I Used to Know That: English by Patrick Scrivenor

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I Used to Know That: English by Patrick Scrivenor

Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A brilliant guide to all those grammatical points which you were taught at school, but which didn't seem so important then. It's clear, informative and an easy read. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books
ISBN: 978-1782432562

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I doubt that there can be anything more unnerving than reviewing a book written by someone who is an expert in written English. I've even worried about that first sentence. But at school I loved English Grammar and a good deal of it has stuck. I'm conscious of being pedantic about mistakes other people make - but increasingly aware that there are gaps in my own knowledge which should be plugged. This book seemed like the ideal opportunity, but I'll confess that the subtitle 'Stuff You Forgot From School' made me nervous I was going to be back to reading a school textbook.

I needn't have worried. Patrick Scrivenor has a wry sense of humour which weaves its way throughout the book. You're not going to be talked down to or lectured and you're not going to feel inadequate. There are loads of examples of the mistakes made by people (and organisations) who should know better. These are the facts which came our way at school, revisited in an adult-friendly format. So what's in there?

There's a complete run through of all those things we were taught at school: parts of speech, grammar, spelling and pronunciation, punctuation, clear usage and a final chapter on pitfalls and confusions. I particularly like the fact that Scrivenor is clear when there are rules which you need to learn - or when you just have to master the individual quirkiness of some words. He's great on explanations, for instance when you should use 'fewer' and when 'less' is appropriate. I'd been using the words correctly, but I'd seen 'less' misused so frequently that I was beginning to doubt myself. It's all down to whether or not the noun is countable, so you have fewer cars, but less traffic. Simple, eh?

I also found the clearest explanation of the split infinitive problem, which, I'll confess, has always been something of a mystery to me - but no more. Everyone has their own black holes - areas which they've been uncertain about or where they don't even know that they've been doing it wrong all these years. I've refined my use of commas. I've also come to realise that my teachers didn't know everything about grammar. (I was always told that you should never have a comma before 'and' which I now find is incorrect - and I'm now wondering why I never realised this before.)

In a perfect world there would be a copy of this book in every school child's satchel and on every adult's desk, for how else are we to know what people mean if they don't know how to say it?

I'm constantly surprised that people will know every nuance of their mobile phone - which they'll probably have changed by this time next year - but are not prepared to make even a small effort to master their own language - a tool which will serve them for the rest of their lives. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending me a copy of this brilliant little book.

If this book appeals then you might also appreciate Style Guide by The Economist.

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Buy I Used to Know That: English by Patrick Scrivenor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Used to Know That: English by Patrick Scrivenor at Amazon.com.


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