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on 31 July 2004
The King's English is full of excellent advice on correct English usage. Sparkling with the Fowlers' uniquely dry humour, the book differs from many English usage guides in that it is divided into sections about very broad topics organised thematically, rather than being an alphabetical listing of short "snippets" of advice.
If you want to improve your style and grammar, I would recommend The King's English very highly. My only reservation would be that for those of us brought up in the comprehensive school system, where grammar is almost a "no-go area", some of the technical terms used can make the book hard reading in places.
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on 2 February 2010
I shall start with the most important part of the review:
If you were to take my well-intentioned advice, you would not buy this book or any other from the 'Classic Reprint Series'.

Although not actually explained anywhere on this page, the would-be customer really ought to know that these editions are, put simply, photocopies of almost incredibly low-quality. The book itself claims to be 'remastered' (with no further explanation as to quite what that entailed), yet the result of this occult process remains a sporadically blurred, misaligned, faded and flawed text.

A few years ago, I had in my possession a 'pirate' copy of a Noam Chomsky book bought from a makeshift stall in Cambodia for around $3 [US]; I may have later traded it for some fruit, although I don't clearly recall. Anyway, it may amuse the reader to learn that this tatty-specimen, bought from a man who could scarcely read most of the words he had patiently copied page-by-page, was actually clearer and easier on the eye than that now languishing discarded on my coffee table. I should be more than happy were someone to offer me fruit in exchange for this ersatz scrap of ugliness.

Favourite faults include (but are not limited to!):
- a scored text-block due to bad cutting.
- a halo of grey dots around each and every letter: time to change the cartridge, chaps.
- the fact that this is a photocopy of the second edition - not the 'original text'.
- the fact that a University of Los Angeles library sticker has been reproduced at the end (admirable attention to detail and all that...).

But, best of all, is the caveat all these books bear:

"Forgotten Books takes the uppermost care to preserve the entire content of the original book. However, this book has been generated from a scan of the original, and as such we cannot guarantee that it is free from errors or contains the full content of the original. But we try our best!"

Does this not, in essence, say: "We do everything we can to print the entire text, but may not, actually, print the entire text". Nevertheless, I am quite sure that when you find pages missing from the 'book' (for which you have paid handsomely), it will be truly warming to know that whilst not actually checking the integrity of the scans they have bought from a third-party before selling them on in a further degraded form, the hard-working chaps at Forgotten Books are 'trying their best'.

In short, were the brothers Fowler to witness the travesty being callously visited upon their fine work, they would now be turning in their graves, which have been dampened by the former contents of Forgotten Books' collective bladder.

Please note: Forgotten Books = Amazon.co.uk
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on 19 February 2009
Just taught a medical writing skills course in the USA and used many quotes from this book. The diatribe against the incursion of Americanisms into English was particularly interesting, especially as it dated from the early 1900s. It's a bit dated in style, but makes many useful points about how to write good English.
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on 8 September 2008
In this classic reference book the Fowler brothers illustrate by example all the blunders of English usage that are commonly made, and guide the reader to improved expression and style.
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on 6 September 2014
This is a long review. Please read through to the end. At the time of writing, Amazon wants to know if the reviews are for ‘verified purchases’. I shall make references to the 2003 BCA re-print to show I have actually read this book. Short version: read the last three paragraphs.

I have a 2:1 degree in English. It is very true that we didn’t study the difference between a gerund and a participle used as such, nor a gerund without the subject being expressed, nor when a gerund with a preposition is to be preferred to an infinitive. What we did study was how to convey emotion and concept through text, socio-linguistics (accent, dialect, etc), phonetics (the mechanics of physical speech). I still have an interest in how the English language is written and spoken, give a damn when it isn’t, and wish people would care more.

I don’t know what is taught in schools these days, but it doesn’t seem to include “properly” or caring about what you’re doing to / for / with others. The evidence is in how many people contributing comments in web-sites can’t tell the difference between “their” and “there”, “hear” and “here”, or “who’s” and “whose”, or “it’s” and “its”. Some even think “ its’ ” is a word ! And as for apostrophes, either scattered in a sneezing or completely absent, ditto capitals, and ditto punctuation.

The ability to speak clearly and articulately is an important part of making oneself understood. Grammar isn’t the randomly applied, anachronistic ruling of a bunch of rules-Nazi pedants with nothing better to do, but how we remove confusion, or deliberately introduce it should we need vagueness.

The quality of written and spoken English in Great Britain today is appalling. Some people do care - thank you ! - and buy books on grammar to help themselves out of a hole.

This, however, is NOT the book to do it with.

