Garner's Modern English Usage

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Garner's Modern English Usage
AuthorBryan A. Garner
CountryUnited States
SubjectStyle guide
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages1,312 (fifth edition)

Garner's Modern English Usage (GMEU), written by Bryan A. Garner and published by Oxford University Press, is a usage dictionary and style guide (or 'prescriptive dictionary') for contemporary Modern English.[1][pages needed] It was first published in 1998 as A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, with a focus on American English, which it retained for the next two editions as Garner's Modern American Usage (GMAU). It was expanded to cover English more broadly in the 2016 fourth edition, under the present title. The work covers issues of usage, pronunciation, and style, from distinctions among commonly confused words and phrases to notes on how to prevent verbosity and obscurity. In addition, it contains essays about the English language. An abridged version of the first edition was also published as The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style in 2000 and a similar version was published in The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition in 2017. The latter includes three sections titled "Grammar", "Syntax" and "Word Usage", each with several subcategories.[2]

In a study that compared Garner's usage guide to Henry W. Fowler's, Robin Straaijer said that the two have many similarities. He pointed out that Garner (who had expressed his admiration for Fowler's work) had organized his book in a similar format and agreed with Fowler on many usage debates.[3]


The first edition was published in 1998 as A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, and released in an abridged, paperback edition in 2000 as The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style.

In 2003, the second full edition was published under the title Garner's Modern American Usage, with one-third more content than the original edition.[4] A third edition was published under that title in August 2009.

An updated edition covering British and other World Englishes was released in April 2016 under the title Garner's Modern English Usage. It was notable for using the Google Ngram Viewer to compare some 2,300 ratios of standard versus variant forms of usages, e.g., "Current ratio (harked back vs. harped back): 170:1" (Garner 2016, p. 452).

This was followed by something of a companion volume, The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (University of Chicago Press, May 2016), Garner's major expansion of his chapter on the topic in the last several editions of The Chicago Manual of Style.

The fifth edition was published in 2022.[5]


Novelist David Foster Wallace said, "The fact of the matter is that Garner's dictionary is extremely good .... Its format ... includes entries on individual words and phrases and expostulative small-cap mini-essays."[6] (An unabridged, much lengthier version of Wallace's essay, "Authority and American Usage", appeared in a 2005 anthology of essays entitled Consider the Lobster.) He commended Garner's stance on the linguistic descriptivism versus prescriptivism issue that lexicographers (dictionary writers) face. Garner's dictionary is prescriptive in aiming to uphold good English usage, but also concedes to variant forms and usage errors that are so widespread that there is no lexicographical hope of changing them.

Garrison Keillor has called Garner's Modern American Usage one of the five most influential books in his library. Other critics, including John Simon, William Safire, Bill Walsh, and Barbara Wallraff, have praised the book's clear, simple, and nuanced guidance.

Michael Quinion of said in his review[4] that usage guides "row a course against the current of modern lexicography and linguistics", which are descriptive fields that often fail to "meet the day-to-day needs of those users of English who want to speak and write in a way that is acceptable to educated opinion." Quinion opined that Garner lays down rules without falling victim to "worn-out shibboleths or language superstitions".


  1. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2016). Garner's Modern English Usage. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190491482.
  2. ^ "The Chicago Manual of Style". Retrieved 2023-11-01.
  3. ^ Straaijer, Robin (2018). "Modern English usage from Britain to America: Bryan Garner follows Henry Fowler from A Dictionary of Modern American English Usage to Garner's Modern English Usage". English Today. 34 (4): 39–47. doi:10.1017/S0266078418000317. ISSN 0266-0784. S2CID 150332935.
  4. ^ a b "World Wide Words: Garner's Modern American Usage". Archived from the original on 2008-02-22. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  5. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2022). Garner's Modern English Usage (5th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0197599020.
  6. ^ Wallace, David Foster (April 2001). "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage". Harper's Magazine. Harper's Magazine Foundation. Archived from the original on 18 March 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2013.

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