Book of the Month
The New Webster's Grammar Guide

Publisher: Berkley Booksh
Author: -
$4.50

ISBN 0-425-12557-2

Upper intermediate +


This book is a re-published and updated version of the book once known as 'Practical English'. Possibly the name was changed both to avoid confusion with the well-known book 'Practical English Usage', but also to associate this book with Webster's famous dictionary, which is to the United States what the Oxford Dictionary is to the United Kingdom. However, although this book is an updated version of 'Practical English' it is also an abridged version, which means that it is a smaller book. Nevertheless, the cover announces that this book is 'A complete guide to English grammar, correct usage and punctuation - designed for quick and easy reference'; or, as the back cover advertises 'the one-stop grammar guide'. So does the book measure up to its claims, and how does it compare to the dozen or so other grammar guides that you might find in a good EFL bookshop?

The first thing to notice about this book is that it does exactly what it says - it describes the rules and usages of English grammar. So if you are looking for pictures, amusing cartoons or grammar exercises, look elsewhere. After a two-paragraph introduction this book gets straight down to business. The guide to the opening chapters is comprehensive, which is just as well as this book has no index. The 247 pages of the book consist almost entirely of 25 sections. These start logically with the first two sections giving the parts of speech, and then move on to sentence construction. Then we move back to study nouns in more detail, followed by pronouns, and so on. Those not sure of the terminology of English grammar are advised to read the first two chapters carefully because by chapter seven we look at 'Agreement of pronoun with antecedent', so it's best to know what things like an antecedent are. The book does not only teach grammatical 'rules' but also style - for example when a passive should be used, and when you should use an active form.
The grammar is well-explained. The writers seem to have made an effort to make the book compatible with both US and British usages - so we have the authors saying 'a rocking chair' though 'a rocker' is more common in the USA. However, spelling is the US version throughout - for example the authors use 'check' instead of 'cheque'. The writers assume that the reader knows English well, and no attempt is made to simplify explanations. However, the writers have a clear and uncomplicated style and use plenty of examples, so the text is easy to follow.

Who is this book for? Given that there are plenty of competing books available, we would say that this book has the following advantages; firstly, it is very reasonably priced and secondly, it is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. However, the paperback format makes it difficult to keep open on a desk, so the book is not ideal for classroom study. Likewise, the lack of exercises might discourage some readers. However, for a student who wants to quickly revise the rules for the grammar of a sentence he is writing, this book does the job well. And after all, there are websites such as this one which provide practice exercises. Of course, websites such as this also provide the same 'one stop grammar' that this book offers, so only those without internet access will really need it.

Verdict: English grammar explained - no more or less.
Assessment 5/10
 
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