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How to choose an English grammar book

A guide for teachers and learners from Linguapress.com

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The best grammar books for teachers and students - a short guide


Index : Reference grammars Practice grammars

  For anybody struggling to learn English, whether as a first language or as a second language, grammar provides the structural framework on which to base one's learning. Without grammar, learning any language is likely to be far harder, so most of us need a book and/or a teacher to explain the rules of grammar to us. And teachers too need to know their grammar in order to be able to explain it to their students.

While a teacher can be consulted only at certain times,  a grammar book can be consulted in any time of need.  What kind of book one needs depends very much on how much one wants to know about grammar. There are big grammar books and small grammar books, books that just explain the rules, and books that present the rules and provide practice exercises to go with them.  We call the first category reference grammars, and the second category practice grammars, and they have different qualities and advantages, and serve different purposes.
Almost by definition, reference grammars tend to be more complete, since a good proportion of any practice grammar is given over to exercises and the answers to go with them.
Below you will find essential details for 14 of the best grammar books available to teachers and students today. Before choosing your grammar book, make sure that it is suitable for your requirements and teaching or learning situation

For each title, click the details button to discover the book's information page on Amazon.
Dates indicated refers to a book's most recent known edition.

Reference grammars

  Reference grammars come in two types. On the one hand there are compact or concise reference grammars, which cover all the important points of English grammar, explain the main rules and conventions, and do so without going into too much detail, avoiding obscure points that may be of linguistic interest, but are of less interest to students or learners. Concise reference grammars are written for school teachers and their students, and for EFL / ESL.
   On the other hand there are comprehensive grammars of English,  thick volumes, mostly written by professors of linguistics, which analyse English grammar down to its fine detail. These are very full and very complete, approaching English grammar as a linguistic system, explaining  the linguistic characterists of the language, its morphology, its syntax, even its development over time. These large tomes are useful primarily for university students of English language and linguistics, and advanced level teachers of English, and the level of linguistic analysis they offer is way beyond the needs of most school students or learners of English as a second or foreign language.

Concise reference  grammars

Barrett - Perfect English Grammar  -  Zephiros  2016
238 pages - target readership: high school students. Scope: American English
"A short but thorough guide to English usage and the principles and practices of composition. It belongs in high school and college classrooms, as well as on office desks."  
► details
Rossiter - A Descriptive grammar of English  -  Linguapress  2021
206 pages - target readership: Teachers,  students, EFL.  Scope: British and American English.
"Clear and example-based explanations of how contemporary English works and is written and spoken...  explaining the essentials of English grammar, including style, word-order and punctuation." 
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Strunk & White - Elements of style  -  Pearson  2019
105 pages - target readership: US high school students. Scope: American English.
First published in 1959, "Elements of Style has grown to become the American English writing style guide often required in U.S. high school and university composition classes.." 
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Comprehensive reference grammars of English

Aarts - Oxford Modern English grammar - OUP  2011
448 pages  -  target readership: teachers, university students, advanced EFL
"Coverage ranges from the very basic--such as word structure, simple and complex phrases, and clause types--to the more sophisticated topics that lie at the intersection of grammar and meaning"
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Biber, Conrad & Leech Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English  -  Longman   2002
1779 pages -  target readership: advanced university students
"A pedagogical coursebook for advanced students at university, or on teacher-training courses, and an invaluable reference grammar"
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Huddleston & Pullum - The Cambridge grammar of the English language - CUP   2002
1860 pages - target readership: linguists, university students
"A comprehensive descriptive grammar of English that aims to bridge the gap between traditional grammar and the partial  descriptions of English grammar proposed by those working in the field of linguistics"
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Quirk Greenbaum Leech and Svartvik - A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language - OUP / Pearson   1985
1800 pages - target readership: linguists, university students
"the most thorough and most definitive grammar of modern English ever written"
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Loberger & Schoup - New World English Grammar handbook - Websters   2009
416 pages - target readership:students, writers
"Explanations of grammar rules and plenty of real-world examples and tips, this reference is just what you need to speak and write with confidence and ease."
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Swan - Practical English usage - OUP   2016
635 pages - target readership: teachers, university students, advanced EFL
"For any teacher, trainee teacher, or advanced-level student looking for answers to questions about the English language."
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Practice grammars

Practice grammars are designed specifically for students, whether they are studying English grammar as a first language, or learning it as a second or foreign language. They also come in different levels., meaning that different grammar points may be treated in different books. As the title practice grammar suggests, these grammars exist primarily to help students master points of English grammar; grammar points tend to be succinctly presented, and accompanied by exercises for students. Most come in a choice of versions, with or without answers, and under slightly different titles for different levels - basic, intermediate or advanced.

Azar & Hagen - Fundamentals of English Grammar - Pearson  2011
512 pages  -  target readership: teachers,  students, teachers
"The go-to grammar resource for students and teachers alike. Its time-tested approach blends direct grammar instruction with carefully sequenced practice to develop all language skills."
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Eastwood - Oxford practice grammar, intermediate -  OUP   2019
384 pages -  target readership: students, self-study
"A three-level English grammar practice series for the classroom or self-study. Its tried and trusted methodology provides clear explanations and lots of extra practice"
 (Also available at advanced and basic levels)
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Huddleston & Pullum - A Student's Introduction to English Grammar - CUP   2005
320 pages - target readership: students
"Contains exercises, and will provide a basis for introductions to grammar and courses on the structure of English, in linguistics departments ... English language and literature departments and schools of education."
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Murphy - English Grammar in Use: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Learners of English - CUP   2019
340 pages - target readership: linguists, university students
"Is for intermediate (B1-B2) learners and covers all the grammar required at this level. It is a self-study book with simple explanations and lots of practice exercises."
(Also exists for basic and advanced level)
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Straus, Kaufman and Stern The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation - Wiley   2014
224 pages - target readership:students, writers
"From the very basics―parts of speech and subject-verb agreement―to more advanced topics like the subjunctive mood,...with clear examples and self-assessment quizzes"
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This list of grammar books is not complete, but it does cover the main titles available worldwide today. It excludes English grammar books written in other languages, of which there are many.

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