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Strictly English: The correct way to write ... and why it matters [Hardcover]

Simon Heffer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
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Book Description

9 Sep 2010 1847946305 978-1847946300 1st. Edition

"Be in no doubt: the beer was drunk but the man drank the beer."

"We must avoid vulgarities like 'front up'. If someone is 'fronting up' a television show, then he is presenting it."

Simon Heffer's incisive and amusingly despairing emails to colleagues at the The Daily Telegraph about grammatical mistakes and stylistic slips have found their way on to the internet and have attracted a growing band of ardent fans over recent years. Now, in his new book Strictly English, he makes an impassioned case for an end to the sloppiness that has become such a hallmark of everyday speech and writing, and shows how accuracy and clarity are within the grasp of anyone who is prepared to take the time to master a few simple rules.

If you wince when you see "different than" in print, or are offended by people who think that "infer" and "imply" mean the same thing, then this book will provide reassurance that you are not alone. If you have a suspicion that it is wrong to say "the car collided with the tree" but are not quite sure why, then it will set you straight. And if you believe that precise and elegant English really does matter, then it will prove required reading.

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Strictly English: The correct way to write ... and why it matters + Simply English: An A-Z of Avoidable Errors
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books; 1st. Edition edition (9 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847946305
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847946300
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 13.5 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"An impassioned case for correct English, full of practical advice" (Country Life)

"Every one of us who gasps at the use of English in the papers each morning or harrumphs on turning on the radio will find much to applaud" (The Spectator)

"I have spent several productive hours reading Strictly English" (Jeffrey Archer Daily Telegraph)

"His evidently strong feelings about his subject, fluently expressed, make this book lively and engrossing" (Times Literary Supplement)

"The Holy Grail of grammar ... It is a delight to read and learn from this book" (Field) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

The Telegraph's master English stylist shows how it's done

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A jolly good read 20 Jan 2011
By Tuto
"Strictly English" by Simon Heffer is a book which attracted me because I struggled at school with English and thus developed a morbid fascination for the instrument of my childhood torture. Right at the outset, I must say that it is not just a reference book, but a jolly good read too. It is divided into sections which deal with the basic rules of our language, linguistic mistakes (and how to avoid them) and finally a section on good English. He says "The ideal condition of a language is where it allows communication without ambiguity or confusion", a proposition with which nobody could disagree, and the aim of the book is to help the reader to reach that goal in both writing and speech.

I was delighted to find a section on the subjunctive. Not only does he describe this mood of the verb, but he also puts forward a strong case for regretting its demise. On the other hand, it provides very convincing proof that a language can function well without its subjunctive, a point which will doubtless be lost on the Germans, Spaniards, French and Italians who still have it in their mother tongue.

Mr. Heffer expends much effort in his description of the correct use of the relative pronouns 'that' and 'which', after reading which I was quite confused. It is about time that English abolished the distinction in meaning between the two, also between 'shall' and 'will', because it would make life simpler for everybody. Sentences can be recast to express the distinctions which these different forms are supposed to express, but which few people understand.

Mr. Heffer deals beautifully with some of my pet peeves: the sloppy use of `if' instead of `whether', `different to' instead of `different from', and the old chestnut of `less' instead of `fewer'.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect antidote to political correctness 10 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Some may find this book overly prescriptive. I welcome it because it recognises 'proper' English as a definable and achievable standard - a much needed antidote to the lost generation of English education, with its victims of dumbing down and political correctness.

Heffer is very authoritative, quoting Fowler, Onions, Orwell, Partridge et al on the finer points of English grammar, but it is his straightforward, no-nonsense style and witty asides that made this book an engaging read for me. His best advice is less on grammar than on writing style: keep your sentences short and pithy, and use killer nouns in preference to adjectives.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful corrective to politically correct verbiage 6 April 2011
The two most negative reviewers of this book, David Crystal and Geoff Pullum, had three main criticisms:

1) Heffer sometimes breaks his own style rules. He regularly uses the passive, for instance, frequently writes long sentences, and often uses long words.
2) Heffer's strictures on grammar are prescriptive, old-fashioned and sometimes broken by prestigious writers.
3) Heffer is merely imposing his own whims and peeves on his readers.

