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The Accidents of Style

Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly

Charles Harrington Elster

St. Martin's Griffin

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ISBN10: 0312613008
ISBN13: 9780312613006

Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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Just like automobile accidents, accidents of style occur all over the English-speaking world, in print and on the Internet, thousands of times every day. They range from minor fender benders, such as confusing their and there, to serious smashups, such as misusing sensual for sensuous or writing loathe when you mean loath.

Charles Harrington Elster shows you how to navigate the hairpin turns of grammar, diction, spelling, and punctuation with an entertaining driver's manual covering 350 common word hazards and infractions, arranged in order of complexity for writers of all levels. Elster illustrates these surprisingly common accidents with quotations from numerous print and online publications, many of them highly regarded—which perhaps should make us feel better: If the horrendous redundancy close proximity and the odious construction what it is, is have appeared in The New York Times, maybe our own accidents will be forgiven. But that shouldn't keep us from aspiring to accident-free writing and speaking.

If you want to get on the road to writing well, The Accidents of Style will help you drive home what you want to say.


Praise for The Accidents of Style

"Charles Elster shines a bright light on 350 major potholes, pitfalls, and pratfalls that pock the road of writing. His sage advice on how to avoid writing badly points the reader in the direction of a smoother journey toward writing well."—Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English and The Write Way

"This book is perfect for people who want to take their prose from the pothole-filled side streets to the Autobahn. You'll learn how to avoid errors, barbarisms, redundancies, and other drags on your style. It's an essential addition to any language lover's collection. After I read it, I felt like I'd just had my writing engines tuned by a master mechanic. The Accidents of Style is essential for anyone who's serious about the written word."—Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us (Sic)

"The Accidents of Style is eminently readable. And if you're one of us who can't always remember the difference between eminently and imminently—and more than 350 other thorny usage questions—you'll want to buy it and keep it near. It is useful, nuanced—and funny, too."—Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Every day or everyday?
The confusion between every day and everyday occurs multiple times every day; it's an everyday accident. Even The New York Times Magazine is not immune to it: "As a kid, I had a sailor...

About the author

Charles Harrington Elster

Charles Harrington Elster is a nationally recognized authority on language. He is the orthoepist for and the author of Verbal Advantage and many other books. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.

©Randy Hoffman