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Firstly, this isn’t really a grammar boot camp – a boot camp would be the ‘basic training’ undertaken by people who join the army. This course is beyond basic. It only spends a very little time explaining the different components of grammar – Most of the lecture series is about acceptable usage of English, and assumes a reasonable amount of prior familiarity with grammatical terminology, rather than being a basic description of how grammar works.
It deals with all the old chestnuts - like split infinitives, prepositions at the end of a sentence, dangling modifiers, double negatives and apostrophes, but the take-home message from this book is that these issues are rarely black-and-white.
For example, is it always wrong to split an infinitive, such as in Captain Kirk’s ‘to boldly go’? No – it isn’t always wrong – usually it’s fine, but don’t pack too many words in between the ‘to’ and the ‘go’. Is it always wrong to put a preposition at the end of a sentence? E.g. ‘The strange woman he was dancing with.’ No - it isn’t always wrong. Putting the preposition at the end can sound a bit clumsy and is often considered to be bad writing stylistically, but it isn’t necessarily wrong and it sometimes sounds better than the alternative: ‘The strange woman with whom he was dancing.’
So how can we find out if something is bad grammar, or bad usage, or perfectly OK? There are at least four ways: Firstly, we can look at the history of the language and see how it has been used over time; secondly, we can consult key grammar texts (such as Fowler’s ‘Modern English Usage’ and Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style’); thirdly, there are databases of the current English usage of established writers. We can search these to see if a particular construction is acceptable. If a large body of educated writers are splitting their infinitives, it must be OK. Finally, we can consult the online Usage Panel, a group of 200 experts who are surveyed annually to gauge the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.
The result of all this searching is that it is rare to find a clear-cut case of ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ usage. Usually it will only provide a guide to what would be better stylistically, and this will depend on the context. Obviously you can get away with a lot more in casual conversation than you could in formal writing.
It was fascinating to explore these different issues and get a better insight into how the language works. From now on, this will give me more confidence to write with.
79 of 81 people found this review helpful
Where does English Grammar Boot Camp rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Among The Great Courses series on language, which are all excellent, I rate this one in the middle of the pack. It depends on what type of learning you want.
What other book might you compare English Grammar Boot Camp to and why?
Anne Curzan's first audio series "The Secret Life of Words" is one of my favorites titles on Audible, so I was both excited to listen this new course, and curious: How would this descriptivist linguist, who's quick to point out that English has many grammars, teach a English Grammar Boot Camp?
I am pleased to report that Professor Curzan navigates the territory with great ease. Yes, she reminds us, the English language is not static. No, there is not one authoritative grammar. But there is a concept of "standard English," and while much of that has changed over time and debate persists over certain rules, you're listening to this series because you want to understand those rules and potential pitfalls, and Curzan brilliantly covers it all with humor, humility, and insight.
You will learn the rules of usage, and you will also learn the origins of those rules, the logic behind them (if there is any), and how the rules of what's considered proper may be changing over time.
It should also surprise no one familiar with Curzan's other courses that you will learn the differences between spoken English and written English, and how what's considered proper in one form may be unacceptable in the other.
Which scene was your favorite?
I love Curzan's descriptions of the things she learns from her students. She describes how she frequently calls on them, as young users of the language, to help her document changes in usage as those changes enter the mainstream.
She describes, among other things, how texting has its own grammar and punctuation, and makes the point that while some of us might view this as simply "bad english," there are in fact meaningful rules that are unique to the medium.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Absolutely not. It's quite long, and dense with information. I typically listened to two chapters a day.
Any additional comments?
For those who are prescriptivists looking to hone your sense of "proper" usage, you will no doubt find everything you're looking for, but prepare to also be humbled. It is inevitable that some rule you were taught in school and remembered all these years will be questioned.
This very review, up through the previous sentence, is filled with grammar and punctuation that defies some conventional rules, yet falls into the category of modern acceptable usage. Curzan explains those distinctions, with particular focus on those words and rules that tend to trip us up the most, such as:
That rule about never ending a sentence with a proposition
Apostrophes, dashes, semicolons, and the oxford comma
Who, whom, pronoun agreement, and all the other prounoun issues that trip us up
Which vs. that, and relative pronouns
Octopuses or octopi, and all the ways plurals trip us up
Lie vs. lay, past tense vs. past participle
Helping verbs, shall, can, may etc.
She will often stop short of declaring that a common usage is correct or incorrect, but will point out that if you make certain choices -- particularly in writing -- prepare to be judged.
It's a unique, refreshing, and entertaining approach to grammar study. Highly recommended for the usage nerd in us all.
192 of 200 people found this review helpful
Although the lecturer is American, this didn't detract from the usefulness. Clarified some areas of English grammar and exposed a lot of myths. It was particularly interesting to see how popularity of words changes over time and new words enter the language.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This book has contextualised and explained grammar to me in a more effective way than any teacher I've ever had. I recommend this course to anyone who dreaded grammar lessons as a child, or anyone who wishes to explore grammar in more depth.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
I must admit I am disappointed by this book. I was hoping for a revision on English grammar but the theme all through the book was that if enough people approve a particular grammatical construct, then it should be legitimised even though it may not be logical or elegant. In contrast, I see English as a logical language. There is a certain symmetry and logic in how sentences are constructed, similar to the language of numbers, which is why we have conventional rules on grammar. By being too permissive and loose, we are effectively allowing colloquialism to dilute the elegance of written English. In summary, this book treats grammar as a popularity contest.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
This book is pretty useful and interesting for an English learner. I really like it.