Dea reviews Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation by John Seely (OUP)

This new edition promises to find the answers to 300 tricky grammar questions quickly. Neat enough to fit in a pocket, and boasting that it will also ‘increase your confidence’, I imagine curators and interpreters pulling out their own thumbed volume at team meetings, flicking through to find the different ways to put a phrase in parentheses or how they should use a semi-colon.

The handy, clearly designed alphabetical guide is useful in explaining what a grammatical term means. It’s very easy to look things up. Until consulting Seely, I didn’t know what a ‘dummy subject’ or ‘simple aspect’ was. I’ve also now discovered I’m keen on ‘grading adjectives’ – modifying an adjective by placing a adverb in front of it. That’s rather bad writing and that’s an extremely clumsy way of putting it, for example. But I still can’t be sure if I should use them.

It’s important to use this book wisely. Guides like this are very good at telling us whether we have written something correctly, but not if we have written it well. That’s where the grammarian’s job ends and the writer’s begins.