Prescriptivists love William Strunk, Jr., author of The Elements of Style. This is a bit odd, because Strunk and most prescriptivists differ in their stated goals. The introduction to Strunk’s original 1918 version of the book clearly lays out what his book is about. It is about “the principal requirements of plain English style”, “the field of English style”, “the rules of rhetoric”, “plain English adequate for everyday uses”, “the secrets of style”, “principles of composition”. No mention of grammar whatsoever. The closest he comes is to mention that his book discusses the “rules of usage”, but you’ll notice that issues of style/composition/rhetoric are far more important in his introduction.

And in fact, his book is laid out to reflect this. Section II is titled “Elementary Rules of Usage”, and that’s the part with issues of grammar. Section III is titled “Elementary Principles of Composition”, and that’s the part with advice about how to write better. That means that stuff in Section III is NOT GRAMMAR. It is advice. This is why Strunk called them “Principles”, not “Rules”.

That means, dear prescriptivists, that the following are not matters of grammar to St. Strunk:

As such, prescriptivists, I would thank you kindly not to cite these as inherent rules of English Grammar, but rather as one writer’s opinion of what makes good writing. Of course, even if Strunk had claimed that these were rules of grammar, that wouldn’t make it so. But at least it’d be less galling when you parrot them as inalienable truths about the language.

Readers: do not be taken in by the claim that these principles of style justify any so-called rules of grammar! Stay on your guard!