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Pedagogical Grammar Books

When you are studying or working with English, having accurate grammar is very important. You will obviously not fail an essay or thesis for making a few small grammar mistakes here and there, but impressions count for a lot when you are writing in English, and poor grammar easily affects the 'impression' created by your writing and speech.

Remember, first impressions count. This goes for your use of grammar as well.

Key advice

1. It can be difficult to improve your use of grammar. Why?

2. How to choose a grammar book?

3. Recommended books for improving your use of grammar

1. It can be difficult to improve your use of grammar. Why? 

Many people, unfortunately, believe that by studying grammar out of books, your grammar can get better very quickly. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, it can be very difficult to improve our use of grammar.

Some of the reasons for this difficulty are as follows:

  • Grammar skills in a language develop over a long time, so even advanced learners of English continue to make small mistakes with the language.
  • Just 'knowing' about a grammar point does not necessarily mean we will be able to use it very well. It takes more time than we think to put into practice what we have learned.
  • It is possible to understand a grammar point very well, yet still make mistakes when we write or speak.
  • Some grammar points are almost 'unteachable' such as the use of articles - though helpful guidelines do exist.
  • We often experience what is known as 'L1 interference'; we have in our mind patterns from our first language when we write and speak, and these affect our accuracy.
  • We do not always use a systematic checking system when we look over our writing, because we do not always know what our main grammar problems are.
  • There are several theories of language learning that tell us that we have to be able to make mistakes in grammar before we can get better.

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2. Choosing a grammar book to help you with your studies  

If you want to buy a grammar book of your own, there are some important points to bear in mind:

  • Make sure that a key to the exercises is included, so that you can use the book on your own.
  • Ensure that suitable explanations of the grammar point are provided.
  • Check that you feel happy, at a personal level, with the 'metalanguage' used - that is, technical words and phrases used to talk about grammar.
  • Make sure that some of the more difficult areas of grammar are covered, not only 'teachable' areas such as tenses, but also more complex areas such as word order and syntax.

And, when you are using a grammar practice book, remember:

  • to write your answers on a separate piece of paper, rather than directly in the book. That way, you can use the exercises again.
  • to ask your language tutor for help if there are any grammar points that you don't understand.
  • to try and use the structures you have learned when you speak and write.

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3. Recommended books for improving your use of grammar

Although it can be difficult to improve your use of grammar, there is a lot to be gained by working on grammar exercises for a few minutes every day.

We would particularly recommend:

  • Hewings, M. Advanced Grammar in Use. Cambridge: CUP.


When you are using a grammar workbook, you will probably also need to have a grammar reference book close to hand.

We especially recommend:

  • Swan, M. Practical English Usage. Oxford: OUP.

This book is classified in alphabetical order for ease of reference. In reality, it is much more than a grammar book. It includes sections on newspaper headlines and pronunciation. It is a good 'troubleshooting' book to have at the ready when you are writing in English.


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