How To Use The ABC
From The ABC Of Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers (1951)

THIS book is made up of articles on subjects about which inexperienced writers may need guidance. As the title of the book shows, the articles are arranged in the alphabetical order of their subjects. Many are about the proper use of certain words or phrases. Among these you should have no difficulty in finding what you want. If you are in doubt about the correct use of alibi or anticipate, all you have to do is to turn up those entries; if you feel that you are overworking overall or alternative, you will find under those headings other words that might suit you better. But some articles are concerned with more general topics. The "subject" that determines the place of one of these in the book may be some point of grammar or style. For instance, under ABSTRACT WORDS is a warning against using them too much, under ING ENDINGS something is said about the pitfalls by which participles and gerunds are beset, and under GOBBLEDYGOOK — a pleasant and expressive new word of American invention — there is a description of a way of writing that you would do well to avoid. You are not likely to turn up any of these headings of your own accord, except perhaps by accident. How are you to know under which heading to look for guidance when you are not sure how to define your problem to yourself — perhaps do not even know that you have a problem? There can be no complete answer to this question, but the following analysis has been made in the hope that it may help readers to find their way about.

The articles in the book can be classified roughly under four main labels—VOCABULARY, GRAMMAR, MECHANICS, and STYLE, concerning themselves with the four questions:

1. Am I using a word or phrase in its proper sense?

2. Is my grammar right?

3. Is what I have written properly constructed and punctuated and spelt?

4. Is what I have written as clear and as simple as it can be made?

In the lists comprised in this analysis, the contents of the A.B.C. are grouped under these four headings, and the articles that fall into the first three groups are further sub-divided by subject. If you read these lists, or any set of them that you think most likely to give you what you want, they will suggest to you headings under which to look in the A.B.C. for guidance. Perhaps they may even reveal to you an unsuspected need for guidance.

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