Vol. 3. No. 4 R-7 January 1999
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course

(2nd edition) Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman (1999)
Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle
Pp. viii + 853
ISBN 0-8384-4725-2 (cloth)
U.S. $50.95; UK £33.95

The second edition of Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman's amazing tome, The Grammar Book, is even better than the first. The subject matter is expanded, the prose is tighter, the examples are fresh, and the new organization improves on an already first-rate ESL/EFL teacher's resource.

The subtitle for The Grammar Book is "An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course." It was originally designed for training new teachers in the grammar points that we all must be able to teach effectively. The examples, explanations, and exercises are meant to help budding teachers overcome the negative associations which grammar has for so many, so that "some actually come away from the experience believing," the authors say, "as we do, that learning grammar is fun!" (p. 10). The fun comes from the intellectual challenge of figuring out the rules of grammar; this is not a simplistic text giving clever one-liners and maxims to use in class. Instead, The Grammar Book assists ESL/EFL teachers to teach students how to "use the structures of English accurately, meaningfully, and appropriately" (p. 6).

Consistent with the first edition, the 1999 edition is well organized, with careful examples, copious semantic and syntactic information, and a refreshing discussion of different scholars' theories on how and why English operates the way it does. The authors make an effort to contextualize the grammar points, to show how grammar operates on the sentential and discourse levels, so that "students see how grammar and communication interface" (p. 4). Each grammar point is addressed in terms of its form, meaning, and use, a pattern of presentation which Larsen-Freeman uses in her Grammar Dimensions series (also from Heinle and Heinle). This consistent treatment of each grammar point assists the teacher in understanding the explanations and in preparing to lead students into mastery of the language.

Although not originally intended as a reference, the second edition of The Grammar Book was prepared with that purpose in mind, since the authors found out that many teachers were using their text as a reference grammar (p. 757). The teaching suggestions and bibliography at the end of each chapter make this book a valuable tool for teachers in the field as well as in a training program. In addition, the appendix and the indices help make this book useful for independent study. The appendix gives suggested answers to the [-1-] exercises, and the indices include a listing of the numerous scholars referred to in the text, the languages and language groups referred to in contrastive examples, as well as the words, phrases, and topics dealt with in explanations. This second edition is an even better resource than the first, with more information and more careful ordering of that information.

New chapters expand the coverage and allow for the better organization. The new chapter 2 introduces students to the metalinguistic terminology used in discussing grammar, defining terms like "adverb," "aspect," and "register," so that new teachers can more easily follow the subsequent discussion. Having a separate chapter explaining the differences in terms such as tense, aspect, and time, for example, means that less time needs to be spent on that basic information when the authors come to those general topics. Remembering my own lack of metalinguistic knowledge when starting an M.A. ESL/EFL program, this is a most helpful chapter.

Several of the 1983 edition's chapters were expanded for 1999. A stronger emphasis on the connection between discourse and grammar led to the new chapter 9, "The Tense-Aspect-Modality System in Discourse," and to a good treatment of adverbials in the new chapter 25. What had been a single chapter on the tense and aspect system has become two chapters, one on tense and aspect and the other on discourse factors. As the authors say, "certain tenses, aspect, and modality combinations tend to occur together in discourse whereas others do not" (p. 161). This separation allows the authors to treat their subjects with greater focus, and has led to a better organization of the previous chapter on tense and aspect; for example, all simple aspects are now dealt with together.

Throughout the new edition, the treatment of different subjects has been reexamined and often redone. The previous edition's coverage of infinitives, gerunds, and participles has been reorganized to allow for the expanded chapter on adverbials. The old chapter on pronouns and possessive forms has also been renovated, appearing as the enlarged chapter 16, "Reference and Possession." The chapters on phrase structure rules have gone through extensive revision to allow for a smoother introduction of the rules, making the organization of the rules determine the examples given, as opposed to the previous edition when the examples governed the order of introduction for the phrase structure rules. Now, the first ten rules on sentences, adverbials, and noun phrases are introduced together, with rules on predicates following in the next chapter.

This is an immense book. There are thirty-six chapters, one less than in the 1983 edition, but with 200 additional pages. The chapters are:     [-2-]

  1. Introduction
  2. Grammatical Metalanguage
  3. The Lexicon
  4. The Copula and Subject-Verb Agreement
  5. Introduction to Phrase Structure
  6. More Phrase Structure Rules
  7. The Tense and Aspect System
  8. Modal Auxiliaries and Related Phrasal Forms
  9. The Tense-Aspect-Modality System in Discourse
  10. Negation
  11. Yes/No Questions
  12. Imperatives
  13. WH-Questions
  14. Other Structures That Look Like Questions
  15. Articles
  16. Reference and Possession
  17. Partitives. Collectives. and Quantifiers
  18. The Passive Voice
  19. Sentences with Indirect Objects
  20. Adjectives
  21. Prepositions
  22. Phrasal Verbs
  23. Nonreferential It and There as Subjects
  24. Coordinating Conjunction
  25. Adverbials
  26. Logical Connectors
  27. Conditional Sentences
  28. Introduction to Relative Clauses
  29. More on Relative Clauses
  30. Focus and Emphasis
  31. Complementation
  32. Other Aspects of Complementation and Embedded Clauses
  33. Reported Speech and Writing
  34. Degree--Comparatives and Equatives
  35. Degree--Complements and Superlatives
  36. Conclusion

The Grammar Book is an impressive achievement: it combines an excellent treatment of the structure of English with pedagogical suggestions, and in the process it leads aspiring teachers into the intellectual challenge of discovery that is essential for all proficient ESL/EFL instructors. If we cannot figure out the rules of English, how can we hope to effectively assist our students, either implicitly or explicitly, in understanding and mastery? The second edition builds on the strengths of the first, incorporating the examples, diverse scholarly frameworks, and teaching suggestions that have made this a must-have text. The addition of a superior organization and expanded coverage in the second edition makes it easy to give up my trusty old white "Grammar Bible" in favor of the sleek new one. [-3-]

Robert Retherford
Cumberland County College

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page in the paginated ASCII version of this article, which is the definitive edition. Please use these page numbers when citing this work.

Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page