How to improve your Precis writing skills?


Precis is a faithful record of the ideas contained in the passage. There should be no mis-representation, no distortion and no inaccurate understanding of the passage. It means that all the turns and twists of the language, the tone and key words must be understood. This needs…………..

(i) familiarity with the styles of the English language ;

(ii) understanding of irony and satire ;


(iii) understanding of similes and metaphors ;

(iv) power to comprehend philosophical ideas ;

(v) good vocabulary ;

(vi) understanding of punctuation.


(vii) Familiarity with Styles

In English language there are ways to change the meanings of a phrase or sentence. We will acquaint the students with some important methods of the writers to make meaning a bit ambiguous for the students.

(a) Placement of certain words at different positions in a sentence changes the meaning of sentences e.g.

Example : 1. I only spoke to him.


Only I spoke to him.

I spoke to him only.

In the first sentence ‘only’ qualifies ‘speaking’ so it means that the speaker did not do anything else except speaking. In the second sentence ‘only’ qualifies ‘I’ so it means that no body else except my­self spoke to him. ‘Only’ in the third sentence qualifies ‘him’ so it means that the speaker did not talk to any one else except ‘he’.

Example 2. The first three competitors won prizes.


The three first competitors won prizes.

The first sentence means three persons in order of merit (first, second, third) got prizes.

In the second sentence the writer is referring to three persons, who stood first.

Example 3. He stopped to look at the shop window.


He stopped looking at the shop window.

In the first sentence ‘stopping’ and ‘looking’ are two actions; the purpose of stopping was to look at shop window. In the second sentence there is only one action and means that the man did not look any more.

(b) Paradoxical sentences are those statements which seem to be opposite of what they seem to mean. Chesterton, critic and biographer, is very fond of using paradoxes. For example—

Example 1. “Awoke into sleep and found the vision true” (Lamb)

The sentence means that as he slept the deam was found to be


Example 2. “Whom single blessedness had soured to the world.”

‘Blessedness’ and ‘Soured’ seem to be contradictory but actually it means that unmarried life had made him bitter to the world.

Example 3. (oxymoron) “Fortunate piece of ill-fortune”.

The words ‘fortune’ and ‘ill-fortune’ have opposite meanings. “The sentence, means that the person is unfortunate though some saving graces are there.

(c) Punning is a play on words which are homonyms but different in meaning, e.g.

“Mistress line, is not this my jerkin ? Now is the jerkin under the line ; now jerkin you are likely to lose your hair, and prove a bald jerkin.” (Tempest—Shakespeare)

In the above quoted example first ‘line’ means a rope on which clothes are hung for drying up. Second ‘line’ means equator; crossing equator was thought to cause fever, which made the person to lose hair.

(d) Humour arises out of the realization of discrepancy between the normal and the abnormal, e.g.

Example 1. The guards carried on a civil war in the absence of a foreign one.

The sentence simply means that the guards were quarrelling among themselves.

Example 2. “Feel for others in your pocket.”

In this sentence humour arises out of the use of the word ‘feel’ because it may mean either “Give monetary help to others” or “Others are in your pocket ; find them out.”

Example 3. Ambassador is a person who lies abroad for his nation.”

The word ‘lies’ has two means (i) one who tells lies. (ii) lives.

So we will have to take the spirit of the passage into con­sideration.

(e) Declamatory style. Some of the writers use this style to emphasize a point in order to bring it home, e.g.

“The jewel cutter whose sight fails over the diamonds ; the weaver whose arm fails over the web ; the forger whose breath fails before the furnace—they who have all the work and, none of the play, except a kind they have named for themselves down in the black north country where “play” means being laid up by sickness.” (Ruskin)

This declamatory sentence simply means “Artisans, who work hard except during the period of sickness, know what work is.”

Example 2. “Badlam would be comic if there were only one madman in it; your pantomime is comic when there is only one clown in it ; when the whole world turns clown and paints itself red with its own heart’s blood instead of vermilion it is something else than comic.”

The sentence simply points out. “Nationally mad people indulging in war are dangerous.”

2. Understanding of Satire and Irony.

These elements of style are integral part of the modern prose style. The reader, who does not have the sense of humour fails to catch its significance and so misunderstands the meanings. In understanding the spirit of the prose passage it is necessary to know the implications of satire and irony.

Example 1.

Writing about women Addison says, “The toilet is their great scene of business and the right adjusting of their hair the principal employment of their lives. The sorting of ribbon is reckoned very good morning work .”