None of these criticisms is particularly strong. Heffer may not always do as he says, but what he says is still usually worth doing; indeed, Crystal and Pullum themselves both write prose that largely conforms to Heffer's rules. Regarding the second point, we either accept prescriptive rules aimed at producing clarity, precision and elegance, or we ultimately just say that any usage must be recognised as legitimate if it is common enough. Finally, Crystal and Pullum complain about whims and peeves, but they just want to impose their own whims and peeves instead.

If you want a reasonably thorough overview of traditional English grammar and prose style, buy this book. It is curmudgeonly, and wrong in places, but it is a useful corrective to politically correct verbiage. Moreover, as Heffer says, 'whether the linguistic experts like it or not, there remains an idea of "standard English" as it is spoken in Britain...These standards are set by an educated class...and those who wish to be included, or to consider themselves included, in that class must subscribe to the rules.'
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars prescriptive 7 Dec 2011
By Furio
Sincerely speaking I do not understand how it is possible to consider this book amusing as other reviewers do. It might have several assets but humour is not one of them.

Dr. Heffer is a conservative grammarian and writes accordingly. He sets several rules of good grammar and style giving most of them no more justification than "logic"; sometimes he also quotes those he deems to be authoritative writers.
This approach is likely to irritate many people and renews the constant debate between prescriptive and liberal grammarians, the ones believing language should never change, the others believing usage to be the only rule setter.

My personal position lies somewhere inbetween: as an amateur linguist I am perfectly aware that language change is inevitable and that prescriptive grammarians are destined to be a frustrated lot. At the same time I cannot condone what Dr. Heffer rightly defines as "sloppiness".
Precision, conciseness and clarity are available to everyone with a little effort and tell everybody else the tale of a mind capable of ordering its thoughts and organising its work. They are therefore essential for those looking for a qualified job of any kind and should be essential for politicians and other public personalities. They might also be of help in dealing with several aspects of everyday life.

Most of the rules set by Dr. Heffer appear logical indeed if not always well explained and motivated. Some are more questionable.
The author also forces these rules into prose paragraphs while some schemes or diagrams might have been more helpful.
Splitting the longer chapters into better organised sections could have been helpful as well.

All in all this is a useful read but could be reworked into a better second edition.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought as a gift very good thank you
Bought as a gift very good thank you
Published 26 days ago by Mr R Springthorpe
4.0 out of 5 stars Learned a Lot
Enjoyed reading this and learned a lot
Published 1 month ago by Dave Cole
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of fascinating facts and insights into the English language ...
Full of fascinating facts and insights into the English language. I never realised I was saying so much so wrong. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Anthony Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars How it should be writ.
I've only recently bought this book and dipping into it is quite entertaining. No grammarian myself I love the piece on political correctness and how in trying to remove all traces... Read more
Published 2 months ago by D.G.H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlish as it should be written
With the advent of e-mails, texting, etc., too few people know how to write correctly, this book will help those who do not want to lose the art or writing.
Published 3 months ago by fumbletrunk
1.0 out of 5 stars If you want to sound like a pompous bigot, this book's for you
Simon Heffer is a blustering bigot - with the overgrown ego that Public School engenders, combined with an unrealistically inflated assessment of self-worth. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Neil Mcgowan
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of useful tips
I found this book to be really helpful in its tips to writers aiming to improve their English - which is basically everyone because there is always room for improvement. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Gabes
4.0 out of 5 stars Pedantic but authoritative
SimonnHeffer's counsel and guidance is painstaking and beyond criticism. For the perfectionist writer this would be a book not to be without.
Published 4 months ago by Clive Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable.
Sadly, it is difficult to open a newspaper, magazine or book without what once would have been regarded as crass grammatical howlers. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Bluecashmere.
4.0 out of 5 stars My friendly little helper on the shelf
I've got Fowler's and the Economist Style Guide on the shelf, as well as Chambers' English Dictionary and Compact Thesaurus, but it is to Simon Heffers's offering that I most... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Prospero
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