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27 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent as far as it goes, but ..., 22 Oct 2005
This review is from: Fowler's Modern English Usage (Re-Revised 3rd Edition) (Hardcover)
Many people will want to use this book in order to clarify the usage of particular words and grammatical structures in order to improve their own use of English.
The book is descriptive, not prescriptive, although there are occasionally indications that certain usages are 'illiterate' or preferred in specific genres.
However, deviations from grammatical standards are presented as perfectly acceptable (e.g. beginning sentences with conjunctions or prepositions at the end of sentences where this is avoidable without creating ugly turns of phrase) purely on the basis of cited usage from, primarily, literary sources. Whilst I agree that a certain or even great latitude is necessary, particular in poetry and other literary genres, or when one wants to achieve a particular rhetorical effect, there is scant reference to the genres in which particular usages are generally found to be both acceptable and effective.
I teach scientific and technical translation (into English) and battle with students' use of rhetorical grammatical structures (e.g. 'but' at the beginning of sentences) in purely technical or informative texts, and it is of no help when a standard reference work cites this as a perfectly acceptable usage by citing the Bible or a poem by Milton.
99% of people that write English write formal English. 99% of the examples are literary, poetic or colloquial.
The book describes well what people do with English. It describes less well how people can ensure that their writing accords with the register of the genre they are writing in.
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Initial post: 25 Mar 2010 17:53:19 GMT
But there is nothing wrong with 'but' at the beginning of a sentence, and Fowler describes its prohibition -- correctly, in my view -- as a 'faintly lingering superstition'. For instance, if you spend a paragraph (or a page) extolling the merits of something, and then move on to its demerits, what better way to begin the next paragraph than with 'But'? ('However' is just a longer synonym.)

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Dec 2010 22:25:03 GMT
Last edited by the author on 31 Dec 2010 22:25:15 GMT
mao_soup says:
This is the problem with all usage guides, be they of Fowler, Gowers, or Garner--they fail to take context into account. It is perfectly acceptable in many contexts to end a sentence with a preposition or begin a sentence with a conjuction. But it may not be acceptable when it comes to technical writing, which you have pointed out. Context matters, and the ipse dixit of whoever will never change that.
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