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The Five Virtues of Style

The five virtues of style—Correctness, Clarity, Evidence, Propriety, and Ornateness—are often discussed in the field of rhetoric and writing as important traits that contribute to effective and persuasive communication. They have been recognized and emphasized by various scholars, writers, and educators throughout history.

Exploring the 5 Virtues of Style

  1. Correctness: Correctness refers to the accurate and appropriate use of language, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. It involves adhering to the accepted rules and conventions of language to ensure that the writing is free from errors and effectively communicates the intended meaning.
  2. Clarity: Clarity emphasizes the importance of clear and understandable communication. It involves expressing ideas in a straightforward and unambiguous manner, avoiding excessive complexity or confusion. Clear writing ensures that the message is easily comprehensible to the intended audience.
  3. Evidence: Evidence focuses on providing support and justification for the arguments or claims presented in the writing. It involves using relevant facts, data, examples, and logical reasoning to back up statements and enhance the credibility and persuasiveness of the writing.
  4. Propriety: Propriety relates to using language, style, and tone that are appropriate to the context, subject matter, and audience. It involves considering factors such as formality, cultural norms, and the intended impact of the writing. Proper writing demonstrates sensitivity to the expectations and sensibilities of the readers.
  5. Ornateness: Ornateness, also known as “elocutio” or “eloquence,” refers to the artful and decorative use of language. It involves employing rhetorical devices, figurative language, and stylistic embellishments to enhance the aesthetic appeal and impact of the writing. Ornate writing aims to captivate and engage the audience through its artistic expression.
  • These five virtues provide a framework for writers to cultivate effective and persuasive communication. By ensuring correctness, clarity, evidence-based reasoning, appropriateness, and, when suitable, an artful style, writers can craft compelling and engaging pieces of writing.
  • The five virtues of style that are commonly discussed and associated with the Roman rhetorician Quintilian are Correctness, Clarity, Propriety, Evidence, and Decorum. These virtues were proposed by Quintilian in his influential work “Institutio Oratoria” (Institutes of Oratory), where he outlined his views on rhetoric and effective communication.

Fontanier’s Virtues of Style

The Five Virtues of Style, as defined by French philosopher and literary critic Pierre Fontanier, are a set of qualities that contribute to effective and eloquent writing. These virtues are:

  1. Correctness: This virtue refers to the proper and accurate use of language, including grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. Correctness ensures that the writing is free from errors and adheres to the rules and conventions of the language.
  2. Clearness: Clearness involves presenting ideas and information in a clear and understandable manner. It requires clarity of thought and expression, avoiding ambiguity or confusion. Clearness ensures that the message is conveyed effectively to the reader or audience.
  3. Precision: Precision focuses on using precise and exact language to convey meaning. It involves choosing the most appropriate words and expressions to accurately communicate the intended message. Precision helps to eliminate vagueness and enhances the clarity and impact of the writing.
  4. Richness: Richness refers to the use of figurative language, vivid descriptions, and rhetorical devices to create a sense of depth, imagery, and emotional impact in writing. It involves employing metaphors, similes, imagery, and other literary techniques to engage the reader’s imagination and create a memorable experience.
  5. Elegance: Elegance embodies the artistry and aesthetic quality of writing. It involves crafting sentences and paragraphs with grace, rhythm, and balance. Elegance includes using appropriate literary devices, varying sentence structure, and creating a pleasing flow to captivate and engage the reader.
  • By incorporating these virtues into their writing, authors can create texts that are not only correct and clear but also engaging, impactful, and aesthetically pleasing. These virtues contribute to effective communication and the artistry of language.
  • It is important to note that the understanding and categorization of virtues of style can vary across different sources and time periods. Various scholars and rhetoricians have proposed their own sets of virtues or emphasized different aspects of effective communication. The specific development and attribution of these virtues to individuals can be challenging to pinpoint, as they have evolved over time through the contributions and insights of many thinkers and practitioners in the field of rhetoric and writing.