The Complete Plain Words Hardcover – 1 Sep 1988
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From the Publisher
A sample extract:
(iv) Shall and will.
English text-books used to begin by stating the rule that to express the `plain' future shall is used in the first person and will in the second and third:
I shall go
You will go
He will go
and that if it is a matter not of plain future but of volition, permission or obligation it is the other way round:
I will go (I am determined to go, or I intend to go)
You shall go (You must go, or you are permitted to go)
He shall go (He must go, or he is permitted to go)
But the idiom of the Celts is different. They have never recognised `I shall go'. For them `I will go' is the plain future. The story is a very old one of the drowning Scot who was misunderstood by English onlookers and left to his fate because he cried, `I will drown and nobody shall save me'.
American practice follows the Celtic, and in this matter, as in so many others, the English have taken to imitating the American. If we go by practice rather than precept, we can no longer say dogmatically that `I will go' for the plain future is wrong, or smugly with Dean Alford:
"I never knew an Englishman who misplaced shall and will; I hardly ever have known an Irishman or Scotsman who did not misplace them sometimes."--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Sir Ernest Gowers was born in 1880 and served in a number of illustrious occupations. He advised numerous commissions and committees on a wide variety of subjects from work conditions to the preservation of historic houses. Sidney Greenbaum was a Director of the Survey of English Usage and was the author of many books on grammar and linguistics. Janet Whitcut has worked on a number of prestgious dictionaries and is now a freelance writer with a special interest in langauge. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
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.
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!
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.
On the other hand, Gowers being such a classic, who would want to be without it anyway?
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