Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Dictionary of Modern English Usage” as Want to Read:
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  654 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
No book had more influence on twentieth-century writers of English than Henry Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It rapidly became the standard work of reference for the correct use of English in terms of choice of words, grammar, and style. Much loved for his firm opinions, passion, and dry humor, Fowler has stood the test of time and is still considered by many ...more
Kindle Edition, 825 pages
Published (first published 1926)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 22, 2007 Rob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference_desk
the first edition of this was published in 1926. written by a genius named Henry Fowler, it is a legendary masterpiece of wit, erudition, and inscrutable insight into how to write well. it has everything - commonly confused pairs, spellings, plurals, and ultranittygritty grammar (EIGHT PAGES on the word "that"). the entries are like little essays, pithy and hilarious, and soooooo old school.

the first ed is great, but suffers a bit as a tool for writing today, so after much humming and hawing, i
Nov 23, 2007 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: users of english
Shelves: nonfiction
Although I do not find this book truly useful, I do find it amusing.

Here is the part about French words:

Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth -- greater indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners. That is the guiding principle alike in the using and in the pronouncing of French words in English writing and talk. To use French words that your reader or hearer does not understand, to pron
Sep 13, 2010 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.0 stars. This is on the short list of the best reference books around. It is not accurate to say that I have "read" this entire book but I have been using it fairly extensively since I acquired it in 1991 as part of an 8 volume leather bound set from Easton Press called the "Complete Oxford Reference Set." I have found it to be an excellent reference tool that is both easy to use and comprehensive.

Nov 03, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fowler's "Modern English Usage" is one of those books that really has no business existing: a reference guide that's fun to read. You could spend hours flipping from entry to entry -- especially since many of the entries make reference to others -- discovering all the mistakes you've been making in your writing over the years. Because H.W. Fowler was incredibly opinionated (check out his stance, for example, on the use of "preface" vs. "foreword"), the book's unique abbreviations take some getti ...more
Bob Nichols
Jan 27, 2010 Bob Nichols rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a few gems to educate the reader on the history of usage and to correct some common misunderstandings and mistakes. But these are hidden in a mass of detail. The book is plagued with the following defects: (1) too often Fowler takes forever, if ever, to make his point and, even then, his point is not frequently clear;(2)on the issue of clarity, Fowler lapses into his own considerable jargon so that, for example, "'of' is here not partitive but appositional" and it is even now more ...more
Aug 11, 2007 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fowler is truly the most english of englishmen. This is a righteously indignant, uptight, catty look at how language should and shouldn't be used. While the second edition was mildly updated in 1965 by Sir Ernest Gowers, it remains in essence a turn of the century work. Just plain fun to read.
Mar 13, 2009 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Strunk and White? Never 'eard of 'em. This is my Old Testament and The King's English is my New.
Jun 20, 2012 Sammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have to agree with the more erudite reviews already posted: in some ways, this is a 5-star work. In others, it's a write-off.

As a writer myself, I find Fowler to be one of the pre-eminent reference texts. He covers a vast range of words and phrases - from the regularly misused to archaisms which, when they are used, need clarifying - with a wit that often borders on scathing. It's great fun to be searching for a simple definition or clarification, and end up having a good giggle at the same ti
Alex Brightsmith
Oct 03, 2012 Alex Brightsmith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference, reviewed
I love this book whole-heartedly.
I won't pretend that with this one work you can leap from ignorance to expert knowledge, but if you already have a fair grasp of good usage, and are willing to have to look up the occasional technical term, this is an invaluable guide to the points you sometimes doubt, or know from practice but have never entirely understood.
The age of this edition is no hindrance in this. I find that on occasions when I need to be absolutely right, what I really need to do is to
Richard Epstein
Nov 24, 2013 Richard Epstein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A dangerous book to consult. Many, many times I have picked it up to check something specific, only to find out, an instant later, that 30 minutes have passed, and I am still reading. James Patterson should write such riveting prose.
David Dranchak
Apr 12, 2011 David Dranchak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henry W. Fowler's, Modern English Usage is the style guide upon which other style guides are based on. "Henry W. Fowler's general approach to English usage was to encourage a direct, vigorous writing style, and to oppose all artificiality - firmly advising against unnecessary, convoluted sentence construction, foreign words and phrases, and archaisms. He opposed all pedantry, and notably ridiculed artificial grammatical rules without warrant in natural English usage - such as bans on split infin ...more
In this idiosyncratic masterpiece, Fowler dedicated himself to discussing (sometimes pedantically, sometimes whimsically, always insightfully) how and why we use and misuse a few thousand English words, one of which is "one."

