Oxford A–Z of Grammar and Punctuation

J Seely, Oxford University Press, revised edn, 208pp, 2013, £6.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 0 19 966918 9

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

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This book was reviewed jointly with Oxford A–Z of English Usage (Second Edition).

I have previously mentioned this book as a ‘book noted', but as it is obviously in the same series as English Usage, I thought it would be useful to discuss the two together in a proper review. The little books are really neat on one's desk, only about 4.5 × 7 inches, and they are both new editions.

English Usage 

There are over 50 new entries in this edition, including eminent/imminentwith regard to, and feature entries on apostrophes and the use of Britain/ Great Britain/the British Isles/England. The blurb says it is for everyone who needs quick and effective help with questions of usage and correct English in everyday life. I have always found the first edition very helpful. There are so many pitfalls in the English language, and people always make mistakes – but as long as you know you might need to look something up, this book will help with words such as imply and infer. The trouble is that many people don't know what they don't know, and therefore wouldn't necessarily look anything up. However, copyeditors always know their weak points and make sure that they look things up, just in case, and need authoritative texts to argue their case with, or with which to argue their case!

Grammar and Punctuation 

How many books are out there on this subject? I immediately looked up lie or lay, as it is one of my pet hates. I really have to bite my tongue with loved or hated ones when they say ‘I lay on the bed.' It wasn't in there, but it was in the English Usage book; maymight and can are in, though, so you might need them both to cover all infelicities. There are cross-overs, unsurprisingly, as usage includes grammar, and vice versa. I looked up ‘greengrocer's apostrophe', as the inconsistencies of it always fascinate me, and I found a surprising thing I didn't know. Apparently it's OK to use t's and 7's, as in ‘She never crossed her t's and wrote 7's in the French way.' I always change 1930's, for example, to 1930s. Am I wrong?  

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