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181 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb research, sound usage information, great value!
This is the finest work of scholarship on English grammar and usage I have ever seen, in thirty years of doing research on English grammar. One grouchy reviewer on this page gives it a one-star put-down and grumbles that it is unreliable, advocating a return to Fowler, or Strunk and White. Don't believe it. The stiff and constricting prescriptions of those older...
Published on September 23, 1999 by Geoff Pullum (pullum@ling.ucsc...

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1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle next! Get modern MW
This needs to be a Kindle offering.
Published 1 day ago by InventorNC


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181 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb research, sound usage information, great value!, September 23, 1999
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
This is the finest work of scholarship on English grammar and usage I have ever seen, in thirty years of doing research on English grammar. One grouchy reviewer on this page gives it a one-star put-down and grumbles that it is unreliable, advocating a return to Fowler, or Strunk and White. Don't believe it. The stiff and constricting prescriptions of those older works are in fact often unfounded. The third edition of Fowler (prepared by Burchfield) is not an improvement, and actually gets grammatical points wrong (and I means things like giving examples that are not in fact examples of the point at issue). The Merriam-Webster book is on a different level of scholarship. The example collection is magnificent, the analysis is intelligent and accurate, and where it says something is now acceptable literate usage you can trust it. Of course, if you want silly advice, like "never end a sentence with a preposition" or "never split an infinitive", you won't find it: there are irrational prejudices in the English usage field, and this book lends them no support. But this is because it demands EVIDENCE and ARGUMENT concerning the points it treats; it is not content simply to pass on dogmas and myths from past centuries. I was particularly struck by the fantastic value of this book: Amazon brought it to my door for shipping included -- and this is a 990-page large-format hardback! BUY THIS BOOK. You can't afford not to if you have any serious interest in English grammar.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and entertaining, February 21, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
If you want a useful, well-researched guide to the way English is actually used by real creative writers, past and present, buy this book. If you want to be entertained while reading about English grammar (not easily done!), buy this book. If you prefer to blindly follow rigid rules which, rather than reflecting the way the language is actually used, reflect the way some 18th or 19th century usage writers thought it ought to be used, maybe this isn't for you (though I still think you should read it, maybe you'll learn something).
Don't be misled into thinking that this book is simply applying an "everything goes" philosophy. On the contrary, the editors clearly explain and illustrate the way words and phrases are commonly used by writers in Britain and America, and advise you to avoid what is not commonly accepted. They also cite numerous usage writers, whether they agree with them or not (though they quote one writer as saying that if usage writers read more, they would argue less -- an observation that could also apply to some of the reviewers on this page...). They also make clear distinctions between what is acceptable in formal and informal writing. Many of the things that they "permit" (read the entry on permissiveness, by the way) they still recommend be avoided in formal writing.
I don't think that the rules this book skewers represent "the accumulated wisdom of thousands of writers." More accurately, they represent the thinking of a few conservative usage writers (and there's a big difference between usage writers and creative writers -- who would you rather read, Bishop Loweth or Shakespeare?), given added weight by the herd mentality of many generations of grammar teachers. To give one example, grammarians like to insist that "each other" should refer to two people and "one another" should refer to three or more, but as the examples in this book show, it just ain't (fingernails on chalkboard, anyone?) so.
As for "Where's it at?", unfortunately I don't have my copy of the book with me and I don't remember what they had to say about it. I have the pocket version (handy, but lacking the examples and the entertaining discussions), which simply points out that it has been part of American speech for a century (which doesn't imply that it should be used in formal writing). Yes, the dictionary definition of "where" is indeed "in or at what place" but if you go around blindly substituting the dictionary defintion for every word I'm sure you'll discover a lot more seemingly redundant phrases.
This book dicusses the usage history of various words and phrases and gives you examples of how great (and not-so-great) writers throughout history have used them. It gives you clear guidelines rather than setting down rigid rules for you to follow. And if you're obsessed with rules, then maybe you should consider law instead of writing.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book for the Curious and not for the Ignorant, February 25, 2000
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This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
In one of the earlier reviews of this book the entry for "at" was misrepresented. I thought I would take some time to set the record straight. The entry for "at" is on page 141. It notes that usage writers from Vizetelly in 1906 onward have written disapprovingly about the use of the preposition "at" somewhere in the vicinity of and especially after the adverb where. The entry goes on to say that this is evidently chiefly an Americanism (attested by the OED Supplement and entered in the Dictionary of American Regional English), but not entirely unknown in British dialects. Scholarly works such as the Oxford English Dictionary, and the Dictionary of American Regional English are cited as well as citations from the Merriam Webster files. The evidence shows the idiom to be nearly nonexistent in discursive prose, although it occurs in letters and transcriptions of speech and there citations given from and Joel Chandler Harris, Flannery O'Connor. The entry gives an analysis of current usage saying that "at" at the end of pronominal phrase beginning with where serves to provide a word