‘Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English’ – A Book Review

“Literally (yes, literally) awesome (yes, awesome)” – Steven Pinker

Have you ever been told that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition? That you should try your best to never split an infinitive? And that you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’? In his new book, ‘Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English’, Oliver Kamm debunks grammatical superstitions such as these.

Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English by Oliver Kamm

Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English by Oliver Kamm

This insightful new book, dubbed “joyous and joyously liberating… It is the most sensible style guide” (Spectator), by Oliver Kamm, leading writer and columnist for The Times, celebrates living language and is authoritative and reassuring on good writing and style.

Instead of the hyperbolic rants of the grammar pedants, Kamm challenges the idea that standards of language are deteriorating and argues that language change is something to be interested and excited by.

In Part 1, Kamm sheds light on the superstitions of ‘correct’ English, using scholarly evidence to support his argument and highlight the fallibility of the so-called logic of the pedants. Part 2 of the book is a style guide, but unlike the guides before him, Kamm bases his advice on current usage of the language and not on the prescriptive rules of eighteenth century grammarians.

Kamm highlights the important changes in the way that language is used in a witty and entertaining way, encouraging writers to trust their instinct, insisting that finding your own voice is essential for improving the style of your written English. Kamm’s ultimate goal is clarity of language – not to prescribe outdated rules of grammar that make prose dull and stilted.

If you’re ever writing an essay and you find yourself asking “should it be effect or affect?”, “should I use among or amongst” or “should this word have an apostrophe?”, then Kamm’s ‘Accidence Will Happen’ will offer you invaluable stylistic advice on which to use – and reassure you that you were probably right to begin with.

For anyone with an interest in language, this book is certainly a worthwhile read. It’s enjoyable and it’s informative – and it actually made me laugh a couple of times. As an Arts student and therefore a writer of essays, I can guarantee that I will refer to the usage guide a dozen times an essay and I would urge other students to get themselves a copy too!

(Image credit: Taken from Amazon.)

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