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Complete Plain Words 3rd Edition Paperback – Nov 2 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin UK (Nov. 2 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140511997
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140511994
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #284,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa6eeeb70) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6e9a8ac) out of 5 stars Though published decades ago,still relevant/useful March 21 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book was originally written for bureaucrats so that they might better communicate officialese. Yet it really goes further: it can be used, appreciated, by anyone wishing to improve or confirm their knowledge of written English. Gowers writes in compact, sometimes dryly humourous, style, as he corrects the often confused use of "which-that" and "who-whom", the employment or negligence of the subjunctive, and punctuation. It's an enjoyable,educative work relevant to today, with the English language changing and, perhaps, degrading.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6e9acfc) out of 5 stars Know what you want to say and say it clearly July 21 2011
By Shalom Freedman - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gowers who at one pointed headed England's 'Internal Revenue' originally wrote the two works combined in this 'Complete Plain Writing' as a guide for bureaucrats and public officials. He wished to teach them how to get across their message concisely and clearly. His first idea is that the person must know what they want to say, and then find the way to express it clearly. This involves according to Gowers a kind of civility, a kind of consideration of the 'other' and the way they understand things. Gowers provides a guide to correct usage and grammar which also parses individual words and expressions. He writes about the development of the language in general and describes the way neologisms enter the language. He points out how the experts and authorities have limited control over this process. For instance Jonathan Swift did not like the word 'mob' and thought its use should be discontinued. The mob however had their way and we are still using the term. Gowers also provides guidance to a lot of grammatical questions that plague many. He tells us for instance to prefer 'that' to ' which' in almost all cases and to use neither most of the time. He urges concision and clarity again and again.
It is important to note that this guide is for a certain kind of writing only. I think that in many ways its advice is completely contrary to what we find in for instance great poetic writing. There the ambiguity and complication, the complexity irony and difficulty are elements in making us wish to reread and reread the writing. This guide is for the kind of writing which is meant to be understood at once in a complete way.
I feel there is certainly much I could learn from this book and I believe that is true of most readers and writers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6e9ad2c) out of 5 stars Still Useful After All These Years Jan. 7 2011
By Glenn Gallagher - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Complete Plain Words is an excellent resource for people who write as part of their occupation. Although written in 1948 for British civil servants, I believe it is still useful for just about anybody in government or business who must write the occasional report, memo, or e-mail.

One thing that did surprise me a little from the book is just how wordy it is. Unfortunately, the author does not always follow his own advice to use the simple approach and to get to the point quickly. How much easier said than done.

Here's some of his advice from his chapter "The Choice of Words":

"Use no more words than are necessary to express your meaning, for if you use more you are likely to obscure it and to tire your reader. In particular do not use superfluous adjectives and adverbs and do not use roundabout phrases where single words would serve.

Use familiar words rather than the far-fetched, if they express your meaning equally well; for the familiar are more likely to be readily understood.

Use words with a precise meaning rather than those that are vague, for they will obviously serve better to make your meaning clear; and in particular prefer concrete words to the abstract, for they are more likely to have a precise meaning."

The author Sir Ernest Gowers also realizes that language and the written form of it are subject to change, which is refreshing. As such, his advice is to write using the conventions of the day, but always to shun the experimental forms of slang, short-hand expressions, and plain lazy writing. Sir Gowers writes:

"English is not static - neither in vocabulary nor in grammar, nor yet in that elusive quality called style. The fashion in prose alternates between the ornate and the plain, the periodic and the colloquial. Grammar and punctuation defy all the efforts of grammarians to force them into the mould of a permanent code of rules. Old words drop out and change their meanings; new words are admitted. What was stigmatized by the purists of one generation as a corruption of the language may a few generations later be accepted as an enrichment, and what was then common currency may have become a pompous archaism or acquired a new significance."

Although this book will certainly not replace "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White as the preeminent writing guide, "The Complete Plain Words" is an excellent resource for all writers struggling to communicate in a clear, concise fashion.
HASH(0xa6e9ac84) out of 5 stars For every editor and writer June 24 2014
By Denise K. Loock - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent resource for writers and editors. It may be a little too academic for some, but I enjoyed learning about the proper usage of many words, including "that" and "who" in relative clauses. I also learned that I have been using "dilemma" incorrectly. The author has a quirky sense of humor that surfaces in the most unlikely places.
HASH(0xa6e9abf4) out of 5 stars Choice of rating of The Complete Plain Words. Feb. 24 2014
By Morrie - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. As a specialist in academic English, the chapters on Choice and Handling of words, and correct Punctuation are invaluable as ancillary guides to correct English writing and reading. This book was first encountered during my grammar school education on the UK. It is a classic.