English Student Resource Guide: Annotated Bibliography of Various English Resources

By Elizabeth A. Jennings
2010, Vol. 2 No. 10 | pg. 1/1

This bibliography will be helpful to the English student looking for particular kinds of resources on the English language. It will be especially helpful to students beginning a broad, intensive study of English grammar and writing.

The information provided about each different resource is as follows:

  1. Whether the book is descriptive (describing common usage), prescriptive (prescribing accurate usage), or ambivalent.
  2. What aspects of the book prove that it is descriptive, prescriptive, or ambivalent.
  3. The scope and special features of the material.

Books on English Usage

Follett, Wilson. Modern American Usage: A Guide. New York: Hill and Wang, 1966.

  1.  Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, in the introductory article “On Usage, Purism, and Pedantry,” Follett says, “Skill in expression consists in nothing else than steadily choosing the fittest among all possible words, idioms, and constructions.” In the introductory article “On the Need of Some Grammar,” he states, “What concerns us here is that . . . language as the art of self-expression, language as a material conformable to the rules of creation, remains a subject deserving man’s best care.” The usage discussions give evaluative advice about what to do: imply/infer, demean/bemean, admission/admittance, administer/minister, implicit/explicit, between/among. For example, the note for administer/minister says, “Medicine, first aid, or other succor is administered to a person in need. The person so served is ministered to, not administered to.” The note for imply/infer says, “Imply is a word for the transmitting end, and infer a word for the receiving end, of the same process of deduction.”
  3. Is 436 pages long beginning with the introductory articles. Contains three preliminary articles by Follett: “On Usage, Purism, and Pedantry,” “On the Need of an Orderly Mind,” and “On the Need of Some Grammar.” The appendix contains two articles by Follett: “Shall (Should), Will (Would)” and “Punctuation.” Average length of an entry is one and one half of a column. Contains essay entries on such matters as logic, metaphor, needless words, pronunciation, and spelling.

Fowler, H. W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.

  1.  Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, in the preface to the revised edition, Sir Ernest Gowers says of Fowler with quotations from Jesperson, “Fowler, the ‘instinctive grammatical moralizer’ . . . held that the proper purpose of a grammarian was ‘to tell the people not what they do and how they came to do it, but what they ought to do for the future.’” The usage discussions give evaluative advice about what to do: accessory/accessory, cheerful/cheery, forceful/forcible, talent/genius, temporal/temporary, venal/venial. For example, the note for cheerful/cheery says, “The cheerful feels and perhaps shows contentment, the cheery shows and probably feels it.” The note for forceful/forcible says, “By usage, forcible is the ordinary word, and forceful the word reserved for abnormal use.”
  3.  Contains 725 pages of word entries. Average length of an entry is one fourth of a column. Contains essay entries on such matters as hyphens, inversion, metaphor, sentence, and synonyms. Fowler shows wit in his writing. His wit is displayed well in the entry for teenage(r), in which he says, “The fact is that teenagers as a class are rarely in the news except when they misbehave. So it is pleasant to be occasionally reminded that they have their virtues too.”

Garner, Bryan A. Garner’s Modern American Usage. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  1.  Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, Garner says in the preface, “I don’t shy away from making judgments.” He also states that “the purpose of a usage dictionary is to help writers and speakers use the language effectively: to help them sound grammatical but relaxed, refined but natural, correct but unpedantic.” The usage discussions give evaluative advice about what to do: clinch/clench, affirmation/affirmance, hanged/hung, principal/principle, rare/scarce, restrain/refrain. For example, the note for clinch/clench says, “Clinch is figurative, and clench is physical. Hence you clinch an argument or debate but clench your jaw or fist.” The note for rare/scarce says, “In the best usage, rare refers to a consistent infrequency, usually of things of superior quality. Scarce refers to anything that is not plentiful, even ordinary things that are temporarily hard to find.”
  3. Contains 850 pages of entries. Includes an introductory article by Garner titled “Making Peace in the Language Wars,” and two appendixes: a select glossary and a timeline of books on usage. Contains a quick editorial guide at the beginning, and a select bibliography at the end. Average entry length is one third of a column. Includes many essay entries, listed on a page before the main entries. Contains thousands of quotations from published sources. Garner uses wit, as in the entry hanged/hung: “Coats and pictures are hung, and sometimes so are juries. But criminals found guilty of capital offense are hanged—at least in some jurisdictions.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1994.

