Book of the Month
Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay:
Practical advice for the grammatically-challenged

Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Authors: Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis

ISBN 0312-26394-5


The author of this book is a man on a mission. Richard Lederer has written and spoken extensively on the correct use of English. Yet he admits that sometimes he feels the task is impossible. In the introduction he compares himself to one of the whale-hunters in the classic book Moby Dick and fears that the English language 'is about to be dragged to the bottom by the Great White Whale of the internet'. As an English-teaching website, we politely disagree. Email and social pages such as Facebook might produce many examples of 'grammatically-challenged' English, but these examples are often from people who otherwise would not write at all. And the internet allows many others the chance to read and practice English in ways that previously were simply not possible at all. Nevertheless, if you would prefer that your written English, on the internet or otherwise, is of a high standard then you should read this well-written book. It makes grammar not just interesting, but even at times amusing.

This 212-page book has ten chapters. Some of the headings of the chapters are more amusing than informative, such as 'Don't bite your mother tongue' (which is in fact a list of some common errors in spelling and grammar). Other chapters have simpler headings, such as 'The common comma' (which is actually about punctuation in general). In all chapters the format is roughly the same. The chapter begins with a black-and-white sketch which is approximately about the subject of the chapter - and these are the only illustrations - and follow this with examples from newspapers and literature of the topic they will be discussing. For example chapter 3 is all about malapropisms, which is to say words which are used instead of the correct word which they resemble. So it begins with a newspaper report which confuses a horrible killing - a grisly murder - with a 'grizzly murder' which is the killing of a large bear. Having introduced the topic, each chapter is then divided into sections of two or three per page with the problem words at the top of each section, and a discussion below. So, for example, a section might begin with 'advise/inform' and go on to discuss the difference between these two words. The book also has several sets of exercises, for example on spelling and punctuation, but these are only a small part of the book. The answers to the exercises are at the back, followed by a useful index. The emphasis of the book is on written English, and those doing exams with a writing paper will find the final chapter; 'A ten-minute writing lesson' both useful and informative.

Who is this book for? Many of the questions in the 'Ask the Prof' pages elsewhere on this website could be answered by a reader of this book. The book is not so much about teaching English as helping people who are confused about the English they already know. A student may know a certain 'rule' but might not be sure of how and when to apply it. This book will help. Here's a quick check to see if you can benefit from this book. In American English is the correct spelling 'accidently' or 'accidentally'? It's the latter, of course. If you are not sure why, the explanation is on p.33

Verdict: Corrects misunderstandings and mistakes in English.
Assessment 8/10
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