Customer Review

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Formal, old fashioned, not plain English., 28 Sep 2009
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This review is from: The Complete Plain Words (Paperback)
'Plain Words' is an 'English usage' guide aimed at government officials who write for a living and was first published in the 1940s.
It's been updated over the years apparently, but even so, it feels old fashioned and a bit outdated. Because of the writing style I found myself reading it in a comedy BBC accent most of the time, and it doesn't help that the examples used throughout are like something from pre-war government archives.
Other reviewers have commented that you need to know about grammar before you read this and that's true enough. The author assumes you're familiar with standard grammatical terms so doesn't bother to explain any of them. If you know nothing about grammar you'll probably get bogged down in the first few pages.
Part of this book is written like a history of the language and if you like that sort of thing you may find it interesting. I found it a bit hard going at times though since the text is quite dense and in a very small typeface. I was more interested by the sections on specific grammatical 'troubles' as they're called. Those are useful enough, but really though 'Plain Words' is not that different from any modern guide to usage and I think there are better presented guides available that would be no less 'plain' in their approach, and probably plainer.
My biggest problem with 'Plain Words' is that the title might make you think it's going to be about plain English. And it really isn't. It's about how to write correctly, precisely and more directly. It's about how to avoid sounding like a comedy character from 'Yes Minister' when you write. But it isn't about how to write in plain English. Nor is it (sadly) written in plain English.
I'd say that if you're interested in language and grammar you might well be interested in this as a historical piece. But if you want to learn how to write in plain English, in the modern sense, you should skip this and get something like the Oxford guide instead. 'Plain Words' is only half way to plain English.
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A. Butterfield
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