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84 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2002
This is a classic book. The first sentence of the Prologue says "the main purpose of this book is to help officials in their use of written English as a tool of their trade". I think that this book should be required reading for all officials, bureaucrats, managers and other professional people who have to write in English as part of their work.
I particularly like the many examples throughout the book of poor writing followed by the improved versions suggested by the author. The meaning of the improved versions is crystal clear in comparison with the original versions! And the improved versions are much easier to read.
There is a checklist of words and phrases to be used with care. It occupies 70 pages of the book and contains a few hundred words and phrases. Many of the words listed have their own proper function, but they are often used by unwary or careless writers in place of a simpler or more apt word. It is well worth reading through the author's comments and recommendations for each entry.
This is a book that I have read and re-read, and I now try to practice what Gowers preaches.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2006
I first read this book cover-to-cover, like a novel. It is interesting, easy to read and entertaining. It also covers a LOT of ground without being complicated or long-winded.

I bought this book in the late 90s and I still refer to it regularly. It's a fantastic little reference book. It explains things very clearly, and the examples it uses are very helpful indeed.

Its index is great; you can find what you're looking for very quickly.

It's refreshing to read a book about English usage which reflects our times and stresses the importance of clarity and elegance over blind adherence to Latin-based rules (e.g. it takes a sensible and pragmatic approach to the splitting of infinitives and to sentences ending with prepositions), but which at the same time doesn't do any "dumbing down" - everything it recommends is firmly rooted in good grammar and educated, clear use of the language.

This book was first published 52 years ago, but it has been updated to keep it current. In my opinion it is the best book you can buy if you want a clear, concise, sensible guide to writing well.

Oh - and the section on verbo-pomposity is a hoot!
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
The premise of this book is that writing is a tool that should enable communication and minimize misunderstandings, not a tool with which to show-off learning. This premise shines out in every chapter as the author deals with: choosing the correct word, avoiding superfluous words, arranging words well, and punctuating clearly.
This is not a strict grammar with definitive statements on the split infinitive or the use of hyphens, it is a council of commonsense, filled with examples of poor English (often very funny ones), and suggestions for how they should be improved.. The result is a fantastic and valuable guide to how to write better.
I learnt a lot from this book and enjoyed reading it cover to cover. It also has an excellent index making it a useful reference work. Now all I have to do is learn how to put these great lessons into practise.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2010
I have known of The Complete Plain Words since the mid 1950's and have my 1973 copy on my desk at all times. I bought this latest copy for my granddaughter, just ahout to go up to university. I find it an invaluable aid when writing reports or even just letters: it sorts out those tricky sentences which do not seem quite right and mostly gives the answer to those bits of grammar which one is not quite certain about. Everyone should have one!
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2008
First of all: if you are someone who hasn't read a lot of books about the English language, but you have to do a fair amount of writing in your daily life and you feel that you need help with grammar and punctuation, this book is probably not for you.

Gowers' original book was written in the late 1940s and early 1950s, mainly for use by civil servants who were already highly educated but who needed reminding that they were supposed to be servants of the public, not masters. Gowers' advice is mostly about cleaning up bad and pretentious English, not about basic points of style and usage for people who just don't know how to put a sentence together. If you want a useful book which will tell you things like where to put the full stop in a sentence that ends with a quote, then you need a good style guide. The best one for my money is the Oxford University Press 'New Hart's Rules', an excellent handbook of guidelines on basic usage, clarity and good plain style. Alternatively, you could get Fowler's 'Modern English Usage' but the current edition of it (edited by Robert Burchfield) is somewhat controversial, and previous editions, though fascinating, are a bit out of date. 'New Hart's Rules' covers the same ground but is shorter and more handy for everyday use.

'The Complete Plain Words' is a different sort of book from any of the above, and is really intended for people who already think they know how to write. It's extremely good at clearing up common confusions in the minds of educated people, such as the distinctions between 'abrogate' and 'arrogate', or 'comprise' and 'compose' (or, for that matter, the specific difference between 'comprise' and 'include'.) If this is not the kind of thing you are looking for, then you probably need 'New Hart's Rules' or Fowler. Everybody else needs them too, but this book is actually a fairly specialised guide to writing official English, and is aimed at people who do that for a living.

For those people, Gowers is a great and enlightening read. My own copy of the book is the second edition, edited by his great successor Sir Bruce Fraser, and apart from its value as a guide to good usage it's an interesting snapshot of the state of English in the early 1970s, when Fraser carried out his revision. It's also wise, witty and full of fascinating examples of what the author and editor considered good as well as bad English.

There is a current fad for correctness in language, of which the bestselling example is probably Lynne Truss' book 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'. It has been hyped as a useful and accessible guide to correct English (or at any rate, correct punctuation). I haven't read it, though, for two reasons: one is that a quick flick through the book revealed that it didn't contain anything that wasn't already in any of the books mentioned above, which I already own; and the other is that if I were looking for someone to teach me about how to write clear and unpretentious English, I certainly wouldn't go to a journalist.

To sum up: if you feel lost writing English and want to know how to avoid basic mistakes, get 'New Hart's Rules' or Fowler's 'Modern English Usage'. If you feel like you know how to write but find it difficult to make your meaning clear, get them anyway, but also get this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2014
I recently got this book because my previous copy had fallen apart with use (only the second book of mine to which this has happened - see my other reviews). As a guide to writing clear English this is a classic and still one of the best. On the other hand it is not without rivals. I love Strunk and White for its sheer Ciceronian bite. The Economist Style Guide is also a worthy competitor, even if a bit slanted towards journalistic English. For a more compact book, one can also try the Oxford Guide to Plain English.

On the other hand, Gowers being such a classic, who would want to be without it anyway?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2012
I remember this from my childhood - my father was always quoting from it. The advice still holds good 50 years on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2013
Classic text. I didn't purchase the most up-to-date text but what I have is still relevant. The book is wise and witty and knows its audience, making clear allowance for those who, like myself, are not civil servants but just want to know the basic rules of written English. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2011
I have found this book to be full of useful discussion of style, cliches, and basic punctuation. The examples and discussion are really great. The bit about science and technology is quite funny too, given how dated it is. Nevertheless, it's still relevant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2011
As a writer, I found the book very useful indeed. It was written orginally for Civil Servants, but would prove to serve as a useful tool in our schools today to teach pupils what English is all about, In Plain Words !
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