Review of David Crystal’s Making Sense of Grammar

If you don’t know the name David Crystal, then you can be sure you will by the end of your first year of Linguistics at Reading. Crystal is a lecturer in the field of English Language and has published many, and by many I mean nearly a hundred, books on the subject. Excitingly he helped set up linguistics degrees at the University of Reading and his extensive list of works notably includes The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language.

If you only read one book of his, it should be Making Sense of Grammar. As a first year at Reading, one of your modules will be Sounds, Grammar and Meaning. It’s a module of two halves; the first half concentrates on Phonetics and Phonology, the study of sounds in language; the second half tackles how to analyse the Grammar, Semantics and Pragmatics of the English Language. For me this was a dream module and I’m sure that soon you will come to understand and possibly even enjoy grammar lectures like most of my friends. And this book is definitely something that will help with that.

Making sense of grammar

In the first week of grammar, Jacqui, our lecturer, told us that this is the one book we should definitely read or even buy and many of us took that advice. It breaks down the different aspects of English grammar in much the same way as your lectures are structured. It starts with the broadest aspects of sentence and clause. Then it breaks that down into the different phrases before breaking it down even further into separate words. There’s a section for each grammar point that you might struggle with, from adverbials to prepositions and the explanations are clear and easy to understand. Of course, it’s hard to fully explain one grammar element without looking at the others, so the explanations helpfully include the page numbers of related grammar points. For example, whilst discussing the verb element of a clause, Crystal gives reference to earlier comments on clauses and to a page where the reader can find a definition of some technical terms used. All this makes it a good addition to what you learn in lectures.

You may think that a book based entirely around the subject of grammar, especially one that is designed to explain the complexities of the English language, would make for a boring read. When I first went to retrieve a copy from the library, I was also worried that this may just be another unimaginative list of various grammar points. However, just looking at the cover, I was reassured that I was wrong. The explanations are punctuated with appropriate but interesting examples including poems, recorded speech, articles and extracts from scripts. Then, on some pages, there are illustrations in the form funny cartoons. It’s safe to say that Crystal uses a quirky style to keep his reader interested for long enough to take in what he’s teaching them, but you’d expect no less of someone with plenty of experience lecturing in the field.

So, as my lecturer suggested to me, I will suggest to you that during your first year you seek out a copy of the book and read as much of it as you can. It’s the perfect introduction to studying grammar at a higher level.

Emma Connor

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