Variants of the following humorous list have been floating around the net and the press for at least twenty years.

Do you see what is wrong with every sentence in this list? Answer

The list is intended to be humorous. The list does NOT exemplify good usage.


How to Write Good

George L. Trigg, William Safire, and others

  1. Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.

  2. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
    (Variant: "Don't use run-on sentences you got to punctuate them.")

  3. Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.

  4. No sentence fragments.
    (Variant: "About sentence fragments.")

  5. Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.

  6. Just between you and I, the case of pronouns is important.

  7. In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in a series.

  8. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

  9. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

  10. A writer must not shift your point of view in mid-sentence.

  11. Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.

  12. Don’t use no double negatives.

  13. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: Resist hyperbole.

  14. Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.

  15. Don't abbrev.

  16. Remember to hyphenate two or more word modifiers that precede the words they modify.

  17. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

  18. In the case of a report, check to see that jargonwise, it's A-OK.

  19. Writing carefully, dangling participles should not be used.
    (Variant: "Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.")

  20. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
    (Variant: "Eschew obfuscation!")

  21. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

  22. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out. (Variants: "Take the bull by the hand and don't mix metaphors." "Avoid mixing metaphors: the monkey's in your court now.")

  23. Don’t verb nouns.

  24. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
    (Variant: "About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition—take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.")

  25. In my opinion, I think that an author when he or she is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he or she does not really need in order to put his or her message across.

  26. It behooves us to avoid archaisms.

  27. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.

  28. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.
    (Variant: "Last but not least, lay off cliches.")



Answer: Each sentence commits the error it warns against.  


George Orwell on Style

from “Politics and the English Language 

(The following list is serious.)

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

  2. Never use a long word when a short one will do.

  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

  4. Never use the passive when you can use the active.

  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


Orwell writes: “I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all

Here it is in modern English:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.


Examples of Published Bad Writing


Some writing is technically flawless and still terrible! And, unfortunately, professors are frequently the worst offenders. Here are some more examples of objectionable vagueness (empty gassy prose). Unfortunately, you find some of the very worst writing in academic journals.


1. “I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.”

                                    — Literary critic Harold Laski 


2. “On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?”

                        — One of Orwell’s examples, unattributed


3. “Just as Dasein is already its “not-yet” constantly as long as it is, it is already its end too. …  Death is not something to which Dasein ultimately comes only in its demise. In Dasein, as being towards its death, its own uttermost “not-yet” has already been included. … Dasein, furthermore, stretches itself along in such a way that its own Being is constituted in advance as a stretching along. … How does the running ahead understanding project itself on a potentiality-for-Being which is certain and which is constantly possible in such a way that the “when” in which the utter impossibility of existence becomes possible remains constantly indefinite?”

                                    — Martin Heidegger (philosopher)


4. “But it should be noted that this regulatory totalisation realises my immanence in the group in the quasi-transcendence of tha totalising third party; for the latter, as the creator of objectives or organiser of means, stands in a tense and contradictory relation of transcendence-immanence, so that my integration, though real in the here and now which define me, remains somewhere incomplete, in the here and now which characterize the regulatory third party. We see here the re-emergence of an element of alterity proper to the statute of the group, but which here is still formal: the third party is certainly the same, the praxis is certainly common everywhere; but a shifting dislocation makes it totalising when I am the totalised means of the group, and conversely."

                                    — Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher)


5. “Comfort’s catholocity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness.”

                                    Poetry Quarterly (cited by Orwell)


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