Fowler's discussion of "one" goes on for 3+ pages and includes a section on what he calls the "false first-person one," in which "one" uses "one" instead of/in place of "I." In 1944, Fowler noted the presence of the "false first-person one" only in journalism, where "it ena
Mar 20, 2009 Codex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, reference
This is one of those reference books you just have to have on your shelf. It contains a wealth of information about how to use English properly, and why. Many subtle aspects are explained in a way that naturally sets this work apart from others. The fact that it has been around for so long stands testimony to its value as a unique language resource.

This is not just another dictionary or thesaurus: it is about more than the mechanics of language. You can delve into this book at random and be sure
Feb 09, 2016 Palmyrah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A stylistic dictionary that is a work of literature itself. The advice is sound, conduces to elegant writing, and is dispensed with a light hand. It is also full of surprises: we learn, for example, that many 'American' spellings — 'gray’ is one example — are actually older than their current British equivalents.

Do not bother with any of the modern versions, which have been bowdlerized, politically corrected and eviscerated. The last edition that was any good was published in 1926.
Dec 27, 2015 Luke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Avoid the third edition at all costs. The first is great, but extremely dated. The second, this one is widely considered the best. It came recommended by several advisers in college at different universities. I know own two copies, one for my office at home and another for my office on campus (I'm currently in graduate school).
Mar 07, 2008 Howard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's pretty impractical to try to use this the way you would Chicago or one of the other style guides, but it's a lot of fun to read. Just open it anywhere. I always learn something new about how the language works. (I'm talking around the first edition; I haven't looked at the revisions, so I don't know about those.)
Chip Hennen
A must-read (but not an easy read) reference source for anyone really serious about the rules that govern the construction of modern American English composition. Although no one has the last word in matters involving grammar and word useage, this tome comes close than any other written on the subject.
Mark Singer
Mar 11, 2011 Mark Singer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From time to time I will read a random selection from this book, and will have two distinct reactions. The first is my amazement at the complexity of the English language. The second reaction is to imagine Fowler, in the voice of Alan Rickman, sneering at my grammatical ineptitude.
Jun 28, 2014 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a wonderful, funny, knowledgeable, opinionated book, for those who love words and language. But beware of the ebook version. It seems to be a poor scan of the text, which no one ever bothered to proofread.
Mirvan  Ereon
Because I love languages and I love learning, I found this book very comprehensive and useful. I like reading it out of fun. I love to browse through its pages and simply know more about English.
May 20, 2013 Derek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Probably my favorite book about the use of English. Fowler/Gowers explain English usage in ways that would make my high school teachers squirm, and validate many of my own biases!
Dec 11, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm just snooty enough to love this. The reasons behind the rules. Wish there was something around like this today, because language changes so quickly and so do the rules.
Sep 25, 2013 Cnevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the wittiest books I have read (it's great bathroom reading), and one of the few textbooks I still have from university twenty years ago.
Aug 12, 2007 L S rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The non plus ultra for every English pedant; James, I'm thinking of you, you pedant.

Fowler is intensely snippy and irresistable.
Nov 04, 2010 Connor rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is the most amazing book in the entire world!!! IF YOU DON'T READ THIS, LIFE'S NOT WORTH LIVING.
Bill Tillman
Feb 12, 2010 Bill Tillman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
A used book store is a wonderful thing, I picked up my copy in '70 but it was published in 1950 but is like new!
John Jr.
Learned in a way that'll seem arcane to some people nowadays, but for me this is priceless.
Apr 11, 2008 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Certainly seemed to have an influence on DFW, thus it certainly deserves my nod.
Jan 08, 2012 Liz rated it liked it
Not read it cover to cover. Will continue to dip in from time to time.
Apr 17, 2011 Linda marked it as to-read
Recommended to Linda by: NPR
Shelves: not-in-opl
The library has an older edition, but not this one updated by David Crystal.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Is Fowlers Work worth the reading? 2 6 Aug 17, 2015 01:50PM  
  • Garner's Modern American Usage
  • Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English
  • Roget International Thesaurus
  • The Oxford Companion to the English Language
  • The Chambers Dictionary
  • Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--And How to Avoid Them
  • Associated Press Stylebook And Libel Manual
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  • The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology
  • The Oxford Companion to English Literature
  • Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature
  • Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
  • The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park
  • The Elements of Editing
  • Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia
  • Words into Type
  • Complete Plain Words

Share This Book

“Pretentious quotations [are] the surest road to tedium.” 0 likes
More quotes…