Prose: Written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure


Prose that is clear and sticks to current rules about standard usage is the writing through which we receive most news, as in the following excerpt from an article in The New York Times:

Bewildered, and at times angry, faculty members at Harvard criticized the university on Sunday after revelations that administrators secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans in an effort to learn who leaked information about a student cheating scandal to the news media. Some predicted a confrontation between the faculty and the administration.

Prose in literature may have poetic qualities, such as the use of imagery in the following from My Antonia by Willa Cather:

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened.

Additional Discussion:

We write most of our assignments at Brookwood in prose. When your teachers comment on your sentence structure, usage, and paragraphing, they are focused on the clarity and effectiveness of your prose. Prose is the type of writing with which you will communicate with others most often in your lives whether through emails, letters, applications, or presentations. The main purpose of the rules that govern prose (grammar and usage) is to make it understandable to everyone who writes it and reads it.

Prose has a special function in Shakespeare. The contrast between prose and verse (poetry) reveals things about character and situation in Shakespeare's plays. For example, an eighth grader, Indiana Sobol, made the following comment on the use of prose vs. poetry in Romeo and Juliet:

Sampson and Gregory are both working class citizens of Verona. They are not particularly educated. They are very misogynistic. They speak in prose. Enter Benvolio and Tybalt. They are both upper class, the nephews of powerful men. They speak in poetry.