has
been taken to put the questions into the forms in which they arise in
actual composition. The notes which precede the exercises are only hints;
for full discussions of the principles involved the student must consult
larger works.


/Phrases that have gone out of use, said
| Brand-new words which have not become
| established in good use: as, "burglarize,"
| "enthuse," "electrocute."
BARBARISMS: Words and | Phrases introduced from foreign countries
phrases not English; _i.e.,_ | (called FOREIGNISMS, ALIENISMS), or
not authorized by good | peculiar to some district or province
English use. The name < (called PROVINCIALISMS). A phrase introduced
comes from a Greek | from France is called a _Gallicism_;
word meaning "foreign," | from England, an _Anglicism_. A
"strange." | phrase peculiar to America is called an
| _Americanism_. Similarly we have the
| terms _Latinism, Hellenism, Teutonism_,
| etc. All these names may be applied
| also to certain kinds of Improprieties
\and Solecisms.

English words or phrases | Most errors in the use of English
used in wrong senses: | are Improprieties, which are far more
as, "I _guess_ I'll go to > common than Barbarisms and Solecisms.
bed;" "He is _stopping_ | No classification of them is here
for a week at the Berkshire | attempted.
Inn." /

SOLECISMS: Constructions not English, commonly called cases of "bad
grammar" or "false syntax": as, "She invited Mrs. Roe and _I_ to go
driving with her." "Solecism" is derived from _Soli_, the name of a Greek
tribe who lived in Cilicia and spoke bad Greek.

SLANG is a general name for current, vulgar, unauthorized language. It may
take the form of barbarism, impropriety, or solecism.

A COLLOQUIALISM is an expression peculiar to familiar conversation.

A VULGARISM is an expression peculiar to vulgar or ignorant people.

[2] This and the two following incidents are from the writer's own
[3] A.S. Hill: Foundations of Rhetoric, p. 28.
[4] Ibid., p. 20.
[5] Barrett Wendell: English Composition, p. 21.
[6] A.S. Hill: Principles of Rhetoric, revised edition, p. 16.


1. Make a list of the provincial expressions you can think of, and give
their equivalents in national English.
2. Make a list of the slang or vulgar expressions you can think of, and
give their equivalents in reputable English.
3. Make a list of the words, forms, and phrases not in present use which
you can find in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, authorized
version, and give their equivalents in modern English.


Which word in the following pairs should an American prefer? Consult
Hill's "Foundations of Rhetoric," pp. 28-29: Coal, coals; jug, pitcher;
street railway, tramway; post-card, postal-card; depôt, station.


1. Arrange the following words in two columns, putting in the first column
words that are in good use, in the second, words that are not in good
use. Consult Hill's "Foundations of Rhetoric," pp. 27-29: Omnibus,
succotash, welkin, ere, née, depôt, veto, function (in the sense of
social entertainment), to pan out, twain, on the docket, kine,
gerrymander, carven, caucus, steed, to coast (on sled or bicycle),
posted (informed), to watch out, right (very).
2. Give good English equivalents for the words which are not in good use.



A or AN.[7] - The choice between these forms is determined by
sound, not by spelling. Before a consonant sound "a" is used; before a
vowel sound "an" is used.

[7] "Foundations," pp. 32-36.


_Put the proper form, "a" or "an," before each of these
expressions_: - Elephant, apple, egg, union of states, uniform, uninformed
person, universal custom, umpire, Unitarian church, anthem, unfortunate
man, united people, American, European, Englishman, one, high hill, horse,
honorable career, hypocrite, humble spirit, honest boy, hypothesis,
history, historical sketch, heir, hundred, hereditary disease, household.

THE or A.[8] - "The" is a broken-down form of the old English
_thoet_, from which we also get "that," and is used to point out some
particular person, thing, or class: as, "_The_ headmaster of _the_ school
gave _the_ boys permission." When "the" is used before the name of a
particular class of persons or things it is called the "generic" article
(from _genus_, "a class"): as, "None but _the_ brave deserve _the_ fair";
"_The_ eagle is our national bird."

"An" ("a") is a broken-down form of the old English word _ane_, meaning
"one." It is properly used when the object is thought of as one of a
class: as, "There is _an_ eagle in the zoological garden." It cannot
properly be used before a word which is used as a class name, because a
class name includes in its meaning more than "one."

SUPERFLUOUS and OMITTED ARTICLES.[9] - The use of a superfluous
"a" or "an" before a class name, especially after the words "sort" and
"kind," is a common and obstinate error. We may say, "This is an eagle,"
meaning "one eagle." But we may not say, "_An_ eagle is our national
bird," "This is a rare kind of _an_ eagle," or, "It is not worthy of the
name of _an_ eagle"; because in these sentences "eagle" is used as the
name, not of a single bird, but of a class of birds, and includes in its
meaning all the birds which belong to the class called "eagle." The
sentences are equivalent to: "The kind of bird called 'eagle' is our
national bird;" "This is a rare species of the class of birds called
'eagle;'" "It is not worthy of the name given to the birds which belong to
the class called 'eagle.'"

[8] Ibid., pp. 33-34.


_Tell the difference in meaning between_: -

1. The (a) house is on fire.
2. Yes, I heard (the) shouts in the street.
3. About eight o'clock (the) guests began to come.
4. Yes, I heard (the) noises in the next room.
5. The (an) elephant stood on a cask, and the (a) clown sat on the
elephant's back.
6. The President has appointed a commission to investigate the
cause of (the) strikes.
7. Will he let us look at (the) stars through the (a) telescope?
8. (The) teacher and (the) pupil are interested in this question.
9. He told us about an (the) accident.
10. Fire is beautiful. The fire is beautiful.
11. He was a better scholar than (an) athlete.
12. A young and (a) delicate girl.
13. He liked the bread and (the) butter.
14. A pink and (a) lavender gown.
15. The wise and (the) good.
16. Wanted, a cook and (a) housemaid.
17. The black and (the) white cow.
18. The athlete, (the) soldier, (the) statesman, and (the) poet.
19. A secretary and (a) treasurer.
20. The corresponding and (the) recording secretary.
21. The honest, (the) wise, and (the) patriotic senators voted
against the bill.
22. A cotton and (a) silk umbrella.
23. The tenth and (the) last chapter.

[9] "Foundations," pp. 34-39.


_Insert the proper article ("a," "an," or "the") in each blank place in
the following, if an article is needed; if no article is needed, leave the
place blank_: -

1. I began to suffer from - - want of food.
2. There are two articles, the definite and - - indefinite.
3. He did not say what kind of - - horse he wanted to buy.
4. Did Macaulay die of - - heart disease?
5. Nouns have two numbers, - - singular and - - plural.
6. - - third and - - fourth page are to be learned.
7. - - third and - - fourth pages are to be learned.
8. Many names of - - states are derived from - - Indian tongues.
9. This is a curious species of - - rose.
10. Study carefully - - first and - - second chapters.
11. A black and - - white boy were walking together.

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