|Book of the Month|
|An English Grammar
Author: W. M. Baskervill
We are familiar with classic books such as the works of Kipling and Conan Doyle going out of copyright and becoming freely available on the internet, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the same happened with a book on English Grammar. Here we review William Baskervill's book, written over a century ago (in 1896), and turned into a public domain text freely available for download. However, the question is whether this book is relevant for modern language learners - who can therefore get themselves a free textbook - or if the book is only of interest to language scholars who want to examine this perfectly fossilized dinosaur.
Because this is a Kindle book, the number of pages is optional, but the default is 214 pages. Unlike modern English grammar books which are filled with friendly (and often irrelevant) colour illustrations, cartoons and lots of white space, this is a severely functional book which, although well laid out, is designed to give you the maximum amount of English Grammar on every page. We should also add a note that this book was written by a US Professor of English, and while this does not affect the grammar, the spelling is US throughout with occasional American English usages in the text.
The book is divided into three parts, the first being The Parts of Speech. This takes us through the usual building blocks of English - Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs and so on. These are solid and useful, though they assume a greater knowledge of grammatical terms than many modern students possess (though these terms are easy and useful to learn). Thus 'verbals' - participles, infinitives and gerunds - are defined as 'belonging to some substantive' - a substantive being any word that functions like a noun (e.g. a pronoun). One interesting detail is that the examples are all taken from great works of English literature so that, for example when demonstrating how adverbs can sometimes describe a noun we get quotes from Carlyle, Thackeray and Byron. Part Two of the book is Types of Sentence and how to arrange them, which rather oddly, comes before Syntax (Part Three) which is how to arrange the words within a sentence. There are some basic exercises in the book, and an index.
Who is this book for? This book is ideal for an advanced student who wants a book that describes grammar and its correct usage in clear and precise detail. It is very definitely not for the student who wants his grammar lessons to be easy, fun and user-friendly. Interestingly, other reviews of this book have non-native speakers such as Germans, Japanese and Koreans rating it much more highly than do native English speakers. This tells us more about the native speakers' approach to learning than it does about the book.
Verdict: Slightly dated, definitely not user-friendly, but good nevertheless.
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