at the end of the sentence that can be given stress. It tends to follow a noun or pronoun to which the verb has been elided, as in this utterance by an editor here at the dictionary factory: "Have any idea where Kathy's at?" Then the entry has some conclusions and recommendation "You will note that at cannot simply be omitted; the 's must be expanded to is to produce an idiomatic sentence if the at is to be avoided." Frankly, there is nothing controversial about this, and information provided is accurate, reliable and verifiable. At the end of article is a note to see the entry labeled "Where ...At" for information about the mid 20th century use idiom. This article is on page 955 follows the pattern of the earlier one. There is the history of the usage issue, followed by a history of the idiom, and examples of actual usage, from Cyra McFadden, Paul Mazursky, quoted in Christian Science Monitor, Charles M. Young, Hunter S. Thompson, Dr. Gordon K. Davies, and Gunther S. Stent. Then come the conclusions and recommendations which are that "where it's at" and like phrases "continue to be used today, although they have some of the passe quality of old slang....Other than in these phrases, "at" almost never occurs after where in writing from standard sources." The Merriam Webster Dictionary of English Usage has more in common with the historical English grammars by Metzner, Sweet, Poutsma, Jespersen, Kruisinga and Curme, and the large standard reference grammars by the team of Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik then the run of the mill usage guide that is hawked to the uninformed. You should not let the casual tone of the writing fool you. The information given is accurate, verifiable and reliable.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best usage manual available, January 1, 2002
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
The readers' reviews for this book tend toward the extremes. Readers are not ambivalent about this book. I am no different. I rarely give five stars, but this is simply the best usage manual available (and I have the major ones and many of the minor ones).
Here is the format for a typical entry: There is a statement of the question; a survey of the opinions of previous usage writers; a survey of actual usage from early times to the present, including numerous examples; and a conclusion advising the reader on how to use it, often making distinctions between levels of formality.
This differs from most usage manuals, which have only the statement of the question and the conclusion. This affects the conclusions, as many traditional conclusions are only possible if the historical evidence is ignored. Many traditional shiboleths turn out to derive from some guy's personal opinion, faithfully and uncritically repeated until considered Revealed Truth.
The one-star reviewers overlook two points. The first is that Merriam Webster often gives firm advice. Those who claim that this book is "anything goes" are misrepresenting the book. Indeed, frequently this advice is exactly what the prescriptivists would give. Frequently it is not, but that's what happens when you let evidence influence your opinion. The second, more serious point is that a reader can learn the traditional conclusion even when Merriam Webster disagrees with it. If a reader wants to know Fowler's opinion this book will give it. There is no longer any need to actually own a copy of Fowler. So the objections to this book implicitly are that it gives more information than they would like. This is a peculiar objection to make of a reference work. It would be downright sinister were there reason to suspect these opinions to be at all thought out.
If what you want is a book to help you avoid offending the lowest sort of linguistic curmudgeon and you have no further interest in the subject then this book is overkill. The abridged Bryan Garner will give you that while taking up less space on your bookshelf. But for anyone else this is the one usage manual to own.
As a bonus, it is entertaining to read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Embarassing but true..., December 5, 2001
By 
Bob Manson (Berkeley, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
I've been reading this one from A to Z.
I'm not a word nut, but lately I've been doing more serious writing and I've felt a need for usage guides--it's been a while since high school English. And M-W's guide has been the best of the lot I've examined so far. The background and examples behind the words are interesting indeed, more than I anticipated when I bought it.
The guide is somewhat helpful with grammatical usage, but if you're wondering about word usage this is the first place to turn to (even before looking in a dictionary). Of course you might disagree with the editors, but they are consistently thorough about documenting their sources and reasons for their conclusions. (I usually find it difficult to `disagree'--they're just documenting existing usage with examples, and what is there to argue with?)
They're happily relaxed about usage. If it's clear that a word has been consistently used in a given way by a variety of sources, the commentators usually `approve' it. (Many people dislike this approach, and if you do this absolutely isn't the book for you.) It's mainly a guide to clarifying existing usage, certainly not a prescriptive rulebook--in fact, the commentators frequently demolish long-held opinions of other prescriptive guides.
The problem I see with prescriptive usage is that words change. Anybody can write a prescriptive guide, but that won't stop people from `speaking badly' according to the guide. Language is a consensus, not an arbitrary master... and there are so many arbitrary masters that it's more a question of which one you decide to obey, not which one is correct. Many of the descriptions in M-W's usage guide demonstrate just how arbitrary other guides can be, as it's not unusual to see numerous conflicting recommendations.
Writing is intended for communicating, and I believe that as long as you stick with the recommended usages in this guide you'll clearly get your point across. Your writing might not read like a grammar book's, but that isn't a hallmark of `good writing'. It's all aboot talkin' clear 'n good, and this reference will help.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the Best, March 8, 2008
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This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
I can't in this review hope to match the authority given by the professional grammarian Geoff Pullum in his favorable review of the book. But I can respond to some of the negative points brought up by other reviewers, especially complaints about this book "validing sloppy usage", which it absolutely does not do.

