How to Write a Perfect Sentence

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Last August William Zinsser gave a talk, “How to Write English as a Second Language,” to incoming international students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Reprinted in TheAmerican Scholar, his advice on how to write well is shrewd and funny–and just as apt for native English speakers, even non-journalist types.

Read the whole piece–Zinsser gives vivid examples of great writing, plus all the elements of a perfect sentence–but here’s a sample. He has just railed against Latin words, generally “long pompous nouns that end in –ion,” and is moving on to what pleases him:

So if those are the bad nouns, what are the good nouns? The good nouns are the thousands of short, simple, infinitely old Anglo-Saxon nouns that express the fundamentals of everyday life: house, home, child, chair, bread, milk, sea, sky, earth, field, grass, road . . . words that are in our bones, words that resonate with the oldest truths. When you use those words, you make contact–consciously and also subconsciously–with the deepest emotions and memories of your readers.

Source: The American Scholar

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