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HAVE FUN WHILE LEARNING TO WRITE WELL

With quotes from Mark Twain to Stephen Colbert, Marilyn Monroe to Jennifer Lawrence, and Yogi Berra to the Dalai Lama, this book seems like a history of comedy, celebrity, and culture. But it actually teaches English grammar and usage in a way that’s proved to be effective and fun for over 40 years.

This book teaches by example: The lessons start with quotations from celebrities, famous writers, and historical figures, so you have a chance to infer the grammar rules for yourself. Then the lessons state the rules and word meanings clearly and simply.

The mini-essays also tell the history of the rules and the words being discussed. That takes the mystery out of grammar and usage rules by showing how they change and noting what’s in favor today.

This book is published by Oxford University Press.

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Read the reviews.
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  • “A fast, smart, even browsable friend.”—Booklist

    From Amazon users:

    ✩✩✩✩✩ “A Wonderful Companion”

    ✩✩✩✩ “Innovative and Well Crafted — Actually Makes Learning Fun”

    ✩✩✩✩✩ “Interesting and Helpful for Everyone”

    ✩✩✩✩ “It’s a really cool read if you are into words and learning how to use them correctly.”

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  • “Stephen Spector has created a quietly revolutionary book… In what other work would one find Winston Churchill and Lady Gaga as companions in the same noble cause?”—Roger Rosenblatt

    “I felt absolutely giddy reading it in spite of myself…. Anyone who’s ever aspired to be a better writer would do well to have ‘May I Quote You on That?’ as a handy reference.”—Brian L. Belen, Brain Drain Blog

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  • “Professor Spector has to be the greatest quotation collector of all time…. Browsing this grammar book is as much fun as spending time at Brainyquote…. This is the logical way to present language. It is how we all learn our native language: speech first, explanations afterwards.”–Maeve Maddox, Daily Writing Tips

    “I loved the whole concept of the book—using quotes to make points about grammar and usage. The quotes are very appropriate and the manner in which language rules are explained is very well done”—Corinne Rodriguez, WriteTribe.com

  • “Dwarves or dwarfs? Imply or infer? That or which? Not only does Spector thoughtfully and often humorously spell it out for readers… but he also starts selections with entertaining quotations by everyone from historical figures to celebrities to send the mind happily reeling.” —Booklist 

    “Spector has sound advice on the writing of clear prose. He understands the usefulness of rules, while recognizing that the pursuit of style requires the liberty to break them.”—The Times Literary Supplement (London)

sample-the-lessons
Sample the lessons.
work
LIKE/AS
AMOUNT/NUMBER
AFFECT/EFFECT
NEITHER/NOR
LESS/FEWER
EVERYDAY/EVERY DAY
LAY/LIE
WHO/WHOM
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Includes quotes from
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Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Winston Churchill, George Clooney, Woody Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and many others!

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People learn more naturally and more happily from reading funny, instructive, or engaging illustrations of good writing than from memorizing rules.

Stephen Spector
author of May I Quote You On That?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Spector is a professor of English at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Since 1972 he’s taught a course on the history of the English language, with special emphasis on grammar and usage.

When he first began to teach the course, many of the students were anxious about grammar. Spector found that the solution was to make learning the rules fun.

He immersed the class in funny and interesting sentences that illustrated the English usages. Only then did he teach the formal rules. The result was surprising, especially to the students: they learned the standard usages and developed a sense of confidence about their writing. A lot of them said that they loved the experience.

This book uses the same approach.

Spector did his Ph.D. in English at Yale and has received numerous fellowships, grants, and prizes. He has held research fellowship positions at Wesleyan University and the National Humanities Center and has been a visiting professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

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READ THE REVIEWS

“Stephen Spector has created a quietly revolutionary book that not only presents the most effective ways to write clearly and persuasively but also enlarges the entire notion of what constitutes the imaginative uses of language. In what other work would one find Winston Churchill and Lady Gaga as companions in the same noble cause? It hardly hurts that as a piece of writing itself, the book is a perfect example of its own indispensable teachings.”
— Roger Rosenblatt, author of Making Toast and Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing.

