Can you reccommend a good, in-depth primer on grammar?
June 6, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Can you reccommend a good, in-depth primer on grammar? I don't mean where to use a comma, but rather a clear definition of, for example, nominative, accusative, dative and genitive cases. What exactly are tense, mood, person, number, and voice. That kind of thing.

Obviously I know some of this, but I would like a more cohesive understanding. My education was seriously lacking on these points, with most teachers focusing on things like where to use a semicolon. Useful, but not really in-depth. For day to day usage of English that's fine, but when trying to learn foreign languages it's difficult to try to muddle through what exactly is meant by: "However there is another sub-class (class 3) with strong masculine nouns that always declines with -ar in the genitive singular and -ir in the nominative plural."
posted by Nothing to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
The Elements of Style. -William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White

(this is a webpage version of said book, but the book is really nice, small, well written and clear) of course I have the '67 edition, so it is entirely possible that I may have outdated style :)
posted by infinite intimation at 11:37 AM on June 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the link, I'm sure that will be useful. What I'm looking for, though, is something that is written more from a linguistic standpoint than a compositional one.
posted by Nothing at 11:51 AM on June 6, 2010

Best answer: Jeanette DeCarrico's The Structure of English: Studies in Form and Function for Language Teaching is a slim and easy-to-digest volume you might like for this. Our university recommends it to MA students in applied linguistics who want to study to test out of the department's grammar course requirement.
posted by treblemaker at 12:03 PM on June 6, 2010

The Transitive Vampire. Wash your tenses own with Gorey-style baby bats and cemetery dwellers.
posted by freshwater at 12:14 PM on June 6, 2010

languagehat or someone similar correct me if I'm saying something stupid, but I found that all of these things like nominative, accusative and genitive I knew instinctively as a native English speaker, but didn't understand intellectually until I studied Arabic in which they are a lot more... important. Perhaps a book on Arabic grammar might help you understand them?
posted by Biru at 12:25 PM on June 6, 2010

Response by poster: That is essentially the issue, Biru: understanding instinctively versus intellectually. I am getting a better handle on it by studying Icenaldic, but I think it might be easier going in the other direction - if I got a better grounding in grammar and then could better understand the descriptions and explanations of Icelandic grammar.
posted by Nothing at 12:33 PM on June 6, 2010

When I was studying English grammar with an eye toward teaching it, I used two books:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire (linked above by Freshwater) and Intermediate Grammar: From Form to Meaning and Use.

Neither of them would have been adequate on their own, IMO, but together, they covered things very well.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:59 PM on June 6, 2010

Best answer: A book often recommended to Latin students weak on the various grammar terms is English Grammar for Students of Latin; I haven't looked at it myself, but in the same series there is English Grammar for Students of German, which would be similar to Icelandic.
posted by lysimache at 3:32 PM on June 6, 2010

I recommend Diana Hacker's Bedford Handbook as a finely detailed primer of grammar and usage for English. That will give you a decent understanding of person, number, tense, voice and mood. However, in learning a case language, you might refer to an English language guide to other cased languages such as German, Latin or Greek. Perhaps a travel language guide for German or Icelandic (since that's your goal) would be more concise in telling you what you need to know about how the verbs work.

I actually refer to Wikipedia a lot to just explain to me how other language grammars work. Here is a nice explanation of the dative case.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:47 PM on June 6, 2010

Best answer: Elements of Style is not about grammar. It's about style. It's a terrible answer to the question.

This lexicographer recommends these:

Huddleston, Rodney, and Pullum, Geoffrey K. A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge and New York, 2005. A brilliant encapsulation of the ground-breaking work done in the much larger (and more expensive) Cambridge Grammar of the English LanguageCambridge Grammar of the English Language, which was built by examining large corpora for examples of how educated writers use English, rather than perpetuating long-held and unexamined rules. Covers world-wide Englishes quite well.

Both will get you started on understanding English grammar better, which is incredibly useful for learning foreign languages, even where they have moods and so forth that English does not.

Also, you probably really need a good specialized dictionary to help make the lingo less opaque:

Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics.

A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:15 PM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It might be a little overkill, but there's always Describing Morphosyntax. It's written for people who are looking to write grammars, so it really goes into a lot of detail and uses a lot of linguistic terminology. It does start with the very basics, but quickly moves into more advanced stuff. If you've read and understood it, your understanding of grammar in general -- not the grammar of English or any other specific language, but the basic principles underlying every language's grammar -- would probably be above and beyond that of most of the people who write style handbooks or "How to Learn Icelandic"-type books. On the other hand, it would be a lot of effort and a lot of knowledge that wouldn't really help with learning Icelandic, or any other language you might reasonably decide to learn. There are tons of examples from all manner of weird and wonderful languages.

I still haven't read it start to finish, but I do refer to it when the internet isn't helpful in explaining some specific grammatical phenomenon. It's definitely a book that will explain what exactly tense, mood, person, number, and voice are, with lots of depth and many examples of the more extreme or weird variants of them you might find (it is, after all, written as a handbook for field linguists, who might stumble onto linguistic phenomena never before documented in any language).

Other than that, there's always wiki. The "follow a chain of links until you find an article you understand" method will take you surprisingly far.
posted by simen at 4:27 PM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding both Mo Nickels and simen's responses. Also, Strunk & White is terrible, mainly because where grammar is concerned, many of the examples given are just plain wrong (including really basic stuff, like what a passive construction is). Don't go there; madness & lies.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:46 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend Diana Hacker's Bedford Handbook as a finely detailed primer of grammar and usage for English.

Seconded. I have used this book for years with my students, and it's everything you need, superbly organized.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:20 PM on June 6, 2010

Oh, I actually mean Diana Hacker's Rules for Writers. Not sure if that's the same thing.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:20 PM on June 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I bought A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar and Describing Morphosyntax, as well as The Syntax of Icelandic, whihc looks like it covers the grammar much more usefully than the sources I was looking at before.
posted by Nothing at 3:47 PM on June 7, 2010

I'm not the OP, but I bought the Student's Introduction book, too, because of this thread. It's excellent.
posted by Tristram Shandy, Gentleman at 6:35 PM on June 19, 2010

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