Style and Usage
Style and usage in the context of the English language is an important part of learning to speak English if the English you speak is to be understood by your contemporaries. We have entitled this section all about style and usage “Modern English”, but it could just as well be called English Today, English in our World, Contemporary English Style + Usage. The English language is in a constant state of transformation, now more than ever, so that it is important to know not only basic rules, common grammatical errors, misspelled words, mispronounced words, etc, but how common and contemporary usage is absorbing and accepting some of these and rejecting others.
“If grammar is the skeleton of expression and usage the flesh and blood, then style is the personality.” ― Arthur Plotnik Elements of Expression
Style and Usage in English Grammar
- What do we mean in practice by this term? The word usage, in the context of language, is defined in The Free Dictionary as:
“The way in which words or phrases are actually used, spoken, or written in a speech community.
A particular expression in speech or writing
Constant use, custom, or habit, something permitted or established by custom or practice
Linguistics what is actually said in a language, especially as contrasted with what is prescribed.”
‘Style,’ in the context of language, is described as:
– the way in which something is done: good or bad style.
– a distinctive, formal, or characteristic manner of expression in words, music, painting,
– the particular mode of orthography, punctuation, design, etc, followed in a book, journal, etc, or in a printing or publishing house, to make consistent or correct according to a printing or publishing style.”
Style in general means ‘manner of writing.’
When you write and speak, you need to know whether a phrase or word is appropriate. This is where style and usage come into play. For example:
Does ‘decimate’ mean ‘to kill one in ten’ (its original meaning) or to kill everyone in sight (the way we currently understand the word to mean)?
Do you stand in line or online?
Underlying all languages are rules. These rules were set at certain times and influenced by certain social and cultural factors. As times change, some rules become redundant, words mean different things, new words are added to the language. This is what style and usage are all about.
Cultural and social norms changes and what was considered inappropriate to say in certain social contexts becomes fine to say now. What was considered totally appropriate – and here we can think of racist and sexist terms – is now completely unacceptable in daily usage.
There are many online guides to style and usage. In addition, there are some classic books on the subject, namely “The New York Times Manual to Style and Usage” and “Elements of Style.”