Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Recommended English Language Dictionaries and Reference Books

Have a question about English grammar or usage but don’t know where to find answers? Here’s a shortlist of dictionaries and reference books no student or teacher of English should be without. If you haven’t studied grammar before, David Crystal’s Rediscover Grammar (Pearson Longman, 2004, 3rd ed.) and George Davidson’s Phrases, Clauses and Sentences (Learners, 2002) are excellent introductions that will equip you with an understanding of the necessary terminology and of how grammar works.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD)
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (CALD)
Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (MEDAL)
Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture (LDELC)

Do not underestimate advanced learners’ dictionaries — they are perfect if you’re a teacher or student of English because they take nothing for granted, hence are exceptionally clear and address learners’ errors and difficulties. All of the above are excellent. As well as giving you the meaning of a word, a good dictionary should provide copious examples, tell you whether a verb is transitive or intransitive and which preposition(s) go/goes with it, whether an adjective is used attributively or predicatively, whether a noun is countable or uncountable, whether the noun is usually plural or singular, whether it is used with a plural verb, typical errors to avoid, etc. The LDELC lists people, cities, institutions, etc. which have a special place in English-speaking cultures — what, for example, is an 18–30 holiday, the Bloomsbury Group, or Remembrance Sunday?

Both OALD and MEDAL have International Student Editions (ISEs) costing about half the standard editions. CALD is very affordable too and comes with a CD-ROM. It is best to choose a dictionary that uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to transcribe pronunciation, as do all dictionaries listed here. (For this reason, avoid most Oxford dictionaries except the OALD.) And remember that you need an advanced learner’s dictionary (not a learner’s dictionary).

Practical English Usage
by Michael Swan (PEU)
Collins Cobuild English Usage (CCEU)
Collins Cobuild English Grammar (CCEG)

PEU is a book teachers and teacher-trainers swear by. (Go for the ISE — it costs half the deluxe edition, which has more colour but exactly the same content.) CCEU has a Usage section and a Grammar section, and comes with a CD-ROM. Some questions addressed in these books: Do we say Chris is one of those people who sleep like a baby (or sleeps)? Why? And do we say The committee are unable to agree (or is)?

Do note the titles exactly: Collins Cobuild produces a variety of different grammars, not all of them useful as reference works.

Singapore English in a Nutshell
by Adam Brown
English Language Myths: 30 Beliefs That Aren’t Really True by Adam Brown
What You Need to Know about British & American English by George Davidson
Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson

The first is exceptionally useful if you wish to know the main differences between Singapore English and Standard English. The second is invaluable because it deals with mistaken beliefs about English — many perpetuated by the teaching profession! The third is an extremely clear and comprehensive account of the main differences (spelling, grammar, vocabulary) between British and American English. The last is very helpful if you aim to be a careful writer.


Anonymous said...

I hope you will keep updating your content constantly as you have one dedicated reader here.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Thank you!