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Garner's Modern American Usage

4.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  803 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
Since first appearing in 1998, Garner's Modern American Usage has established itself as the preeminent guide to the effective use of the English language. Brimming with witty, erudite essays on troublesome words and phrases, this book authoritatively shows how to avoid the countless pitfalls that await unwary writers and speakers whether the issues relate to grammar, punct ...more
Hardcover, Third Edition, 1008 pages
Published August 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 3rd 1998)
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3rd out of 30 books — 2 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,035)
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Jun 28, 2008 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: a dan after my own heart
Thanks, Dan! Receiving this book justified my having dragged myself out last night, and made the long G-to-the-A trek home totally bearable, even the part at the end when I was walking home from the train and a group of guys yelled out that they wanted to gang rape me. Hah hah! I just chuckled to myself, knowing that if any of them came close I could brain them with my lethally massive new hardcover Garner's, and then point out some finer points of American usage while the ungrammatical would-be ...more
Jan 11, 2010 Weinz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I want to do dirty things to this book.
Nick Black
Jan 01, 2011 Nick Black rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nick by: Twitch, DFW
my best friend Twitch gave me this at trivia 2010-12-26. i promptly brought it home and read, enthralled, until 0545 or so. my date was pissed off, but Mssr. Garner and I danced the night away. every true pedant ought acquire and become intimate with a copy. beyond that, i can't say much more beyond DFW's Harper's review (which anyone not damaged in a profound, Oliver Sacksish-way will enjoy).

as another reviewer below has already claimed, this will likely find place on my desk as the first non-m
Amar Pai
Oct 02, 2012 Amar Pai rated it it was amazing
Update 9/25/12: so, I bought this book. Glad I did-- been flipping through it some more, and it's quite fascinating. Garner can be quite funny even if he is a snoot.

I have to admit though-- upon further reflection, I still don't get the distinction between "erstwhile" and "former". I re-read Garner's explanation, in which he opines that erstwhile is necessary because "former" and "one-time" aren't sufficient, and realized that he never actually explains when you'd use one vs the other! The singl
Jul 09, 2007 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language geeks
I poke around in this massive volume, read Garner's brilliant little mini-essays about usage, and a warm, geeky feeling blooms in my chest. Just about the best book on language and its use I've come across. It's like a box of bon-bons if you like this sort of thing.
Jean Bond
Jan 02, 2015 Jean Bond rated it it was amazing
Well, I don't know that I would say I read Garner's, exactly.

The forward, about the grammar wars, is a terrific read. Otherwise, I rely heavily on Garner's when I have usage questions, just as any right-thinking person would.
Jun 21, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Steve by: Sam Van Horne
Shelves: owned
A bowl of cereal and one page from Garner's Modern American Usage is my favorite way to start the day. I haven't been reading this book in the morning so I'm taking it off my list of book currently reading.
The hell with Strunk and White. This is the only book you will ever need.
Apr 29, 2016 Steve rated it it was amazing
I've wanted a copy of this for many years, since hearing David Foster Wallace and author Bryan Garner chat about Wallace's terrific review/article Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage (a greatly expanded version of which appears in Wallace's book Consider the Lobster, which, cover to cover, I recommend highly.) I finally got my copy of Garner's a couple weeks ago and it's now part of my home's landscape: It's not going on a shelf. It never disappoints, although it can an ...more
Aug 18, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of the myriad dictionaries, grammar books and usage guides out there, one stands out as the argument-ender: Garner’s.
Why is this book so special? Several reasons:
First, it’s comprehensive. Pretty much any question you can think of concerning usage is covered in the nearly 1,000 pages of this book, with detailed explanations, the usage’s history and examples from print. It doesn’t just tell what’s correct or acceptable, it tells you why.
Second, the man knows of which he speaks. His concise, thoug
May 19, 2016 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
It has been said before: the preface and introductory piece that details the "Language Wars" alone justify the purchasing of Garner's usage guide. Garner's argument favoring an armistice in the Prescriptivist and Descriptivist polemic is conscionable (I am going with Garner on "conscionable" not being obsolete). The views seem compatible. I felt Garner's evenhandedness threaded through the entire work, even considering that Garner's beliefs place him in the Prescriptivist camp. This book won't b ...more
Shannon Wright
Jan 14, 2014 Shannon Wright rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book very much. I always struggled with the words "founder" and "flounder." It is DFW-approved. This belongs on any self-respecting person's shelf, provided that person takes it down and reads it every once in a while. I like this. - Shannon
Quite simply the most current and comprehensive book of rhetoric. This indispensable tome is as entertaining as it is educational.
Mar 24, 2012 John added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lynda
Shelves: unfinished, unrated
As a result of not finishing this book, I did not rate it. In particular, this review is not zero stars.

