Three Fairly New British Language References

By Maeve Maddox

Motivated by the lively debates about where to put commas, and the controversy over “gone missing,” I’ve added some up-to-date British references to my print reference library.

The three newcomers to my shelves are:

Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar by R. L. Trask, 2000.

As the title implies, this guide arranges topics and terms in alphabetical order. It includes every permutation of terminology from the traditional ones I grew up with to the innovations born of transformational grammar and Quirk Grammar. Here one can find definitions of subject raising, subjuncts, adjuncts and conjuncts, along with more immediately useful terms as double negative, paradigm, relative pronoun and usage. A lot of the terms are, however, a bit esoteric. While it’s a great resource for me in my line of work, there’s probably nothing here you can’t find online at OWL or any of the other free references mentioned in Online Style Guides.

Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R. L. Trask, 1997.

Trask does more than present rules and made-up textbook examples. His personality comes through as he discusses badly punctuated passages, often speculating as to why certain errors are made. It’s extremely readable, whatever page you open to. Of the ten chapters, seven deal with specific punctuation marks:

2: The Full Stop, the Question Mark and the Exclamation Mark
3: The Comma
4: The Colon and the Semicolon
5: The Apostrophe
6: The Hyphen and the Dash
7 Capital Letters and Abbreviations
8 Quotation Marks

Chapter 1 explains the practical importance of punctuation. Chapter 7 gives rules for capitalizing and abbreviating. Chapter 9 deals with typographical considerations and Chapter 10 discusses the punctuation of essays and letters.

I’m still in the process of getting acquainted with it, but this punctuation guide promises to be a treasure. Having British usage all in one place will be a great help as I write future posts.

Penguin Writer’s Manual by Martin H. Manser and Stephen Curtis, 2002.

As might be expected, there’s some overlap with the other two books. This one book has everything a writer needs in a basic reference.

Part One deals with the mechanics of writing:

1 Grammar
2 Usage
3 Vocabulary
4 Spelling
5 Punctuation
6 Abbreviations.

Part Two gets into the specifics of style, revision, and types of writing. There’s also a generous glossary of grammatical terms.

In case you’re wondering:
Quirk grammars: A series of grammars of English written by Randolph Quirk and his colleagues. Though rather traditional in orientation, these grammars are informed by contemporary linguistic research. They introduce a certain amount of novel terminology.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


3 Responses to “Three Fairly New British Language References”

  • David H

    I recently bought a copy of Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation as a supplement to another book on punctuation which I am reading, Eric Partridge’s You Have a Point There.

    Comparing the two, I think I should read Trask as an introduction to punctuation, then turn to Partridge for an in-depth treatment of the subject. As an example, based on the chapter which I have just read, Partridge lists thirteen uses of the colon, providing examples of each, whereas I see that Trask gives just one major use. I might, therefore, suspend my reading of Partridge while I read Trask.

    The other Penguin guides mentioned in the blog were also a part of my list of possible purchases, though in the end I bought Trask’s Mind The Gaffe and a second-hand copy of the Fowler brothers’ The King’s English. Add this blog to the list and I am a happy soul, if not yet as literate as I hope to be.

  • Ngan Nguyen

    When will I able to download your ebook “Basic English Grammar” after my subscription?

  • jully

    i work as an adminitrative assistant need your help

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