How to Better Write Letters


This is a copy of a book I accidentally found in the Leiden Free Bookshop the other day. It reminded me of eighteenth-century letter writing manuals, so I picked it up. And very much like Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, its final chapter is devoted to usage problems, which added to my interest in the book.

Because I’m in the process of making an inventory of usage problems, I went through the chapter. It largely deals with punctuation marks and spelling problems, including confusion of your and you’re, there’s and theirs and of course its and it’s. The chapter also includes a grammatical feature, one only though: the split infinitive (pp. 242-3). But why on earth should the author have picked on this particular usage problem? Why not preposition stranding, the placement of only or any others, and why not preposition stranding and the placement of only in addition to the split infinitive?

But that isn’t all. Look at how Cherry Chappell describes the split infinitive:

“Splitting an inifitive means putting an adverb (or adverbial phrase) [so far so good] between the auxiliary verb (to) and the verb (sing), for example”.

To an auxiliary verb? Penguin, if you need a copy editor, please contact us: I know of quite a few good people I would happily recommend for this job.



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1 Response to How to Better Write Letters

  1. tonyparr236437852 says:

    Nice one, Ingrid. This must surely go into the record books as one of the most written-about non-issues ever!

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