  1.  Descriptive/Liberal.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is descriptive/liberal. For example, the introductory article ”History of English Usage” states, “In recent years, while some English books about usage have concerned themselves with traditional questions of propriety, others have taken a different path, explaining the peculiarities of English idiom to learners of English.” The article has just finished mentioning Fowler, and the tone of this paragraph suggests that newer and descriptive usage books that only explain are better than traditional ones like Fowler’s. The usage discussions do not give evaluative advice about what to do: admission/admittance, believe/think, delusion/illusion, lay/lie, maunder/meander, who/whom. For example, the note for admission/admittance says, “The distinction is one you can certainly make in your writing if you want to. . . . Certainly there have been writers of repute who have not observed the distinction.” The note for lay/lie quotes Bolinger and advises, “Many people use lay for lie, but certain others will judge you uncultured if you do. Decide for yourself what is best for you.”
  3. Contains over 2,300 entries. Includes introductory article “History of English Usage” and a bibliography. Average entry length is one and three fourths of a column. Includes essay entries on such matters as spelling, grammatical error, standard English, and levels of usage. Entries contain over 20,000 quotations from published sources. Includes special history and pronunciation sections. Contains alphabetical listings and cross-referencing.

Books on Writing

Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1996.

  1.  Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, in his author’s note, Ross-Larson states, “In the first part of this book I have drawn together solutions to the more common problems of everyday writing . . . if followed, they can lift ordinary writing to a plane of greater clarity and distinction.” His note before the second part of the book reads, “Nine times out of ten, the recommendations will give you a sentence that is more clear, more concise, and the product of a careful writer.” Remarks throughout the work indicate that the work is prescriptive in practice. In chapter one, Ross-Larson states, “Almost any sentence will be improved by trimming such fatty constructions.” He begins chapter two by saying, “Some words are better than others because they are correct, because they are right for the audience, because the illuminate an idea for the reader, or because they are preferred by most good writers most of the time.” In chapter ten, on consistency, he says, “So, above all, be consistent, even if eccentric.”
  3. The book’s purpose is to help writers look at their own work as an editor would. Is made of two sections: “What Editors Look For,” which contains eleven chapters to improve writing; and “What Editors Cut, Change, and Compare,” an alphabetical list of usage recommendations. Each chapter in the first section is broken down by bold headings. The second section is meant to be a reference book. The style of the book is conversational but straightforward.

Strunk, William, Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. With a foreword by Roger Angell. New York: Longman, 2000.

  1.  Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, in the introduction, White explains that “professor Strunk was a positive man. His book contains rules of grammar phrased as direct orders.” White defines his goal as contributor “to preserve the flavor of his [Strunk’s] discontent while slightly enlarging the scope of the discussion.” Remarks throughout the work indicate that the work is prescriptive in practice. The book is a list of rules, each explained with examples. In chapter one, a few rules are “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s. . . . Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. . . . Do not join independent clauses with a comma.” In chapter two, Strunk states, “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
  3. The book contains five sections: “Elementary Rules of Usage,” “Elementary Principles of Composition,” “A Few Matters of Form,” “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused,” and “An Approach to Style.” Includes a glossary and index. Each chapter is made of numbered subcategories in bold, except chapters three and four. In those chapters, the subcategories are only bold and not numbered. The book’s writing style is conversational but commanding, as the book is meant to be a reference tool. E.B. White uses wit in his chapter “An Approach to Style.” After giving an example of two poets to illustrate style, he says, “Because of the characteristic styles, there is little question about identity here, and if the situations were reversed, with Whitman stopping by woods and Frost by laughing flesh (not one of his regularly scheduled stops), the reader would know who was who.”

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. 7th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

