Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Harbrace Rule No. 1 & Mr. Ruge's Big Three

Harbrace Chapter 1 : Sentence Sense, begins with the rule: To think more clearly and write more effectively, understand how sentences work.

Writing a clear, precise sentence is an art, says Harbrace, and you can master that art by developing your awareness of what makes sentences work.

In Ferdinand E. Ruge's mimeographed class notes, he stated this as, "Every sentence must lend itself to logical analysis. In other words, every sentence gotta make sense!"

Mr. Ruge was a legendary English teacher at my high school. More Patton than Mr. Chips, he was an octogenarian in 1972 but as devoted as ever to teaching his students to write "clear, concise, reasonably graceful" English. Mr. Ruge referred to the dictionary as "the Good Book." He marked errors in papers with Harbrace rule numbers and taught from his own parallel set of "class notes," which he wrote in longhand on mimeograph pages and "ran off" for the class. These were assembled posthumously by the great Paul Piazza in a pithy volume, Ruge Rules.

Mr. Ruge's Big Three
More than once, Mr. Ruge posed some variation of the following question: "If a little green man from Mars came down to earth in a flying saucer and asked you for the three most important rules of English grammar, what would you tell him?"

With the index, middle and ring fingers of his left hand shooting up on cue, Mr. Ruge would provide his answer, like a voice from the Old Testament:
"1- Place a period at the end of each complete thought.
2- Set off non-restrictive phrases and clauses in commas, and
3- Place a hyphen between two or more words used together as a single adjective before a noun."
There may be more important rules of grammar, but 36 years later, my classmates and I certainly know Mr. Ruge's top three.

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