The Best Things Ever Said about Words, Grammar, and Punctuation

Those who have a thin body fill it out with padding; those who have slim substance swell it out with words.


Michel de Montaigne  (1533-1592)


I wish I were a skillful grammarian.  No one can understand any author, without a thorough knowledge of grammar.  Those who pretend to undervalue learned grammarians, are arrant blockheads without any exception.  From whence proceed so many dissensions in religious matters, but from ignorance of grammar?


Joseph Scaliger  (1540-1609)



Zounds! I was never so bethumped with words!


Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.


William Shakespeare  (1564-1616)



To be heard with success, you must be heard with pleasure: words are the dress of thoughts, which should no more be presented in rags, tatters, and dirt than your person should.


Lord Chesterfield  (1694-1773)



Rules may obviate faults, but can never confer beauties.


Don’t accustom yourself to use big words for little matters.


Words too familiar or too remote defeat the purpose of a poet.  From those sounds which we hear on small or on coarse occasions, we do not easily receive strong impressions or delightful images; and words to which we are nearly strangers whenever they occur, draw that attention on themselves which they should transmit to things.   I am not so lost in lexicography as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven.


Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)



Let schoolmasters puzzle their brain

With grammar, and nonsense, and learning,

Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,

Gives GENIUS a better discerning.


Oliver Goldsmith  (1730-1774)



Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make more clear.


Joseph Joubert   (1754-1824)



It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.


Robert Southey  (1774-1843)



The proper force of words lies not in the words themselves, but in their application.  A word may be a fine-sounding word, of an unusual length, and very imposing from its learning and novelty, and yet in the connection in which it is introduced, may be quite pointless and irrelevant.  It is not pomp or pretension, but the adaptation of the expression to the idea that clenches a writer’s meaning.


William Hazlitt  (1778-1830)



Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.


Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)



Avoid adjectives.  Let the noun do the work.


Ralph Waldo Emerson  (1804-1882)



A perfectly healthy sentence is extremely rare.


Henry David Thoreau  (1817-1862)



How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.


Herbert Spencer  (1820-1903)



Whatever you want to say, there is only one word to express it, one verb to animate it, one adjective to qualify it.  You must search for that word, that verb, that adjective, and never be satisfied with an approximation.


Gustave Flaubert  (1821-1880)



When a thought takes one’s breath away, a grammar lesson seems an impertinence.


Thomas Wentworth Higginson  (1823-1911)



As to the Adjective: When in doubt, strike it out.


The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.


Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter and not by the trimmings and shadings of their grammar.


Mark Twain  (1835-1910)



Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.


Rudyard Kipling  (1865-1936)



Capital letters and question marks are useless.  They are hangovers from the days when people didn’t read very well, that all goes into the whole question of the life and death of punctuation marks, if you don’t know that a question is a question without a question mark being there what is the use of writing the question.


Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)



You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.


Robert Frost  (1874-1963)



It’s not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.


T. S. Eliot  (1888-1965)



No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.


Isaac Babel  (1894-1940)



One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment.


Hart Crane (1899-1932)



All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.


My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible.  The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green.  You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.


Ernest Hemingway  (1899-1961)



If words are to enter men’s minds and bear fruit, they must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men’s defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds.


J. B. Phillips  (1906-1982)



Here is a lesson in creative writing.  First rule: Do not use semicolons.  They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.  All they do is show you’ve been to college.


Kurt Vonnegut  (1922-2007)



Grammar is a piano I play by ear.  All I know about grammar is its power.


Joan Didion  (1934-)



The road to hell is paved with adverbs.


Stephen King  (1947-)

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