  1.  Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, the preface says, “These technologies have not altered the basic task of the student writer: doing well-designed research and presenting it clearly and accurately, while following accepted academic standards for citation, style, and format.” Remarks throughout the work indicate that the work is prescriptive in practice. Chapter nine begins with an appeal to thoughtful writing: “Some new researchers think that once they have a draft, they’re done. Thoughtful writers know better.” Turabian also gives specific writing guidance, as in chapter sixteen: “So unless you have only a handful of sources or your instructor tells you otherwise, always include both notes and a bibliography in your papers.” The appendix reads, “When you are writing a thesis, a dissertation, or a class paper, you must observe certain format and style requirements for the paper.”
  3. The book, as its title states, is written specifically to help students with the writing of research papers. Contains an appendix: “Paper Format and Submission.” Is made of three parts: “Research and Writing: From Planning to Production,” “Source Citation,” and “Style.” These parts are broken down into twenty-six chapters, that are further broken down into sections, such as 2.1, 2.3, etc. These are further broken down into smaller sections, such as 2.1.1, 2.1.2, etc. Each chapter begins with a list of these numbered subcategories included in the chapter. Chapter eight is a special chapter titled “Presenting Evidence in Tables and Figures,” that has many visuals of tables and figures. Contains citation models from published sources. Includes an extensive glossary of books and reliable Web sites that would be helpful in several fields of research. Includes an index. The book is meant to be a reference book. Includes information about using the Internet as a research tool and how to document internet citations.

Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 8th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2005.

  1.  Ambivalent.
  2. Remarks in the introductory material and in chapter two indicate that the work is descriptive in philosophy. In his preface, Williams says, “Those principles may seem prescriptive, but that’s not how I intend them.” He also says in lesson two on correctness, “If writers we judge competent regularly violate some alleged rule . . . it’s not writers who should change their usage but grammarians who should change their rules.” Remarks throughout the work, however, indicate that the work is prescriptive in practice. For example, lesson four gives us this rule: “Make the subjects of most of your verbs short, specific, and concrete.” In lesson six, he gives us this one: “Use the end of a sentence to introduce long, complex, or otherwise difficult-to-process material, particularly unfamiliar technical terms and new information.”
  3. The book has four parts: “Style as Choice,” “Clarity,” “Grace,” and “Ethics.” Each part consists of lessons. Each part and each lesson begins with quotations about writing. Starting at lesson three, each chapter includes exercises every few pages, after each topic discussed. Includes two epilogues: “From Clarity to Coherence,” and “Motivating Readers.” Includes an afterword: “A Reliable Generalization,” an appendix: “Punctuation,” a glossary, a list of suggested answers for the included exercises, and an index. Includes composition models from students and from published works. Each chapter includes grey “Here’s the Point” summary boxes after each topic is discussed, and a “Summing Up” section at the end of each chapter. The book’s style is conversational but straightforward. Is meant to be used as a textbook or reference book. The inside of the front cover lists “Ten Principles for Writing Clearly,” and the inside of the back cover lists “Ten Principles for Writing Coherently”; both lists are taken from the text.

Books on Words and Phrases

Boatner, Maxine T., and John Edward Gates. Dictionary of American Idioms. Revised by Adam Makkai. Woodbury, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, 1975.

  1.  Neutral.
  2. Its purpose is not to give usage labels.
  3. Contains 386 pages of entries. Average length of an entry is one fifth of a column. Contains four types of entries: main entries, run-on entries, cross-reference entries, and index entries. Contains new entries which “are the slang character, originating within recent cultural movements; others reflect the popular usage of space technology terms.” Includes an appendix of essential idioms. Has a cartoon drawing of a talking chicken on the front cover.

Rodale, Jerome Irving. The Synonym Finder. Revised by Laurence Urdang and Nancy LaRoche. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1978. 

  1. Prescriptive.
  2. The introductory material indicates that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. For example, in the introduction, Laurence Urdang says, “Those who work with language know there is no such thing as a true ‘synonym.’. . . Even though two words may be quite similar in meaning, the substitution of one for the other may not always be appropriate, and the writer’s intent may be ill served by his failure to select the mot juste.Does give usage labels. For example, it labels the phrase let on as informal, and pushover as a synonym for dupe is labeled slang. Other labels include archaic and literary. Does make distinctions between synonyms. For example, the entry hoop lists thirty-six synonyms, but they are listed under three separate uses of the word. This is typical of entries that can be used as more than one part of speech, or that have separate meanings.
  3. Contains more than 1,000,000 synonyms. Average length of an entry is one fifth of a column. The average entry is organized by its uses as different parts of speech or by its separate meanings. Has a simple alphabetical arrangement and therefore no need for a separate index. Contains idiomatic, informal, and slang expressions. Labels rare, archaic, and specialized terms. Has minimal cross references.