It is a folly for me to write a review of this volume, given the limited ability I have for the construction of prose, made even more limited by the fact that I have already returned this book to the library. I apologize to the individuals who attend to the nuanced use of English as found in this book, who care not only for choosing the appropriate words and constructions, but who are so in c
Aug 13, 2007 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers, readers and the absolutely incurably aggressively nerdy
i love this usage dictionary because it's contemporary and readable and not too stuffy. Here, snipped from the Garner's Usage Tip of the Day email:

"Functional Variation 4 -- Nouns as Verbs.

One type of semantic shift occurs when nouns function as verbs. There are scores of examples {access} {impact}. Often these new usages catch on {debut} {host}, but others sound slangy -- e.g.: "George will be limoed to the Vet and given great seats." "The Winners! When 'K' Means a Home Run," Phil. Daily News,
May 20, 2014 Leigh rated it it was amazing
We just added Garner's to our editorial library at work, and I'm thoroughly enjoying the irreverent tone of voice, as well as the Language Change Index he employs to mark the ubiquity of questionable usage. I highly recommend this guide for both professional and amateur word nerds.
Trina Lozoya
Feb 19, 2015 Trina Lozoya rated it really liked it
This is a great reference. It's always easily within reach!
Not so much "read" as "use often and have for years."
Aug 04, 2007 Melanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
An indispensable reference work for writers and other grammar nerds. If you have a question about grammar or style, consult Garner. For even more fun, subscribe to Garner's Usage Tip of the Day from Oxford UP [ check out David Foster Wallace's excellent essay (published in Harper's in 2001) about A Dictionary of Modern Usage, this volume's predecessor: [].
Feb 13, 2010 max rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
There are a minimum of two works you must have on your reference shelf: (1) dictionary; (2) usage guide. After that, you can make whatever choices you wish. There's a worthy old saying: "usage is king." And usage is anything but static. That's why a book like this is such a treasure. It provides detailed, thoroughly researched discussions of many of the most controversial issues in usage today. If you are serious about the correct use of English, get this book.
Nov 29, 2012 Kenny rated it liked it
By having this on my shelf, I feel safe. The heft lends it a type of authority, but delving in, he shows some nuance. It's not exactly directive, and there are long entries on topics that are seemingly settled, like Capitalization rules, or Colloquialisms, or even the word "ejaculated" (insert Henry James reference). The book feels nice, and DFW backed it; otherwise it's a go-to resource for a non-native like me.
Nathan Rostron
Aug 08, 2007 Nathan Rostron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is maybe the greatest reference book I've ever come across. Garner's had an answer for nearly every grammatical, syntactical, lexical, tonal, idiomatic, and graphic question I've turned to his pages for, and the answers are witty and sardonic. For an intro, read David Foster Wallace's mammoth essay, "Authority and American Usage," which is basically an overblown review of Garner's book.
Feb 04, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing and hilarious.
Sep 11, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Indispensable, and remarkably funny.
I like to think that had David Foster Wallace lived, his novels would have gone in this direction.

the whole Prescriptivists vrs. Descriptivists schools of grammar and language use has been on my mind lately.

Fowler's "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage" is the counterpoint to this.

Also, i should probably know this stuff.
Matt Evans
Jun 16, 2013 Matt Evans rated it it was amazing
This took me about three years to read because I kept it in the bathroom and read it only when I was getting ready for the day, brushing my teeth, etc. But it was worth the while and wait. I now know a lot more about language and grammar than I did before. A ton more. I bow down before Garner; he is a grammar god, a judicious Jehovah of usage. Read and learn.
Sep 10, 2007 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: grammarians
This reference guide to English usage probably has the most balanced lexicographical approach (in the on-going prescriptionist v. descriptionist struggle) of any such guides. Is this sentence grammatically correct?

(ps. check out DFW's really really long (but awesome) essay about/review of this:
Sean Edwards
Aug 12, 2008 Sean Edwards rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bryan Garner is an English usage rock star. You've never seen an English usage rock star before? If your job reqiures you to write, read, or speak English, you should see the English usage rock star. Find a show near you at
His primary audience is lawyers, but his lessons apply to everyone.
Apr 08, 2010 Kristina rated it it was amazing
This is a review of the third edition (2009).

I spent a lot of time with this book today, browsing usage recommendations and dipping into the essays on language. Garner's advice is as sensible as ever, and the Language-Change Index is a great addition (with a funny key).

This one won't languish on the shelf!
Oct 09, 2011 Joel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whatever, it's not like I'm going to go through and read an entire reference book, but from what I looked through, this tome is invaluable. It covers practically every word that is ever used incorrectly, includes short essays on specific topics, and even admits when incorrect usage is becoming acceptable.
Dec 05, 2015 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Garner is what I would call a moderate prescriptivist. He believes there is a role for usage books to tell us what "correct usage" is, but he also knows when to relent in the face of overwhelming changes in public usage.

Though this is a reference book, it's readable--sometimes delightfully so.
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