How Good is Your Grammar? by John Sutherland

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How Good is Your Grammar? by John Sutherland

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Category: Reference
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: 100 quiz questions to refresh long-forgotten grammar skills.
Buy? maybe Borrow? maybe
Pages: 192 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Short Books
ISBN: 9781780722573

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In the preface of How Good is Your Grammar?, John Sutherland suggests that the abolition of grammar schools in the 1960s coincided with a general decline in grammatical standards in the decades that followed. In our modern age of 'text-speak' and emoticons, the need for grammatical correctness seems to be rather low on our agenda, maybe even regarded as irrelevant by some. Is this gradual erosion an inevitable part of the evolution of communication, or will certain rules always remain an intrinsic part of the fabric of language? Only time will tell, but for those wishing to brush up on their grammar skills, Sutherland has compiled 100 quiz questions that he claims are the ultimate test for his readers.

The questions are not easy. Here are a few examples:

What does 'rubric' mean?

What is a deictic?

Is there any reason for retaining the Britishism 'amongst', when 'among' serves equally well? Or does it?

All of the questions are set at a similar level of difficulty and the book seems to be aimed at English graduates who already have a thorough knowledge of the rules and wish to brush up on their existing skills. Sadly, as a mere 'layperson', I found some of the explanations given in the 'answers' section even more confusing than the questions. For example, when reasoning why the famous Star Trek quote to boldly go... is grammatically wrong, our author assumes that his readers already have a good understanding of what infinitives are and why the rules dictate they should not be split.

In between the questions, we have an array of interesting facts about how grammar rules have changes over the years and why they remain important. One of my favourite sections was Reflections in a Verbal Graveyard, which looks at some redundant words and their definitions. What happened to words like phrontistery, pilcrow, yelve and sprunt? Bring them back, I say!

Another fascinating chapter looks at how poets have bent the rules to suit their own purposes. One of the main culprits was (the ungrammatically named) e e cummings, who got away with his crimes against grammar because he understood exactly what he was doing; pushing language to its limits and creating something beautiful in the process.

The main problem with How Good is Your Grammar? is that it seems to be preaching to the converted and the lacklustre delivery of the content is unlikely to win over any new disciples. For a livelier, simpler and more engaging discussion of the nuances of English grammar, readers would do well to visit the Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips website, which Sutherland makes several references to during the course of the book. On a more positive note, the cover artwork is simply beautiful and reminded me of my primary school textbooks. Thanks to the publishers for my review copy.

Bookbag enjoyed English Grammar In Use by Raymond Murphy, which gives a clear overview of the basics for anyone interested in how our language works.

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Buy How Good is Your Grammar? by John Sutherland at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How Good is Your Grammar? by John Sutherland at


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