As you might know, I like to review grammar books. For this post, I decided to look at the grammar advice offered by university Writing Centres. Virtually all universities have something like this. It’s a place for students who are struggling with assignments such as essays and reports. Generally they’re aimed at first language speakers, but some have ESL support as well.
One thing I found was that a number of writing centres offer little or no grammar advice. Instead, their focus is on topics like how to structure essays, how to write for different academic disciplines, how to do a bibliography, and so on. Some offered almost no online advice at all, and their website was mainly a contact page for students looking for in-person help. This is perfectly acceptable, of course, since that’s what the writing centre is for.
Some, however, offered guides on grammar, and these the ones I’m reviewing here. I picked three universities for this post, and focussed on only one or two issues in each case. This is to keep the post a readable length, and to avoid repeating myself too much. Many of the issues that I’ll discuss were not unique to a single university, and I could easily have picked a different three (although the website design for the University of Calgary is something special).
Maybe you’ve heard of Grammarly. It’s software for checking your spelling and grammar. It’s getting a lot of promotion around the internet recently, probably because it’s free and everyone is afraid of bad grammar, so I checked out their website.
The world’s leading linguists? Sounds impressive. I have complained before about grammar products created by non-linguists, so this is refreshing. Let’s have a look at the blog.
I noticed a few references to this book recently on Twitter, so I had to check it out. The “Gwynne” in the title is a Mr. Nevile Martin Gwynne. He is apparently somewhat well-known already for writing in the Sunday Times, and because he teaches children Latin through Skype. He also has a website over at http://www.nmgwynne.net.
This review focusses mainly on the preface and first two chapters of Gwynne’s Grammar, because that’s where he lays out his philosophy of language, and that is the interesting part. The second part of the book is basically just a reprinting of Elements of Style. Part three has appendices. Continue reading
One serious problem with the available books on English grammar is that there are so many written by unqualified people. Take this one for instance: A grammar book for you and I…oops me!. The author is a lawyer. He has no special education related to grammar or language analysis. What makes him think he can write a book on the subject? And more to the point, why do people buy things like this? Could I write a book on law and get taken seriously? I should hope not. Why on earth would anyone expect a lawyer to know anything about grammar analysis?
This is an unusual one. It’s a grammar book, but it’s written in a narrative style. And just look at that cover.
To give you a flavour of the book, here’s a little passage:
“You see, a noun is a word that – ”
Just then my body froze because a truly enormous, hairy spider was crawling up the table leg. I let out a scream that must have been heard for miles around. Tarzan was momentarily startled, but when he spotted the creature he grabbed a knife and slit the thing in half. Then he carried both halves outside.
When he came back in and sat down I seemed to be breathing normally again, so I continued, “Basically a noun is a word that names something. It can name a person, place, an idea, or an action”.
Comma Sutra had some mistakes and poor arguments, but this book really takes it up a notch. The Grammar Crammer has some jaw-droppingly crazy material. I’ve organized this as replies to particular quotes from the book. Some of this book is available on google books, if you want to have a look at the larger context of any quote.
The basic problem with the book is that the authors haven’t got the slightest clue what linguistics is. And this has an effect on everything else in the book, because they’ve never learned how make and support arguments about language. They instead adopt the classic prescriptive approach, which is just to make stuff up. They also misuse a number of technical terms that anyone doing grammar should know (like “person”). The confusion about linguistics, and generally about how to study language, comes up only three pages in:
I just came across this book How to Use Parts of Speech. I’ve been meaning to write about the many problems with the traditional method for defining parts of speech, and seeing this book just tipped me over the edge. Sorry J.L. Smith. It’s nothing personal, nearly every grammar book gets this wrong. You just happened to be there today. Continue reading