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A Dictionary of Modern American Usage Hardcover – December 3, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0195078534 ISBN-10: 0195078535 Edition: 1St Edition
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Editorial Reviews Review

If they had to state a preference, surely all individuals who ever had occasion to write (be it a memo, love letter, quick e-mail, college essay, or novel) would opt for using appropriate, grammatically correct English. The problem isn't in the intent, it's in the availability and accessibility of clear, understandable answers. Most writers (professional and amateur) get by on what sounds right, their memory of compound predicates and serial commas being a little fuzzy. They might turn to a dictionary or even a thesaurus (or, more likely, depend on the convenience of the computer spell-checker and thesaurus functions), but grammar books are rarely cracked outside of high school English classes.

But what if there were a book that explained the rules of grammar and usage and that was precise yet easy to understand? A book that was useful, and didn't make you feel like a dunce for not knowing where to put the period when you use quotation marks? A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, written by Bryan Garner and published by Oxford University Press, could be the start of a new movement, a brave new world in which people cheerfully polish their prose, where participles rarely dangle and "less" was not substituted incorrectly for "fewer." Garner, a lawyer and lexicographer, has created a scholarly and readable masterpiece. He clarifies the dos and don'ts of commas and quotation marks, explains why it's not so awful to end sentences with prepositions, and tackles common confusions, such as lay and lie, flaunt and flout, and assure, insure, and ensure. Erudite and dryly witty, spectacularly organized and up to date, and attentive to both basic usage and advanced nuances, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage is destined to become the reference of choice for students, scribes, editors, executives, and language devotees. --Stephanie Gold


"Containing roughly 7000 main entries and many cross references, the dictionry offers intelligent, sensible, readable advice concerning usage demons involving problems of grammar, spelling, homonyms, variants, cliches, skunked words, redundancies, phrasal adjectives and verbs, and more. Garner's long entries on split infinitives and when to us that or which are worth the price of the book. More 5500 illustrative quotations buttress and clarify the author's opinions, and an appended time line listing hundreds of usage guides from 1786 to date is another plus... Garner is a prescriptivist in the common-sense tradition of Fowler. His new dictionary, meant to be an equivalent of Fowler's famous work, deserves a place in every libaray of substance."--Library Journal

"A Dictionary of Modern American Usage is a worthwhile supplement for guidance on terms that have troubled editors and writers..."--Copy Editor

"The prose in this work is readable, interesting, witty, and will be very helpful for modern writers who desire to write correctly but unpretentiously. This resource is highly recommended for public and academic libraries."--Booklist

"The next time your syntax needs a sextant, reach for A Dictionary of Modern American Usage.... It contains the most succinct and sensible advice on American usage to come down the pike in a long while.... Unlike most usage guides, this one includes and extensive adn ascellent bibliography. It is also commendably current.... Garner's method is scrupulous and helpful to the reader."--The San Diego Union-Tribune

"700 pages of authoritative guidance on hundreds of questions of grammar and usage.... The `brilliancies' in Garner's entries are a joy to peruse."--Herald, Columbia, SC

"More consistently entertaining and approachable than the more formal Merriam Webster adn New Fowler's. Garner also treads a little more lightly with the formal terminology of grammar."--The Baltimore Sun

"Garner knows his stuff, and he's one of the least-stuffy grammarians around. His Dictionary of Modern American Usage is a superlative book." --Arizona Republic

"The prose in this work is readable, interesting, witty, and lively. It will be very helpful for modern writers who desire to write correctly but unpretentiously. This resource is highly recommended." --Booklist

"Garner's new dictionary is among the best of its kind. As an American equivalent of Fowler's famous work (compare the titles), it deserves a place in every library of substance." --Library Journal

