Dreyer’s English (Guide to Clarity and Style)

Dreyer, Benjamin. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Complete Guide to Clarity and Style. Random House Publishing.

Benjamin Dreyer is the copy editor at Random House and in this book he shares all of the tips and horror stories he has come across in his career. He is brutally funny. If you have a decent command of grammar and language, then this book should always be at arm’s reach.


1. “Go a week without writing:

In fact

They aren’t wrong but they communicate that your prose might be missing something stronger.

2. Go light on exclamation points (Dreyer 65). By ‘go light’ I mean something like the following: Remember that last time you used an exclamation point? Yeah, never do that again.

67 Assorted Things

This chapter is the nuts and bolts of the book. In it he correctly and heroically defends the ‘series comma’ (Oxford Comma).  The ‘only’ comma: He traveled with his daughter Clara. Is it his only daughter? If so, use a comma. Consider this example from real life:

Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage, to Michael Wilding.
Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage to Richard Burton.

Colons. If what follows the colon is a full sentence, capitalize it.

Semicolons. Besides their basic grammatical function, they serve in writing to lay out connections between images and ideas (or at least in T. S. Eliot’s work). The best use of semicolons is the opening paragraph of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Nota Bene: semicolons are always set outside terminal quotation marks, periods, and commas.

a) “aggravate” doesn’t mean irritate.
b) don’t use “based off of” when you mean to say “based on.”
c) “Begs the question” is a logical fallacy. What you meant to say was “raises the question.”
d) Something is “centered on,” not “centered around.” If it is centered on something, then it isn’t around it.
d) “Comprised” means “made of,” so you don’t need to add an “of” after comprised.
e) First, second, and third don’t end in -ly.
f) Nonplussed means “confused,” not chilled.
g) reference isn’t a verb.
h) You don’t need to “try and” do something. You just need to try to do it.
i) Place “only” next to the thing that is being “only’d.” Change “If you only see” to “if you see only.”

Always Avoid

1. Never use the phrase “the fact that” (53).
2. Try to avoid: “angry flaring of the nostrils,” “thoughtful pursing of lips,” etc.
3. Also overrated: blinking, grimacing, smiling weakly.
4. Don’t write “he nodded his head.” What else would he nod? Same thing for “shrugging his shoulders.”
5. Instead of saying, “He began to cry,” say “He cried.” Get rid of all “began to”s.
6. Loan is a noun, not a verb. You are thinking of lend.

Similar to always avoid are the “trimmables.” Consider:

a. You don’t need to write “closed fist.” What else can a fist be?
B. Same with “close proximity.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s