The key point is this: to understand the MWDEU, you have to approach the book as an fully rational adult capable of making your own decisions about what constitutes good or sloppy usage. Rest assured that the book will give you the entire history of a word, including every usage considered a "mistake" by other prescriptivist alternatives. But the evidence supplied in this book is unparalleled in any other quick reference you can find, and after supplying this voluminous information, the MWDEU will leave the final decision to you, with the implicit assumption that you are capable of using your own language judgment to come to whatever usage conclusions best suit your own unique writing style.

This is vastly different from the approach of other manuals, which speak with an authoritative tone reminiscent of your middle-school English teacher. But if you are working under strict deadlines and have little time to consult the evidence personally, then you will likely find the MWDEU frustrating. In this case, you might be better off choosing a more prescriptivist guide so that you can rely on the authority of others.

Just be aware that the MWDEU has put the most work into researching its topics, and thus has the best usage information of any book on the market. This means the reviewer who claimed: "The moral is that usage is a pesky, pedantic thing best ignored in favor of saying whatever feels good" is simply incorrect. The MWDEU does not believe usage is "pesky", else they wouldn't have written a usage book. The difference is that this book doesn't give empty opinions; it presents the actual evidence from notable writers and speakers, and it allows its readers to weigh the options themselves.

And when the evidence dictates, they do not fail to mention a strict preference, e.g. their entry on "contemptuous". If you read their detailed history of the word, you realize that 300-500 years ago "contemptible" and "contemptuous" did not have distinct meanings. They were used interchangeably by Shakespeare, for instance. But over the last couple hundred years, based on the need of speakers and writers to be clear, a distinction has been drawn between the two words, and regardless of the history, they conclude at the end: "We are therefore joining the ranks of the cautious in advising you to keep contemptible and contemptuous distinct". Such is their superbly professional method to reach solutions about usage issues.

For those of us who are no longer in school and tire quickly of pedantic lectures from overbearing instructors, this difference in tone is a welcome change, especially given the outright condescension found in so many other usage manuals. Perhaps it is not for everyone, but the MWDEU is indisputably the best researched and most accurate book out there, and for people willing to invest their own critical thinking skills, it simply has no substitute.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding, Valuable Reference, August 17, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
This thoroughly researched reference will greatly improve your writing, and free you from arbitrary restrictive rules that make your writing seem stilted and artificial. Every recommendation is supported by a careful analysis of numerous examples of actual writing. It exposes the myths of English usage, and does away with made-up rules that no one follows except high-school English teachers.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best usage guide on the market., August 22, 2001
By 
Zeldock (Pennsylvania USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
I own a lot of usage guides, and this is the one I turn to most often by a long shot. Its best feature is its practice of summarizing, in each entry, what other authorities have had to say on the subject. Thus, in buying this book, you get not only its editors' opinions, but also those of Fowler, The American Heritage Dictionary, William Safire, etc. The book also provides numerous, well-identified examples of the usages it discusses, and (contrary to what some reviewers have implied) it does make clear what usages are considered questionable...
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25 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 100% entertaining. 90% for usage guidance., December 20, 2002
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
If you love words, this book will keep you entertained for weeks with its excellent essays on the histories and controversies surrounding words and the ways that they are used and abused. It is an extraordinary buy at the price being asked for here at Amazon.com. As a grammar guide, however, it is good but not great. Merriam-Webster takes a radically descriptive approach to grammar - if plenty of people use a word or phrase a certain way - Shazam! - M-W declares it standard and acceptable. Forget that the usage may be based on a misuderstanding, a mistake, an ignorant misreading of a word. All that matters to M-W is that the majority should rule. This is allowing the mob to lynch the English language. There are other considerations, M-W. Just because millions of people eat at fast food burger joints does not mean that that is how we all should eat. A usage guide should inform us how the language should be written and spoken at its best and most elegant - not advise us to give up any attempt to do so because so few bother. I prefer Bryan Garner's excellent work as his ground rules for usage avoid the low ground that M-W consistently stoops to. Get this and enjoy it. Just do not use it as your only guide.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dictionary to happily leaf through, April 30, 2001
This review is from: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Hardcover)
The witty and drily humourous entries of this dictionary make it one of those books you can leaf through endlessly, learning something on every page.

Those who claim that this usage handbook is too lenient, or defends bad usage, seem to object chiefly to the fact that the authors here state their conclusions in terms of what is really at stake --- "if you write 'X', you are at risk of being corrected" --- rather than simply labelling them "wrong," as if some kind of moral judgment was being passed.

Fortunately, the many examples of each contested usage set forth in this book ultimately allow the reader to make up her own mind about the prestige and literary precedents that the word or phrase she's wondering about might carry. This approach strikes me as vastly preferable to Fowler's ipse-dixits and anti-Americanisms.

Of course, a book of this breadth will miss the boat occasionally, as this one does on "gender" where "sex" is meant: objectionable not so much as a genteelism, but as jargon compassing a belief system which the careful writer may not actually mean to endorse. A number of minor or more recent controversies, like the question of whether to use a singular or plural verb when an 'and' phrase is used to add qualifying information rather than an additional item, seem to have escaped notice. Still, this is the most thorough and up-to-date usage manual of its kind, I think.
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Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage by Merriam-Webster Inc. (Hardcover - November 1, 1994)
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