Seidl, Jennifer, and W McMordie. English Idioms and How to Use Them. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

  1. Neutral.
  2. Its purpose is not to give usage labels.
  3. Is 267 pages. The book is arranged into chapters which categorize idioms as to their grammatical construction. Chapter one is an essay titled “What Are Idioms?”. Includes two appendixes: “Contractions” and “Abbreviations.” Includes a word index and a subject index. The average length of an entry is two lines. The average entry is organized with the idiom in bold and a definition immediately following.

Webster’s New Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield, MA: G & C Merriam Co., 1968.

  1. Prescriptive.
  2. The introductory material indicates that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. The preface states that the book’s purpose is “to provide . . . clear comparisons between words of a common denotation” and to “distinguish the differences in implications, connotations, and applications among such words” so that readers can “choose for their purposes precisely suitable words.” Does make distinctions between synonyms. For example, the entry loud lists six synonyms and gives a distinguishing definition for each. Under its synonym earsplitting, it states “adds the idea of a physically oppressive loudness, especially shrillness (as of screams or shrieks)” whereas hoarse “implies harshness, huskiness, or roughness of tone, sometimes suggesting an accompanying or causal loudness.”
  3. Contains 885 pages of entries. Contains four introductory essays: “Survey of the History of English Synonymy,” “Synonym: Analysis and Definition,” “Antonym: Analysis and Definition,” and “Analogous and Contrasted Words.” Includes an appendix: “List of Authors Quoted.” Average length of an entry is one sixth of a column. The average entry is organized with synonyms listed and/or defined first, then (if available) analogous words, antonyms, and contrasted words, all three of which are a special feature of the dictionary. Contains thousands of quotations from classical to contemporary literature, and from the Bible.

Books on English Grammar and Syntax

Chapman, James A. Handbook of Grammar and Composition. 4th ed. Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 2003.

  1. Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory matter indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. The preface reads, “Provides a complete treatment of those elements necessary for clear and effective writing. The first four sections of the Handbook thoroughly teach the rules of grammar, sentence structure, word usage, and mechanics.” Insists on correct pronoun case. Chapman lists they, them, their, theirs as plurals in the personal pronoun list. In section twenty, he states, “The antecedent to which a pronoun refers must be clear and unmistakable.” Encourages the use of common gender. Section nine says, “Antecedents of common gender (sex not known) are referred to by he, him, his.Insists on correctness in grammar. Chapman freely uses the terms correct and incorrect. For example, in section forty-two, he says, “It is always correct to apply rule 42.8; however, if the clauses are very short, the comma is sometimes omitted when there is no possibility of misreading the sentence.” Emphasizes distinctions in word usage. Contains a glossary of diction that distinguishes between commonly confused words. The section is fourteen pages long. Often misused words are shown in sample sentences. One sentence is labeled incorrect, and one is labeled correct. For example, “Sure, surely. Sure is an adjective; surely is an adverb. Incorrect: You were sure fortunate to find such a bargain. Correct: You were surely fortunate to find such a bargain.” Includes traditional diagramming. The diagramming chapter is fifteen pages long.
  3. The book is intended for use beginning in high school and through college, as a textbook and a reference book. Is composed of six parts, each of which are color coded on the edges: “Grammar for Composition,” “Composing the Sentence,” “Choosing the Right Word,” “Mechanics for Writers,” “Compositions, and the “Research Paper.” These are broken down into sixty-nine numbered sections, which are further broken down into numbered subsections. Includes an index. The inside front cover contains a handbook key, which is a condensed table of contents. The inside of the back cover lists correction symbols for composition. Includes composition models from published works, and in the research paper part, composition models from students. Many sample sentences are taken from classic literature and the Bible, and promote good character.

Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. 2d ed. With an introduction by David W. Lightfoot. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1957.