The lines simply point out the preoccupations of the ladies in fashions.

Example 2.

While laughing as Collin’s idea of free thinking Swift says :

“If we do not see freely, we do not see at all. If we do not eat freely we do not eat at all. If we do not think freely we do not think at all.”

If we take the literal meanings of this sentence we misunder­stand it. But if we grasp its satire it means “Thinking freely is no condition of thinking.”

Example 3.

Female eloquence is described satirically.

“It has been said in praise of some men that they could talk whole hours together upon anything ; but it must be owned to the honour of the other sex that there are many among them who can talk whole hours upon nothing.”

3. Understanding Similes and Metaphors.

Some of the writers use poetic style in which there is a profusion of similes and metaphors. If a student fails to understand the significance of these he is sure to miss the correct meaning.

Example 1.

Man like tea leaves, give colour while in hot water (Oscar Wilde).

The sentence means that a man should rise up to the occasion when he is passing through difficult days.

Example 2.

There is tide in the affairs of men. If taken at flood will lead on to fortune.

Here the ‘metaphor’ tide stands for opportunities in life and ‘flood’ stands for the crest of the tide. So the sentence means if opportunities are availed of fortune will follow.

Example 3.

“See how he (sun) plays in the morning, with the mists below and the clouds above with a ray here and a flash there and a shower of jewels every where ;—that’s the sun’s play ; and great human play is like his—all various—all full of light and tender as the dew of the morning.” (Ruskin)

The whole sentence simply means “The human play is various and refreshing.”

4. Power to Comprehend Philosophic and Epigram­matic Sentences.

Till one understands real meaning of the pithy sayings, one cannot comprehend the passage.

Example 1.

Revenge is a kind of wild justice. (Bacon)

Revenge is compared to justice because (i) it is aimed at punishing the wrong doer, (ii) it is deterrent for the potential wrong doer, (iii) it gives satisfaction to the sufferer. But justice is wild because it is not according to norms and may be disproportionate to the crime committed.

Example 2.

Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them and wise men use them.

The above quoted sentence does not tell the reasons of condemning and admiring studies. He also does not explain how wise men use studies. The reader will have to fill the gaps. Cunning people condemn because they consider their shrewdness good enough for studies. Simple admire because they consider it exalted. Wise men try to put their knowledge to practical use.

5. Understanding of Punctuation.

Punctuation marks are very important because they change the meaning of the sentences if placed at particular places for example :

(i) I set out to catch the train arriving at the station at 2.30 p.m.

(ii) I set out to catch the train, arriving at the station at 2.30 p m.

First, sentence means that the man went to catch the train which reaches the station at 2.30 p m. Second, sentence means that the man arrived at the station at 2.30 p.m.

Example 2.

(a) We were strangers they took us in.

(b) We were strangers, they took us in.

First sentence means “though we were stangers yet they took us in.” Whereas the second sentence can be written to mean, “we were strangers and they took us in “

6. Vocabulary.

For understanding the passage good vocabu­lary is necessary. Good vocabulary does not mean knowledge of a large number of words but also the understanding of the different shades of meanings. This does not mean that a student is supposed to remember the whole of the dictionary ; the words of daily use must be properly understood.

Example 1.

(Shades of meanings)

The following words refer to movements—

Swoop, Skim Scamper, Sweep, Flint, Sprint, Bolt.

Exact meaning of Swoop is ‘plunge of the bird of prey’.

Skim : is used for gliding of the bird with an occasional touch on the surface of water.

Scamper : means ‘run like a frightened animal’.

Sweep : means speed along with unchecked motion.

Flit: means bird’s short and light flights.

Sprint: means running for a short distance at utmost speed.

Bolt : means running away of horse by breaking control.

Example 2.

All the following words mean to stir up :

Incite, Excite, Stimulate, Provoke, Inspire.

In fact the shades of meaning in each case differ.

Incite : to stir up to action.

Excite : to stir up feelings.

Stimulate : to help in stirring up to action.

Provoke : stir up anger.

Inspire : to stir up, to boost up confidence.

Example 3.

Distinguish the meanings of the following words:

Waver, Tremble, Flicker, Shiver.

All the words stand for movement to and fro. Waver refers to thinking ; tremble means movement of body because of fear ; Flicker refers to flame and Shiver to body feeling cold.

Note. At the end of each precis-passage difficult words from the passage with meanings hare been given to increase vocabulary.

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