This book is regarded by many, the further up the educational and social ladder one does the more there are, as a classic on the subject. It may very well have been the standard text in the inter-war period (or it may not), and it remains interesting that even the meanest intelligence was exposed to this sort of thing at school once upon a time, but that does not mean that it stands up now.

Firstly, like too many books in grammar, it remains opaque, abstruse, the equivalent of eating three Weetabix simultaneously sans milk, occasionally neo-Ourobouros-ly disappearing up its own metaphorical fundament. It is ironic, paradoxical and essentially unhelpful that books on grammar and good English remain some of the most densely written, unfathomable, and badly explaining books one could ver hope to come across.

Secondly, this is not helped by the appalling layout. This is a direct facsimile reproduction of the original text. The typesetting reflects the stands of 1906, when this was first written, and has not been updated in any of the editions or many reprints since. It therefore does not reflect advances in medical diagnoses of dyslexia, autism, etc. It has dense blocks of text in a small font. This really needs to be reproduced in 5.5" x 8.5" format, on light cream paper, with lots more white space on the page.

Thirdly, the order in which the information is presented within a paragraph is deeply unhelpful. There are simply long lists of examples between paragraphs, with the explanation of what is wrong some distance from the example, is some cases as far away as four pages (eg p90 and p94) ! In one case, I can’t find, at all, what is referred to (p105, a reference to a comparison between Shakespeare and Ouida). The examples are not near their respective explanations, and are not enumerated for clear referencing forwards or backwards.

I suggest an example paragraph of how much clearer grammar can be explained :-

This sentence is wrong in two ways.

My friend and me was walking down the street.

I will deal with the personal pronoun first. If we take off “My friend and ...”, the sentence reads

Me were walking down the street.

When it should be

I was walking down the street.

The addition of “My friend and ...” shouldn’t affect “I” because it has no need to. Leave the “I” alone. As well as being polite to put other people first, leaving the personal pronoun till last puts it closer to the verb and helps you to get the grammar right.

There are now two people, but the verb is still singular

My friend and I was walking down the street.

So we need to make the verb plural to reflect the numbers of people walking down the street

My friend and I were walking down the street.

(End of example) See how much clearer that is, to have the explanation right next door to the example, with gaps in between ?

Fourthly, the chapters are far too long. The split into parts 1 and 2 look arbitrary at best. Chapter 2, for example, is a whopping 100 pages long of almost continuous text, and really each sub-section needs to be its own individual chapter starting on a new page. Then we can read it in small, easily digestible chunks (late at night over hot chocolate, on the bus, etc) without our brains over-heating.

Finally, I don’t understand some of what the Fowlers are complaining about. On p274 they complain that “King Mark-like” is wrong. Really. On the same page we get (approximately, I’ve had to change the formatting) “ ‘A little china-box, bearing the motto ...’, [t]his evidently means a box made of china. A box to hold china would have the hyphen properly ...”, which is where !?! There is only one place to put a hyphen, and it’s already (expletive) there !?! (screams, bangs had on table for light relief). Ditto explaining why it should be “wet-fly and dry-fly fishing” not “wet and dry fly-fishing” is perfunctory and accompanied by a completely unrelated example (more head-banging). Similarly on p286, 287 and 290 there are many examples that I can’t see are wrong.

Let’s take one example from p277: “John Smith, Esq., ‘Chatsworth’, Melton Road, Leamington. The implication seems to be: living in the house that sensible people call 164 Melton Road, but one fool likes to call Chatsworth”. The sentence is grammatically wrong anyway because the end of it has been truncated: there’s a present participle with no subject attached to it. Secondly, where the (expletive) did 164 Melton Road come from ? Thirdly, some houses have names not numbers so this is a valid address anyway.

All in all this is an appalling book. Other reviewers have had further formatting problems with their electronic copies. Please avoid and shop around, preferably in a real book shop, for something better formatted.
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on 31 December 2009
Queen's English at it's best. And if you think the language has moved on, then an excellent example of 'understatement'
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on 6 September 2014
This is a long review. Please read through to the end. At the time of writing, Amazon wants to know if the reviews are for ‘verified purchases’. I shall make references to the 2003 BCA re-print to show I have actually read this book. Short version: read the last three paragraphs.

I have a 2:1 degree in English. It is very true that we didn’t study the difference between a gerund and a participle used as such, nor a gerund without the subject being expressed, nor when a gerund with a preposition is to be preferred to an infinitive. What we did study was how to convey emotion and concept through text, socio-linguistics (accent, dialect, etc), phonetics (the mechanics of physical speech). I still have an interest in how the English language is written and spoken, give a damn when it isn’t, and wish people would care more.

