How to Better Write Letters

Bridging the Unbridgeable

Penguin

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…

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