Henry Hart

Horace Henry Hart’s Handy Rules for Writers

Henry Hart

When I was on the mad dash to find out who was the guilty Brit responsible for the Oxford comma, I came across an interesting character. Horace Henry Hart, with his impressively alliterative name, was the son of a shoemaker and the author of “Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers.” No, this isn’t your “The Elements of Style” from 1918. No, it predates even that with the first publication in 1893. So let’s give a little credence to the OG editor who first printed the rules of the Oxford comma.

About “Hart’s Rules”

At the heartwood of the Oxford comma, “Hart’s Rules” was considered the creme de la creme of style guides for writers back in the day. Quick and easy, “Hart’s Rules” were originally for the staff writers at Oxford University Press. In fact, “Hart’s Rules” has since been republished dozens of times with quite familiar titles including these you may have on your writer bookshelves:

  • New Oxford Style Manual
  • The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors
  • The Oxford Guide to Style

And I do hope you have multiple bookshelves for your books on writing, but that is a digression from the core of the post. Hart was the editor, author, and printer in charge of compiling these rules. A couple of interesting takes to come out of the rulebook include:

  • How to correctly write words ending with -ize and -ise
  • Practice versus practise
  • How to use foreign words like aide de camp, bazaar, and chiaroscuro

By the way, the footnotes are a grammar lover’s goldmine. On page 13, you have the footnote from one Dr. J. A. H. Murray, noting the differences in tire and tyre, and pointing out, “But the bicycle-makers have apparently adopted the non-etymological tyre.”

Back on page 9 Murray gets a little more heated in his grammatical annotations. Murray states, “I protest strongly against the vulgar and unscholarly habit of omitting it from “abridgement,” “acknowledgement,” “judgement,” “lodgement,”—which is against all analogy, etymology, and orthoepy…”

All in all, “Hart’s Rules” should be right there alongside “The Elements of Style” and all of those other grammar books you should be reading.

Check back with the Grammar & Wordsmithing blog for more tips from your favorite freelance writers.


“Welcome. I’m the Whispering Wordsmith of the Woods, An Old Man Willow type cunning the lit forest, Disrupting textbookish writers with grammar snaps and cracks.” As a professional web content writer for small-to-medium businesses, Miranda B understands how to effectively balance technical jargon and personal brand messaging. Her content is sticky, evergreen when expected to be, and always creative. Keep ’em coming back for more, that’s Miranda’s motto!

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