The Reading Matrix
Vol. 4, No. 1, April 2004

An Introductory English Grammar
Stageberg, Norman C. and Dallin D. Oaks (2000)
Fort Worth : Harcourt
Pp. xii + 481
ISBN: 0-03-018384-7

Reviewed by Carmen-Pilar Serrano Boyer
Torreón del Alcázar Secondary School, Spain

The fifth edition of An Introductory English Grammar, by Norman C. Stageberg and Dallin D. Oaks, comes into being in 2000, when ,unfortunately, one of its authors, Norman C. Stageberg, had already died. Dallin D. Oaks, coauthor of this grammar, does a good job in trying to update this valuable book and, after every chapter, includes an application section where he demonstrates how the contents of the chapter have an immediate application in present-day fields like advertising, marketing, language teaching, the computer world, law, and so on. Dallin D. Oaks makes another positive change: He opens up each chapter with a humorous sentence, a quotation or just a consideration on a significant aspect dealt with in the chapter.

An Introductory English Grammar is aimed at advanced students of English grammar; nevertheless high-school teachers, apprentice writers and EFL teachers will also be able to obtain a great deal of benefit from it.

This grammar is divided into four parts, comprising two to seven chapters each, and two appendices. Each chapter offers a wide range of exercises, the level of which is suitable for the contents of the grammar, in this way the reader is given practice appropriate to the theoretical content. One of the positive features of the book is that it includes a full answer key to the exercises, therefore it can be used either in the class or for self-study, by college students, teachers or newcomers to the language. A drawback of An Introductory English Grammar, if any has to be mentioned, is that it does not include a glossary, which would have been a very useful addition since metalanguage is very abstract and some concepts could be too difficult even for advanced students of English grammar.

Part One, “The Phonology of English,” is a synchronic approach to the sound system of American English and focuses on how sounds are organised in this variety of English. This part of the book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1 presents the phonemes of English while Chapter 2 is addressed to phonetic processes by which our pronunciation is influenced (assimilation, apenthesis, syncope and so forth); both chapters can help the reader to understand why a number of words are pronounced in an unusual way and also their etymology. Chapter 3 covers spelling and pronunciation, trying to make the reader aware that there is a relation between spelling and pronunciation in the English language, in spite of the fact that it contains both regularities and irregularities. Chapters 4-6 deal with stress, pitch and junctures, highlighting the importance of suprasegmental phonemes when it comes to interpreting messages correctly and showing how advertising or marketing use them in their business. Some jokes are also based on suprasegmentals; that is the reason why Oaks includes some humorous situations in these chapters. Chapter 7, the last in this part, is about phonotactics and how phonotactic patterns of a language can favour, or be an inconvenience for, the learning of a foreign language because speakers will generally try to apply the phonotactic patterns of their mother tongue to the foreign language they try to learn.

The second part, comprising chapters 8-13, focuses on the morphology of English, a noticeable feature of this book, since most contemporary English grammars place the greatest emphasis on the syntax. Chapter 8 concentrates on the four kinds of phonemes (bases, prefixes, infixes and suffixes), their phonemic forms and phonesthemes. Chapters 9-10 deal with simple, complex and compound words as well as the processes of word formation; Dallin D. Oaks points out that marketing needs to take into account word formation rules when attractive new names have to be created for their new products. Chapters 11-12 explore inflectional paradigms of nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs and how they help us identify the different parts of speech. Finally chapter 13 considers other parts of speech that cannot have inflectional paradigms (prepositions, determiners and so forth). The “Applications” section of this chapter shows the reader how sometimes newspaper headlines omit determiners intentionally to cause ambiguity, or how important the use of definite instead of indefinite articles in judicial processes is.

Part Three, “The Syntax of English,” includes chapters 14-17 and studies how words are combined to form phrases, sentences or clauses. As an EFL teacher I find the third part of this grammar really helpful and illustrative with a great variety of clarifying examples and carefully designed exercises; however a glossary would have been welcome since it is at this point when students have to synthesize what they have learned in the previous pages. Chapter 14 concentrates on noun and verb phrases, their syntactic categories and grammatical functions. Chapter 15 basically deals with the seven most common sentence patterns and includes a summary of the three modes of classification: function, form and position, which prepares the reader for the following chapters. Chapter 16 presents parts of speech according to their position and different ways to recognize them. The last chapter of this part, chapter 17, is devoted to modifiers and their position; it maintains that ambiguity is often due to the position of modifiers - thus a writer who is aware of the role modifiers play can use them to deliberately create or, on the contrary, avoid ambiguity.

As a non-native speaker, I consider Part Four, “Further Perspectives,” the most compelling one since it contributes to providing the reader with thought-provoking information on English usage, dialects and historical linguistics. The fourth part has been added to the fifth edition and comprises two chapters: chapter 18, which is coauthored by Dallin D. Oaks and Don Norton, and chapter 19 by the former. Chapter 18 deals with English usage; it starts by making clear that the standard variety of English, the selection of which was due to nonlinguistic aspects, is neither more rational nor superior to the nonstandard dialects. According to the examples given by the authors, phonological, morphological and syntactic rules of standard English are not very logical in some cases, therefore we should not be so critical of nonstandard varieties of English. Chapter 19 can be divided into two interrelated sections: the first one highlights some important aspects of the history of the English language, while the second one centres on regional and social varieties of English.

The two appendices are:
Appendix A, where Oaks provides an introduction to tree diagrams and shows how the relations between syntactic categories can be expressed. The author's explanation does not include diagramming either coordinate or subordinate clauses, therefore it proves oversimplified, but Oaks justifies his decision by saying that “A more thorough discussion would be necessary to show you how to diagram a greater variety of possible sentence types ... such details, however, are unnecessary in your initial exposure to tree diagramming” (p. 374).

Appendix B, the author of which is Paul Baltes, is an introduction to transformational grammar, tree diagrams as a means to avoid ambiguity in sentences, as well as Chomsky's theories, which have influenced a wide variety of fields from psychology to teaching English as a second or foreign language.

After these appendices we find the answers to the more than 300 exercises carefully designed by the authors. This grammar also includes an index with the names and concepts cited throughout the different parts of the book, but unfortunately it lacks a bibliography section for those readers who could be interested in going on to read more or doing research into English grammar (with the exception of a brief list of usage dictionaries included at the end of Chapter 18).

The fact that a fifth edition of "An Introductory English Grammar" has been published is an important sign of how wide an acceptance this advanced grammar textbook has had. In this revised edition the new coauthor, Dallin D. Oaks, preserves Stageberg's linguistic approach and, at the same time, updates the book including revised examples and exercises, an application section, the last two chapters and the two appendices. Specifically, he demonstrates that nowadays, grammar is applied to a great number of different fields in our modern society, which makes this grammar a present-day book.

In short, An Introductory English Grammar, offers an updated interesting look at a subject which is usually challenging for many college students: grammar. I am sure we will see new editions for years to come.


Carmen-Pilar Serrano-Boyer is an EFL teacher at IES Torreón del Alcázar, a state secondary school in Ciudad Real, Spain. She has been teaching English for thirteen years.