40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A jolly good read
"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,...
Published on 20 Jan. 2011 by Tuto
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but so dull
If you expected to be amused as well as informed by this book, you should be warned; Heffer is no Lyn Truss. The title is Strictly English and Heffer comes across as a stern school master. I once got into severe trouble for waking my wife up at 1 AM in the morning because I burst out laughing reading Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves in bed. Strictly English poses no such...
Published on 12 Oct. 2010 by Richard Brock
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A jolly good read,
"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'.
The sections on prepositions and on number provide ample proof that language is not logical, and that trying to apply logic to draw up grammatical rules is futile. This rather undermines Mr. Heffer's theme, stated explicitly on page 199, that rules in language are made by logic. Perhaps the better general principle which he puts forward is that long sentences are more likely to contain ambiguities and grammatical errors than short sentences, so short sentences are to be preferred. I doubt that bureaucrats and purveyors of corporate jargon will take note, for their task is to obscure meaning rather than to reveal it. He devotes a whole chapter to their jargon-mongering, and illustrates his points well with three examples of impenetrable prose.
Despite minor disagreements with him, it is a book which I wholeheartedly recommend, not least for its humour. For those who are interested in writing English correctly, the book is an excellent source of advice and information, and if the reader chooses to ignore Mr. Heffer's guidance, then the reader will at least have made an informed decision, rather than a decision based on ignorance.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect antidote to political correctness,
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.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful corrective to politically correct verbiage,
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.'
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for all English teachers,
I found Simon Heffer's book extremely useful and illuminating. I think this book should be recommended reading for all students and teachers so that clear, written and oral communication can become the order of the day. I am sick of hearing and reading "We were sat" and "I was stood", from university educated people, including some teachers of English! On page 185 Heffer explains clearly why these expressions are incorrect.
I taught GCSE English, A Level and GCSE Literature and TEFL for over 30 years and found that most foreign pupils spoke and wrote more grammatical English than did most natives of UK. The English language has changed over the centuries and is still evolving but there remains a need for clear, well-expressed language using non-ambiguous expressions and accurate vocabulary. Let's get rid of sloppiness.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better English,
Given that TV and even radio personalities, newspapers and top authors seem to make elementary grammar and vocabulary mistakes unknowingly, this book should be required reading for all who think they write and speak English. Emails are full of errors too. I learned English grammar at school and with Latin backing my spelling I believe my English is fairly good. I still learned a lot from this book. It is comprehensive, entertaining and naturally, well written.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but so dull,
If you expected to be amused as well as informed by this book, you should be warned; Heffer is no Lyn Truss. The title is Strictly English and Heffer comes across as a stern school master. I once got into severe trouble for waking my wife up at 1 AM in the morning because I burst out laughing reading Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves in bed. Strictly English poses no such dangers; reading it you will be asleep well before your spouse. Heffer's approach to English is Calvinistic, he sees much sin and offers little prospect of delight. If you read his book and managed to finish it you will have learned much. However, most people will give up before the end.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strictly English,
This is an excellent book. I have been a freelance editor and book reviewer for many years, and heartily support everything the author says (with the possible exception of his stricture on split infinitives).It should be compulsory reading for every student entering secondary education, and should certainly be on every teacher's bookshelf - and I don't mean just teachers of English. Highest recommendations.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars prescriptive,
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars A trenchantly argued style guide to better English,
This review is from: Strictly English: The correct way to write ... and why it matters (Paperback)
Do you wince when you hear the phrase 'almost unique'? Are you enraged by reading 'reach a crescendo'? Fear not, you are not alone. And Simon Heffer, former deputy editor of the Spectator, is here to fight the never-ending battle against grammatical mistakes and stylistic slips, in this trenchantly argued style guide to better English.
"If English is worth speaking or writing", Heffer argues, "then it is worth speaking or writing well." He is in turns informative, proscriptive, impassioned and exasperated. He is witheringly funny about the recent rise of 'like' as a kind of verbal pause, "the filler of choice for current youth, which is its most abominable usage"; and the modern trend for 'mockney' English in such phrases as 'sorted' and 'well tasty', because "For some generations it has been a popular pastime of the more affluent classes to imitate the speech of their supposed social inferiors").
Heffer he shows how better written and spoken English can be achieved by mastering a few simple rules, in a book for anyone who cares about the beauty of the English language.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vein of hope,
Simon Heffer has written a book that everyone who speaks and writes English ought to read, if not to improve his facility with the language, to enjoy the wit and charm of the book. This is an instruction book that does not read like one. He first tells us what the rules are, and then explains the purpose of those rules as well as the right and wrong ways of applying them. For example, he wrote: "Punctuation is not merely for the ease of reading, but also for the ease of comprehension and the avoidance of ambiguity. If used correctly, it shows the reader how clauses in a sentence relate to each other; how sentences are delineated; and how an argument or exposition is broken up into paragraphs." (p.31) and that grammar "is a question of logic, and if regarded as such it will, all but the most resolutely illogical minds, become second nature in anyone's use of English. Grammar is designed to keep our language comprehensible and free from ambiguity." (p.45)
He has a chapter on the use of the wrong word (in which he points out the result of dishonesty in the use of the wrong word) and another on the wrong tone. The highlight of the book may be his chapter on "The Essence of Good Style", but I enjoyed the two chapters that that was wittily placed between - "Three Sinners" (state officials, academics, and lawyers and their verbose and obscure style of writing) and "Three Saints (George Orwell, Barbara Pym, and Enoch Powell). Every one of the 309 pages in this book is a joy to read.
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Strictly English: The correct way to write ... and why it matters by Simon Heffer (Paperback - 1 Sept. 2011)