I don’t know what is taught in schools these days, but it doesn’t seem to include “properly” or caring about what you’re doing to / for / with others. The evidence is in how many people contributing comments in web-sites can’t tell the difference between “their” and “there”, “hear” and “here”, or “who’s” and “whose”, or “it’s” and “its”. Some even think “ its’ ” is a word ! And as for apostrophes, either scattered in a sneezing or completely absent, ditto capitals, and ditto punctuation.

The ability to speak clearly and articulately is an important part of making oneself understood. Grammar isn’t the randomly applied, anachronistic ruling of a bunch of rules-Nazi pedants with nothing better to do, but how we remove confusion, or deliberately introduce it should we need vagueness.

The quality of written and spoken English in Great Britain today is appalling. Some people do care - thank you ! - and buy books on grammar to help themselves out of a hole.

This, however, is NOT the book to do it with.

This book is regarded by many, the further up the educational and social ladder one does the more there are, as a classic on the subject. It may very well have been the standard text in the inter-war period (or it may not), and it remains interesting that even the meanest intelligence was exposed to this sort of thing at school once upon a time, but that does not mean that it stands up now.

Firstly, like too many books in grammar, it remains opaque, abstruse, the equivalent of eating three Weetabix simultaneously sans milk, occasionally neo-Ourobouros-ly disappearing up its own metaphorical fundament. It is ironic, paradoxical and essentially unhelpful that books on grammar and good English remain some of the most densely written, unfathomable, and badly explaining books one could ver hope to come across.

Secondly, this is not helped by the appalling layout. This is a direct facsimile reproduction of the original text. The typesetting reflects the stands of 1906, when this was first written, and has not been updated in any of the editions or many reprints since. It therefore does not reflect advances in medical diagnoses of dyslexia, autism, etc. It has dense blocks of text in a small font. This really needs to be reproduced in 5.5" x 8.5" format, on light cream paper, with lots more white space on the page.

Thirdly, the order in which the information is presented within a paragraph is deeply unhelpful. There are simply long lists of examples between paragraphs, with the explanation of what is wrong some distance from the example, is some cases as far away as four pages (eg p90 and p94) ! In one case, I can’t find, at all, what is referred to (p105, a reference to a comparison between Shakespeare and Ouida). The examples are not near their respective explanations, and are not enumerated for clear referencing forwards or backwards.

I suggest an example paragraph of how much clearer grammar can be explained :-

This sentence is wrong in two ways.

My friend and me was walking down the street.

I will deal with the personal pronoun first. If we take off “My friend and ...”, the sentence reads

Me were walking down the street.

When it should be

I was walking down the street.

The addition of “My friend and ...” shouldn’t affect “I” because it has no need to. Leave the “I” alone. As well as being polite to put other people first, leaving the personal pronoun till last puts it closer to the verb and helps you to get the grammar right.

There are now two people, but the verb is still singular

My friend and I was walking down the street.

So we need to make the verb plural to reflect the numbers of people walking down the street

My friend and I were walking down the street.

(End of example) See how much clearer that is, to have the explanation right next door to the example, with gaps in between ?

Fourthly, the chapters are far too long. The split into parts 1 and 2 look arbitrary at best. Chapter 2, for example, is a whopping 100 pages long of almost continuous text, and really each sub-section needs to be its own individual chapter starting on a new page. Then we can read it in small, easily digestible chunks (late at night over hot chocolate, on the bus, etc) without our brains over-heating.

Finally, I don’t understand some of what the Fowlers are complaining about. On p274 they complain that “King Mark-like” is wrong. Really. On the same page we get (approximately, I’ve had to change the formatting) “ ‘A little china-box, bearing the motto ...’, [t]his evidently means a box made of china. A box to hold china would have the hyphen properly ...”, which is where !?! There is only one place to put a hyphen, and it’s already (expletive) there !?! (screams, bangs had on table for light relief). Ditto explaining why it should be “wet-fly and dry-fly fishing” not “wet and dry fly-fishing” is perfunctory and accompanied by a completely unrelated example (more head-banging). Similarly on p286, 287 and 290 there are many examples that I can’t see are wrong.

Let’s take one example from p277: “John Smith, Esq., ‘Chatsworth’, Melton Road, Leamington. The implication seems to be: living in the house that sensible people call 164 Melton Road, but one fool likes to call Chatsworth”. The sentence is grammatically wrong anyway because the end of it has been truncated: there’s a present participle with no subject attached to it. Secondly, where the (expletive) did 164 Melton Road come from ? Thirdly, some houses have names not numbers so this is a valid address anyway.

All in all this is an appalling book. Other reviewers have had further formatting problems with their electronic copies. Please avoid and shop around, preferably in a real book shop, for something better formatted.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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