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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage Hardcover – September 10, 1987

ISBN-13: 978-0198691150 ISBN-10: 0198691157 Edition: 2nd
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Review from previous edition 'Essentially for those who are not trying to consciously split infinitives. This book fulfils the same process as an old-fashioned educated aunt, at least in so far as ('the safest way of dealing with "in so far" is to keep clear of it') the English language is concerned.' Frank Muir Good Book Guide

`Let me beg readers as well as writers to keep the revised Fowler at their elbows. It brims with useful information.' Raymond Mortimer, Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author


Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933) was a translator, lexicographer, and grammarian. With his brother Frank (1870-1918) he compiled the first edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (published 1911) and the Pocket Oxford Dictionary (published in 1924, after Franks' death). Frank helped to plan Modern English Usage with his brother but he died before it was published and it was executed by Henry alone. The name Fowler has become synonymous with reliable and accurate reference on all aspects of written English.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 725 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (September 10, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198691157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198691150
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
It is somewhat amazing that this book, first published in 1926, is still in print. The language has changed quite a bit since then; thousands of words have been added, hundreds have gone obsolete, and hundreds more have had their meanings shaded; and of course many of Fowler's pronouncements are now merely echoes of battles long lost or won. Not only that, but two newer editions of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage have been published, the excellent second edition edited by Sir Ernest Gowers in 1965 (now ironically out of print while the original finds yet another printing), and the not so entirely well-received (but underrated in my opinion) third edition, edited and revised by R.W. Burchfield in 1996.
How to account for this phenomenon? Part of it is because Fowler's reputation only grew after his death as several generations of writers sang his praises and adhered to, or sometimes fussed about, his many dicta on usage questions both great and small. And as the years went by, and as the pages of his masterpiece gave way to wine stains and silverfish or the few remaining copies disappeared from libraries, he himself became a legend. Not everything he wrote is considered correct today, nor was it then. And sometimes the succinct yet magisterial little essays he wrote were followed by other little essays that were all but impenetrable, obtuse and somewhat overbearing. No matter. The good greatly outweighed the occasional misjudgment, and the education he afforded us remains.
Another part of the story is that there is something very properly English and wonderfully nostalgic about the man himself.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By D. S. Heersink on April 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The idiomatic use of the English language needs a referee, and some referees are simply better than others. The "anything goes" motto of our times gives us uneven, illiterate, and occasionally brutal prose. This book helps block this inevitable slide into the lack of clarity and coherence. This second edition (cf., Third Edition) of "Modern English Usage" may strike some readers as arcane and archaic, because it is so restrictive in its prescriptions. Given the laxity of many our writers, the use of a strict disciplinarian in philology is a welcome resource.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Anders Martinson on July 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
This work is witty and nearly unassailable, but I can't say that the uninitiated will find it accessible or as wine drinkers may say approachable. If you take pride in careful usage and want to make your writing precise, you can't go wrong here. If you've ever wondered how the words residence and residency both made their way into the language, the answer awaits you within these pages.
This isn't the place to get started with learning to write though. For those whose primary endeavor is not writing Strunk and White's Elements of Style or The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker will offer much to you on the practice of writing. These titles will also offer you many tips on constructing a piece of writing that you won't find in Fowler.
For those interested in a thorough treatment of usage and language you can't go wrong with Fowler though.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
It isn't often that "fun" describes grammar and usage books, but Fowler's Modern English Usage has been at the top of its class since its first edition. Perhaps the best way to give you the flavor of its writing is with an example: "Split infinitive. The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and distinguish. 1. those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes ...." He then goes on to say why it might be a good idea to know, and what that would mean. Sprightly, gentle, fun, a little pedantic, a little old fashioned: here is the English composition teacher you wish you had.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Before we presume to be artists or journalists or even readable purveyors of newsletters (or Internet blogs, for that matter) we must of necessity, if we are to be effective, be craftsmen.
Such a sentiment would, I imagine, sit well with Henry Watson Fowler who, some eighty years ago in collaboration with his younger brother Frank, wrote this famous book of English language guidance and prescription (and proscription!). Central to his purpose was the belief that the right word at the right time in its proper place and context constituted the backbone and much of the muscle and sinew of forthright and effective writing. That belief along with Fowler's celebrated passion for good writing and his intolerance of ignorance and humbug, coupled with his sometimes incomparable expression, long ago won him the undying respect and admiration of careful writers of the English language the world over.
And this has been something of a problem. Since Fowler last set pen to page some seventy-one years ago (he died in 1933), the English language has changed and grown enormously. What was correct and effective in 1926 (the year the 1st Ed. of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage was published), as well as what was ineffective, offensively brash or downright ugly has in some cases become acceptable and even felicitous. So, like it or not, Fowler had to be updated, and of course there was no shortage of lexicographers, linguists, grammarians, journalists and others looking to do the job. Furthermore, the "Great Divide" between American English and British English needed to be explained, recorded, and codified. Some of the people who have joined in this enterprise over the years have been H. L.
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