  1. Descriptive/Liberal.
  2. Remarks in the introductory matter indicate that the philosophy of the work is descriptive/liberal. Lightfoot begins the introduction by saying, “Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures was the snowball which began the avalanche of the modern ‘cognitive revolution.’ The cognitive perspective . . . now construes modern linguistics as part of psychology and human biology.” Does not insist on correctness in grammar. Chapter two says, “One way to test the adequacy of a grammar . . . is to determine whether or not the sequences that it generates are actually grammatical, i.e., acceptable to a native speaker.” Chomsky never uses the terms incorrect and correct; he does not even use the terms awkward or inappropriate. According to his summary, “We can greatly simplify the description of English . . . if we limit . . . to a kernel of basic sentences (simple, declarative, active, with no complex verb or noun phrases), deriving all other sentences from these.” Does not emphasize distinctions in word usage. Chapter two says, “The notion ‘grammatical’ cannot be identified with ‘meaningful’ or ‘significant’ in any semantic sense.” It goes on to list two sentences that are equally nonsensical: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” and “Furiously sleep ideas green colorless,” to prove that grammar has nothing to do with meaning. Chomsky ignores usage, which is parallel to grammar. Uses nontraditional diagramming. Uses the tree (terminal-strings) diagrams of transformational-generative grammar.
  3. The book is intended as an introduction to linguistic theory for beginning linguists. It began as lecture notes for undergraduate classes. Is made of twelve chapters (including the two appendixes): “Introduction,” “The Independence of Grammar,” “An Elementary Linguistic Theory,” “Phrase Structure,” “Limitations of Phrase Structure Description,” “On the Goals of Linguistic Theory,” “Some Transformations in English,” “The Explanatory Power of Linguistic Theory,” “Syntax and Semantics,” “Summary,” “Appendix I: Notations and Terminology,” and “Appendix II: Examples of English Phrase Structure and Transformational Rules.” Includes a bibliography. Each chapter is broken into sections, such as 3.1, 3.2 etc. Contains no exercises, but many examples of transformational rules.

House, Homer C., and Susan Emolyn Harman. Descriptive English Grammar. 2d ed. Revised by Susan Emolyn Harman. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1950.

  1. Prescriptive.
  2. Remarks in the introductory matter indicate that the philosophy of the work is prescriptive. The preface reads, “By studying and comparing the two levels of English [standard and substandard], the average student will be able to discover for himself that the best English is grammatical English.” Insists on correct pronoun case. Chapter three on pronouns says, “In standard literary speech who is restricted to nominative uses, and whom to the objective constructions; but in informal speech, who is often used where the rule calls for whom. But careful speakers do not, as a rule, use who to introduce an interrogative sentence unless it has a nominative function. Whom is the form approved by our cultivated writers.” Encourages the use of common gender. Chapter three on pronouns says, “It is well to remember that he, his, him may be used to indicate masculine or common gender. She and her must be used only when the antecedent is known to be feminine.” Insists on correctness in grammar. The book freely insists that some grammatical forms are correct. Chapter five on verbs says, “Failure to recognize the correct antecedent of a relative pronoun may result in error . . . In this sentence the verb must be plural.” Includes traditional diagramming. Part two says, “The system of diagramming employed and described in this text is one of the simplest and one of the most widely used of all the systems of diagramming now taught in the public and private schools of America. The lines used in the diagrams are few, and their significance can be mastered in a very short time.”
  3. The book is college level and is meant to be used as a textbook. Includes a bibliography and index. Some chapters end with exercises, and there are four sections of exercises at the end of the book. The exercises and sample sentences often are sentences from classic and contemporary literature and the Bible. Throughout the book, new topics and important terms are in bold.

Jespersen, Otto. Essentials of English Grammar. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1964.

  1. Descriptive/Historical.
  2. Remarks in the introductory matter indicate that the philosophy of the work is descriptive/historical. For example, the introductory chapter reads, “This book aims at giving a descriptive and, to some extent, explanatory and appreciative account of the grammatical system of Modern English, historical explanations being only given where they can be done without presupposing any detailed knowledge of Old English . . . or Middle English . . . or any cognate language.” Remarks throughout the work indicate that the work is descriptive/historical in practice. For example, chapter six on spelling says, “At first people could follow no other guide in their spelling than their own ears: writing thus began as purely phonetical. But soon they began to imitate the spellings of others, whose manuscripts they copied, their teachers and their elders generally.” Chapter eleven on relations of verb says, “The to-phrase has been constantly growing in frequency since the first feeble beginnings in Old English, and it has been extended to many cases where the local meaning of the preposition is totally obliterated.”
  3. The book’s purpose, according to the introductory chapter, is “to prepare for an intelligent understanding of the structure of a language which it is supposed that the reader knows already.” It is a condensed version of the exhaustive works The Philosophy of Grammar and Modern English Grammar. Contains thirty-six chapters covering everything from sounds and spelling to tense and clauses. Includes an index. Each chapter begins with a list of its topics, and is broken down into sections, such as 16.1, 16.2, etc. These are further broken down into sections such as 16.11, 16.12, etc. Contains hundreds of sample sentences, some of which are from classic literature.

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