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Oxford Uni Press guides to grammar etc

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Now, usually I'm a Guardian Reader but while back in the UK for the last couple of weeks I bought the Independant Saturday and Sunday because of the free gifts.

The Indy gave away two miniguides from Oxford University Press - you can read about them here. I read them both cover to cover over the weekend and I'm very impressed. I often find the semi-formal prescriptive grammar guides that are published irritating - I'm training as a linguist after all - but these booklets are way above any others I've seen. They combine a good deal of precision and accuracy with clear explanations that don't fall into idiocy (of the "a sentence is a complete idea sort") and can easily be understood by people with no training in grammar. The coverage is admirable given that they are so short. The spelling booklet has good sections on general issues; guides to morphological questions ("endings" for the uninitiated); advice on differences between British and American usage and a good list of troublesome words with very clear explanations.

If you need a quick reference guide to grammar, spelling or punctuation, then until now I'd have said that you were out of luck because aside from the University reference Grammars like Quirk and Greenbaum most of what is available is just rubbish. I've changed my mind. These two books should be issued free to every school kid (G-d knows the standard of grammar teaching in schools is hopeless) and any aspiring writer should look them over. They don't talk nonsense about adjectives and adverbs "weakening" sentences or chide you for ending a sentence with a preposition but they will teach you to reliable recognise an adverb or a preposition when you see one - a far more important piece of knowledge.


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Oxford is a very old and highly respected academic press.

In 1568 the Star Chamber granted by decree the privilege to print books on behalf of the University to a publisher favored by the University.

In 1632, King Charles I increased the independence and latitude of England's leading University Presses when he entitled them to print "all manner of books" by granting a Great Charter to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. These two University Presses have become two of the most influential scientific and academic publishers in history.

The Cambridge Press, which publishes more scientific titles, has been the publication of origin (or primary source) for the work of Lord Kelvin, Maxwell, Darwin, Cromwell, Isaac Newton and Ernest Rutherford.

The Oxford Press claim to fame are its dictionaries, India studies, Greco-Roman Classical Literature and historical works. The Oxford Dictionaries are considered to be the definitive authority on the English language.

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Okay, I clicked on the underlined 'here' and took the quiz. I'm a sucker for a quiz. This one was HARD! And I thought I knew something of the English language! Humbling, that's what it was!

All right, I admit I got an A. But if I say that, I also have to admit I guessed at a few. Evidently, I'm a better guesser than abecedarian.


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I took the quiz once and admit to one boneheaded mistake and two embarrassing mistakes and one question on which I disagree. So it gave me a 6/10 or a B. Note: 6/10 should actually be a D, not a B; a B would be 8/10 and an A would be 9/10 or 10/10.

* I disagreed about:

a. The people's choices;

b. The peoples' choices;

c. The people's choice;

d. The peoples' choice;

If, as asked, we're to say that each person had a choice, then it should be, "each person's choice" or "the peoples' choices," rather than "the people's choice," as they claimed. "People" is a collective plural noun. In American English, it uses a singular pronoun and verb (it is the people who decide). In British/International English, they use a plural pronoun and verb (they, the people, decide). "Peoples" are a group of many diverse kinds of people, generally of differing race, language, or religion. Each person within the group of people would have a choice, so there are several choices. If it isn't to be, "each person's choice," then it should be "the peoples' choices," or at least, "the people's choices.

* I know better than to hyphenate "a carefully planned." The correct choice was, "a well-known," of course. -- One of the common editing mistakes I correct is to "hyphenate compound adjectives." The hyphen isn't necessary with an adverb ("carefully'). -- I'll admit many English grammar rules are not completely logical or consistent. There are exceptions in English grammar.

* I'm embarrassed to say I missed the question on which phrase wasn't used in Shakespeare. (I guessed, "a blinking idiot," but the correct answer is, "a monkey's uncle.") Tsk, for shame, thou varlet.

* I'm slightly less embarrassed to miss the morpheme question, which means I misunderstood what a morpheme is. I'd guessed "pounds," because it changes form, rather than "money." -- So I'll look up the term, morpheme.

As someone who consistently scores high on verbal, language, and reading comprehension skills, I'm embarrassed, but thought that others might benefit from the discussion.

I'd like to see them offer those glossy guides in a handbook. Clear, brief guides would really help everyone interested.

The majority of the mistakes I correct in others' writing are in a few common areas; perhaps a hundred or fewer points.

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(However, "money" can vary to "monies" in technical usage.)

I missed

1. Morphene question for same reason as Blue -- and I've used "monies" in a sentence before dammit.

2. I got the Shakespeare question wrong. I picked a different wrong answer, though.

3. And like Blue I missed the Peoples' Choice question for the same EXACT reason. I think they're wrong and I'm right.

They gave me a 7/10 and I believe it should be an 8/10. And the Shakespeare question doesn't belong because it's not a real test of what you know about Grammar but if you remember who said something over two centuries ago.

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