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Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate…

Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the…

by N.M. Gwynne

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Gwynne is a self-professed expert teacher of grammar and the English language. As this 2014 Knopf edition of "Gwynne's Grammar" states in the front book flap, Gwynne is a self-made teacher of grammar. "N.M. Gwynne is an Eton - and Oxford- educated banker who remade himself as a teacher for the modern age."

In short, I found this book to be: pompous, verbose, subjective, pedantic, egotistical, supercilious, judgmental, irrelevant, obnoxious and painful to read.

"Gwynne's on Grammar" is NOT a reference on grammar. What you get are Gwynne's opinions on child-rearing, education, current language, poetry and more. For example, Gwynne praises his book for its absence of "pointless and patronising pictures that have been the bane of almost every textbook on every single academic subject during the last fifty years and more." Gwynne believes that textbooks should only contain "needed" pictures, such as maps in geography books or skeletons in biology books. He sees illustrations, particularly in children's books, as "distractions that actually interfere with the learning process."

Sixty-three pages of the 236 pages of "Gwynne's on Grammar" are filled with a reprint of the 1918 edition of Cornell professor William Strunk's, "Elements of Style." Gwynne appropriates the 1918 "Elements of Style" for his book because it is in the public domain, and he views it as a work of genius.

Gwynne rejects the 1959 edition, as well as all later editions, of "Elements of Style," revised by E.B. White, in favor of the first edition. White, a student of Strunk, modernized and expanded the original book. Publisher Macmillan sold about two million copies of the revised edition in 1959. "Strunk and White" is now regarded as a fundamental reference for American writers.

Gwynne views the original 1918 edition of "Elements of Style" as superior to the "Strunk and White" version because it is shorter. His logic is that if Strunk has wanted to write a longer, more complete book, he could have done so! Accordingly, Strunk chose NOT to write a longer book, so the 1918 version is superior to all later editions.

The final insult of "Gwynne's on Grammar" is that it is not well-written. Gwynne constantly writes in the passive voice: "The treatment of consonants in combination is best shown from examples: "for-tune"; . . . "

All but the reprint of the 1918 "Elements of Style" is verbose. Although Gwynne lauds Strunk's admonition to "omit needless words," "Gwynne's on Grammar" does the opposite, over and over again. For example, "If I have made something of a case in answer to the question at the beginning of this chapter, my main purpose has been less to boast, you my readers may be comforted to learn, than to stress yet further the supreme importance - supreme practical importance - of what you and I are engaged in together as you go through this book."

It is full of supercilious, condescending comments, such as: "Will you now admit, dear discerning reader, that etymology can be helpful, and not only helpful but interesting too, and not only helpful and interesting but sometimes even fun?"

"For those many who have never been taught what everyone used to be expected to know, it may be helpful if I summarise the distinctions between science, on the one hand, and art, on the other, in any field: . . . "

In discussing two uses of "different than" and "different from," Gwynne writes: "Readers of this book who have the commendable prescriptive instincts that I have been trying to encourage will fight it in both instances, however."

Overuse of italics for emphasis makes the book difficult to read. Virtually every paragraph and sometimes several sentences of one paragraph contain words italicized for emphasis.

Reading "Gwynne's on Grammar" was an unpleasant experience that I do not recommend. Look to the latest "Elements of Style" or the "MLA Handbook" for a writing reference or, for a resource on grammar, "The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment," by Larry Shea. Just don't rely on Gwynne's. ( )
1 vote brendajanefrank | Jul 15, 2014 |
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"Crushing national Debt? Climate Change? No: the greatest danger to our way of life is the decline of grammar. Thus preaches the inimitable Mr Gwynne as he shows us the way out of this sorry state. "Grammar is the science of using words rightly, leading to thinking rightly, leading to deciding rightly, without which-as both common sense and experience show-happiness is impossible. Therefore, happiness depends at least partly on good grammar." So writes Mr. Gwynne in his small but perfectly formed new book of grammar with an attitude. Mr. Gwynne believes passionately that we must regain our knowledge of the workings of our language before it is too late. Schools don't teach it, and as the Internet drives the written word to new lows of informality, we approach a tipping point of expressive dysfunction. Into the breach steps this doughty grammarian. Rejecting popular notions that language is simply a matter of the way people use it, he meticulously spells out what tradition and common sense have, over centuries, dictated to be the right and the wrong. His teaching method is also defiantly old school: no one can follow a rule he hasn't committed to memory. But not all rules are equal. For a country whose only broadly subscribed guide to writing is Strunk and White, Mr. Gwynne performs a radical procedure. He presents its original seed: Strunk's 1918 essay, which E. B. White expanded. But neither form was ever meant as a guide to grammar, and so Mr. Gwynne presents only the kernel of Strunk's useful advice as a companion: a guide to putting words together nicely set within Gwynne's wisdom about putting them together correctly. The result is the last word on the subject anyone should need"-- "Crushing national Debt? Climate Change? No: the greatest danger to our way of life is the decline of grammar. Thus preaches the inimitable Mr Gwynne as he shows us the way out of this sorry state"--… (more)

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