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Fowler's Modern English Usage

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,013 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Fowler's Modern English Usage is the world-famous guide to English usage, loved and used by writers of all kinds. In keeping with its long tradition, Fowler's gives comprehensive and practical advice on grammar, syntax, style, and choice of words. It gives a clear and authoritative picture of the English we use, and elucidates many scores of usage questions such as the spl ...more
Hardcover, 896 pages
Published December 30th 2004 by Oxford University Press (first published 1926)
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Rob
Aug 22, 2007 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
...more
Rachel
Nov 23, 2007 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
...more
Stephen
Sep 13, 2010 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.

Daniel
Mar 17, 2008 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 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
Simon
Aug 11, 2007 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.
Anne Marie
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Years ago, I fell in love with Fowler's righteous wrath, his irony, his impeccable use of Oxford comma. Whenever I feel down, I open this book and read a random entry. Should you read it? Nah. Should you own it and peruse it every now and then? Absolutely! Spoilers below.

His examples and turns of phrase are brilliant. Ever thought how you'd mix "touch pitch" and "defile" in the same sentence? There you go:

superiority. Much misplaced ingenuity in finding forms of apology is shown by writers with
...more
Quiver
Fowler’s advice, his examples, and inherent relevance show some wear, but nothing that the author’s sense of humour doesn’t amply recompense. I speak of this 1968 edition. The few more flavourful entries that I was able to search for in a 1996 edition were either non-existent or effectively bowdlerised. What’s left nowadays is the bland and spartan, but most pragmatic, dictionary-speak.

I understand why—political correctness and modernisation march rightly on—though I think the earlier editions c
...more
Sammy
Jun 20, 2012 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
...more
Alex Brightsmith
Oct 03, 2012 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
...more
Mark Desrosiers
Oct 24, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
The 1926 edition was riveting, the sort of prose that seduces your snarky mind and infects your dreams. Logical, romantic, hilarious: the firmest virtues.

This thick modern update is a bag of wind, a pail of Sominex. Consult it if you need to, but don't say I didn't warn you if the resulting narcolepsy puts you off your game.
Tom
Sep 24, 2013 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.
Richard Epstein
Nov 24, 2013 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.
Connor
Nov 01, 2010 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.
Andy
the latest edition, while more accurate, lacks some of the curmudgeonly editorializing that earlier editions had
Richard Thomas
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
A faithful place of refuge when in pedantic mode both as a corrective and a comfort.
Dennis Littrell
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The excellent second edition

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 ri
...more
John Cooper
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[This review is of the Oxford World's Classics edition published by Oxford University Press and edited by David Crystal, not the older version edited by Gowers.]

Back in the early 2000s, the software company I worked at had some unused books left over from a project, including a late printing of the first edition of H. W. Fowler’s *A Dictionary of Modern English Usage,* first published Great Britain in 1926. So I snagged it. As David Crystal says in his introduction to this new Oxford World’s Cla
...more
Whiskey
A lexicographer, per Samuel Johnson, the granddaddy of the breed, is a “harmless drudge,” but Henry Watson Fowler may be the exception that proves the rule. It is one of the pleasures of his peerless Dictionary of Modern English Usage that, as astonishing as it may seem, its entries—an A-to-Z of questions of grammar, syntax, style, and the choice, formation, and pronunciation of words—reveal their author to be a man of good humor and good cheer. Animated throughout with brief humorous essays (tr ...more
Linda
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have had this 1986 edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage on my bookshelf for over thirty years, and it really is a key text for any writer, as I was reminded this weekend in conversation with Frank Moorhouse at the Sydney Writers Festival - his wonderful essay 'Is Writing a Way of Life?' in the latest Meanjin mentions that as a young journalist, he read a page of Fowler's a day. I'm not sure I ever tackled it in quite the same disciplined manner, but I definitely dog-eared its pages. Settin ...more
Gary
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sticklers and other people who care.
Shelves: classics, owned, reference
An old (first published in 1926) but still useful instruction in the correct use of English. Much of its value lies in the way that it explains, in simple, easy to understand terms, why certain rules exist as well as the meanings of words. An invaluable reference source.

I have marked this as 'read' but, of course, I have not read all of it; it is a work in progress, as a reference book I dip in and out.
Mike Mitchell
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got this for Christmas, and I love it. It's a great reference book of course, but I love the dry humour when he advises against certain usage. For example where people pronounce Chorizo as 'choritso', as if it's an Italian word, he says: "If you wish to make an impression ... it is wise to make sure you choose the right language."
Chip Cook
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language-english
To say one has read this book is not really the way to describe experiences with it.

"Used" this book is more like it.

If you want to use the word correctly, as in Standard Written English or whatever they call it in the UK, then this dictionary is worth having around.
Stephen Hayes
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very useful reference book on words and usage for writers and editors.
Web Webster
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’m calling this read even though it’s a reference book having read the front matter and I’ll be working this little by little over the next couple of months.
Dennis Littrell
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The standard to which all the others are compared

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 exce
...more
Jeff
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
...more
David Dranchak
Apr 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Codex
Mar 10, 2009 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
...more
Palmyrah
Nov 16, 2015 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.
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