Book of the Month
The Random House Guide
to Grammar, Usage and Punctuation

Publisher: Random House
Author: Laurie Rozakis

ISBN 0394-58920-3


This book is one of a number of such guides produced by publisher Random House. The others include a dictionary and a guide to good writing. Since Random House is a large publishing firm which produces both fiction and non-fiction books, it makes sense that they should have a guide so that their books have standard usage in grammar and punctuation - and if you are producing such a guide for your writers, why not also sell it to the rest of the world? However, as anyone who has glanced at previous reviews on this page will know, the bookshelves of any EFL store are positively loaded with books on grammar and punctuation. So what makes this one different? The obvious answer is size. Many books advertise themselves as 'pocket books', but with this little guide the claim is literal fact. This book is not much larger than many modern digital phones - 14x7cm (or 5 1/2 x 3 for non-metric types) This fits easily into the standard-sized men's shirt pocket, so with this grammar guide there is very little excuse for not having it around at all times.

As might be expected of a book this size, there is very little space to waste. So there is no introduction to tell you what the book is for (though this is obvious anyway), and no pictures accompanying the text. This is not a book to read through from cover-to-cover but a reference book to dip into as you need. For this reason, the last three of the 311 pages of the book contain a small but very usable index to help users locate the item they need. The contents are also clearly laid out both in the text itself, and in the chapter listings at the front. Despite the size of the pages the text is well-spaces,clear and not cramped - perhaps because the publisher recognises that with a pocket book of this type, the reading will not always be done in ideal circumstances.
As the title says, there are three parts to the book - Grammar, Usage and Punctuation. The Grammar starts with 'Parts of speech' and works up through 'Phrases and Clauses' to 'Sentences' and beyond. Oddly enough, though tenses are described well in the text (including a list of irregular verbs on p.31) it is hard to locate these in the otherwise reliable table of contents. The Grammar section takes up almost half the book, finishing at p.175. The Usage section which follows is a simple glossary which takes words, or words with prepositions, which are commonly confused and describes the difference between them. So from 'accept/except' to 'your/you're' we have a comprehensive list of words which confuse not only language learners but also native speakers. The book also makes it clear when a usage is acceptable in an informal situation, but not in formal circumstances such as a business letter. The Punctuation is the shortest section of the book, but it does a good job of things like explaining when a comma should be used and not a semicolon, and also the difference between (for example) brackets and parentheses. As might be expected of a book of this size, there are no exercises but the author has found space to include one or two examples of difficult usages.

Who is this book for? This book does not teach grammar, but it is a handy reminder for a user, either native-speaker or student, who has learned the grammar but needs to quickly check usage or the construction of a particular sentence. The small-size format means that this is the perfect book for putting into a jacket pocket, handbag or a rucksack, and digging out (for example) while writing a letter in a cafe, or while on a hiking trip. This book does not belong in a library, but in the pocket or bag of a person who wants to be sure of using good English no matter where he or she might be.

Verdict: A handy and very portable reference.
Assessment 9/10
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