"Excellent. Garner extends the reach of the prescriptive Fowler and the descriptive Merriam-Webster." --William Safire, The New York Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (December 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195078535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195078534
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bryan Garner is the award-winning author or editor of more than 20 books. He is a prolific lecturer, having taught more than 2,500 writing workshops since the 1991 founding of his company, LawProse, Inc. His works include Garner on Language and Writing and Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, co-written with Justice Antonin Scalia. Garner has served as editor-in-chief of Black's Law Dictionary since 1995, and he is the author of the grammar-and-usage chapter in the venerable Chicago Manual of Style.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By an customer on January 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book! I use it every single time that I edit anything, and this is one book I don't mind carrying with me to clients' sites. Garner's book has extensive coverage of most aspects of our language, broken down by individual words and phrases; his thorough cross-referencing helps the user successfully navigate throughout the entire book. Garner provides numerous examples of correct and incorrect usage of every word covered, and for each incorrect usage, he provides a suggested revision. If more than one variation of a word usage or phrase is possible (e.g., "different from" vs. "different than"), Garner tells the reader which term or phrase is used more frequently (or is more preferable) under which circumstances. It is so refreshing to see a book that provides so many rewrites instead of just criticizing poor word usage/style; the rewrites alone provide invaluable assistance to the writer and editor alike. To top if off, Garner's writing style is humorous, friendly, and quite approachable-not a hint of arrogance or condescension. Garner's upbeat, helpful attitude, along with his citing of many examples of venerable publications/authors erring in some way, makes it very difficult to feel bad about not knowing the proper usage of some word or phrase. My only criticism of his book is that he doesn't cover every single word or phrase that vexes me-but this is a minor "nit" and doesn't occur often enough to deter me from using his book on a daily basis and recommending his book to all my colleagues.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I bought both Lovinger's book (Penguin) and Bryan A. Garner's book for a reference library, and I find Garner's book much more thorough. Just opening up both books and comparing the type sizes and layouts shows how much more information is packed into Garner's book than Lovinger's. Garner is also meticulous about citing where he found his examples. The citations give the usage heft very much like the historical examples given for definitions in the OED. To be fair, Lovinger provides good examples, too, but they don't include the citation and are probably constructions of the author rather than real-world examples. Garner's book stands taller than Lovinger's because it also includes rehtorical and grammatical entries as well as word and usage entries. You won't find an entry for "ergative verbs" or "etymology" or "euphuism," to name just a random few from the Es. Wouldn't you rather have a usage dictionary that contains such things in case you ever want to know more about them? For these reasons, I'd say go with Garner's book. (That is, if you need something more detailed and contemporary than the second edition of H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage; the best there is.)
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Garner's book should be on your bookshelf if you want to be recognized for excellent usage of English. To illustrate good and bad usage, DMAU is full of documented examples from books and periodicals, as well as references to Fowler and Follet. Fortunately, Mr. Garner knows more often than not which contemporary usage battles to take sides on and which are better left conceded to the "liberal linuguists." Thus, the reader can focus on the goal of developing crisp, clear meaning in written and oral communication. Because poor communication is so prevelent in business and industry, you can be recognized as a "transaction cost" cutter in your organization if you master the techniques laid out by Mr. Garner. And with that kind of recognition, the book is sure to pay for itself several times over.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "mrsfaganselves" on December 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Here's something that should make language lovers sit up and take notice: a thorough, gently entertaining but always informative book about the American language, written by a lawyer, in plain English.
For those who love the language, those who revere H.W. Fowler, John Bremner or Theodore Bernstein, but don't need the posturing or pomposity that sometimes accompanies columns or books on language, or those who simply enjoy wandering through the pages of a book that examines and comments upon commas, virgules, variants, Bryan A. Garner's Dictionary of Modern American Usage is the book to read.
Garner takes on all manner of problems, from the proper way to use the word each, to Hobson's Choice, to ordinance vs. ordnance and hundreds of other misuses and misunderstandings about American usage.
Most entries are quite short, as in the notation that "meld together" is a redundancy, while others, such as the entry on mendacity/mendicity/mendicancy, detail the distinctions that should be made in using these similar-sounding words. Most entries are accompanied by good, contemporary examples, but are sometimes explained through citations of older works.
The book is quite long,707 pages of entries in the hardcover edition, but worth the time of anyone who wants to brush up language skills, rediscover old rules, dispose of some other old rules, or broaden understanding of the differences between American and British usage.
Garner frequently cites newspapers and magazines when pointing out correct usage or mistakes, which makes the material fresh and relevant:
Comprise and compose: If the whole comprises the parts, the reverse can't be true, e.g., "Of the 50 stocks that comprise the index, 40 had gains...", From Florida Today, June 15, 1997.
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