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Does "Garner's Modern American Usage" cover aspects of style?

Such as how to write clear, concise prose.

2 Answers

  • 7 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Not really. Garner's Modern American Usage is what's known as a "usage dictionary." Therefore, it's laid out like a dictionary, with a list of words and concepts that you can look up in alphabetical order. There is then a *very* short essay about each concept, most often just a sentence or two, possibly with an example of poor usage. The point is to help you avoid small but important errors in word choice or grammar.

    To give you a taste, here are some entries taken from a random page as they appear in the book (except I've spelled out some of the abbreviations he uses):

    *return back* is a fairly common REDUNDANCY--e.g.: "An initial examination by orthopedic specialist Frank Jobe had shown that Jaha might be able to return back [read: return] shortly after the all-star break." Andrew Cohen, "Powerless: Jaha Out for Season," Wis. Stat J., 18 June 1997, at B1. Cf. *retreat back & avert.

    *reuse; re-use.* In American English, the word is solid: reuse. [meaning without a hyphen]

    *revenge.* See avenge.

    *reverend.* In denoting a member of the clergy, this term has traditionally been restricted to adjectival uses, as one newspaper acknowledged after being upbraided by a careful reader: "We referred correctly to the Rev. Wiley Drake, . . . but an inside subhead read 'The reverend says.' Some dictionaries recognize reverend as a colloquial noun form referring to a member of the clergy, but our stylebook doesn't; the word is an adjective." Pat Riley, "The Rev. Robert Ross Offers Some Righteous Observations," Orange County Register, 3 Aug. 1997, at B4. The noun uses without the article--as in Reverend Harold Myers as opposed to the Reverend Harold Myers--have long been stigmatized as poor usage. And if the stigma is wearing off, it's doing so very gradually.

    *reverie* (= a daydream) is so spelled--preferably not *revery.

    If you want to write clear, concise prose, I would instead begin with the first chapter ("Economy") from Stephen Wilbers's The Keys to Great Writing. This is the best possible thing you could read about concision, and it'll teach you almost everything you need to know in just 20 pages. And being concise is lynchpin for being clear. The rest of Wilbers's book is also good.

    As you progress from there, maybe look for John Trimble's Writing With Style or William Zinsser's On Writing Well. Both are in that nebulous territory between style/grammar manuals and writing craft books, and both are written for journalists or nonfiction writers. They are great books, and both talk a lot about writing clear, concise prose--though they also talk about other things.

    Finally, When you're ready to get to your "graduate-level coursework," Joseph Williams wrote a book called Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. It's not dense, but it's much "tougher" to get everything. It's more like a masterclass on good writing, and something you could return to repeatedly, learning something every time.

    Source(s): I am a novelist
  • Anonymous
    7 years ago

    I love this book and use it all the time in my job (editing). It's not exactly a manual of how to write clear, concise prose -- that is, he doesn't have whole articles leading you through the steps of doing that. It's more like a dictionary or an encyclopedia with a couple of paragraphs on each of hundreds of words, phrases, or types of writing that writers and editors often have problems with.

    For example, there's an entry on how to handle "that" vs. "which", and "bona fides", and "discriminate", and many other problem words.

    But there are some longer entries on a few more general ones on things like "punctuation" or "sesquipedality" (the use of long words).

    Garner is on Twitter, by the way: @BryanAGarner .

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