 

“Nearly all wordsmiths feel the flu coming on when they anticipate opening any book with the word grammar in the title, but this book is a keeper—no dense explications, no inexplicable diagrams, no guilt-inducing tone. Instead, it’s an alphabetically organized breakdown of troublesome words and phrases, making it a fast, smart, even browsable friend. Dwarves or dwarfs? Imply or infer? That or which? Not only does Spector thoughtfully and often humorously spell it out for readers (breaking the book into such sections as “Tricky Words of the Twentieth Century and Today” and “Look-Alikes”), but he also starts selections with entertaining quotations of everyone from historical figures to celebrities to send the mind happily reeling (e.g., for “Cite or Site,” he offers this first, from The Merchant of Venice—”The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”). The book is easy on the eyes, as well, with text boxes, brief lessons, mini essays (with rules in boldface and terms underlined), usage suggestions (also boldfaced), and exercises both in the book and on its companion website. Keep one copy at the reference desk and one tucked under your arm!”
— Eloise Kinney, Booklist

 

“Spot the odd one out in the following:

Emerging from the gymnasia with my fellow alumni Bob and Bill, as well as Jill and Jane, their alumnae partners, we found among the cacti two dead octopi. They were covered in varied fungi, which made them the foci of debate, since all but Bill are ignorami on the subject. Those octopi were great stimuli.

Perceptive readers will note some unorthodox plural endings. The commonest noun is perhaps octopi, but as any half-educated alumna will tell you, it is a made-up word. We learn from May I Quote You on That: A guide to grammar and usage by Stephen Spector (OUP, £9.99) that “the plural of octopus is octopodes in Greek”. We recommend sticking to octopuses.
Mr Spector has sound advice on the writing of clear prose. He understands the usefulness of rules, while recognizing that the pursuit of style requires the liberty to break them.”
—The Times Literary Supplement (London)

 

It may not be evident here (I cop to being a lazy blogger) but I am a stickler for English grammar. I’m often fascinated by the elegance that language can possess when used correctly, and the nuance and propriety that achieving such elegance often involves. This is why I occasionally look out for books that, I hope, will help turn me into a better writer.

May I Quote You on That? is one such book, and I felt absolutely giddy reading it in spite of myself.

At its core, May I Quote You on That? aims to demystify the conventions of Standard English usage, arising out of author Stephen Spector’s experience having taught the requisite introductory English course to University students throughout his academic career. Thus, it contains the usual fare that one might expect from a book of this sort: an explanation of what Standard English is and how it evolves, elaborate discussions on the finer points of grammar and usage, not to mention tricky words and turns of phrase.

But what makes the book a handy reference besides lies in its structure: not only does Spector use as examples quotations from classic (Shakespeare) and modern (Yahoo News) sources alike to distill the finer points of English grammar, but he also offers nuanced advice as to when specific English words/phrases/idioms are acceptable in written or spoken form, or which are appropriate for American or British audiences. Even grammarians already familiar with the difference between, say, “that” and “which”, “who” and “whom”, “its” and “it’s”, or whether “everyone” is a singular pronoun or not (spoiler: it should be, but nowadays it depends) will enjoy Spector’s often witty and certainly memorable take on the niceties of the language.

Anyone who’s ever aspired to be a better writer would do well to have May I Quote You on That? as a handy reference. In so doing, there’s no doubt in my mind that such an audience will come away with a better appreciation of just how rich the English language is, too.
— Brian L. Belen, Brain Drain Blog

 

“I knew from Chapter One, “What Is Standard English, and Who Gets to Decide What’s Proper English Today?” that Spector is my kind of English professor. His goal is to illuminate Standard English usage, but he’s not dismissive of the way most of us actually speak…. Spector notes at the outset that rules of Standard English are not necessarily permanent, but reflect a consensus among literate speakers at a given time. He engages the user of the book in the ongoing process of weighing current professional opinion about usage in order to arrive at informed usage on a personal level.

Chapter Two is a review of basic grammar terms.

Chapter Three discusses such topics as the correct use of pronoun forms and grammatical number. It also deals with “tricky words” like less and fewer, like and as, and alternate and alternative.

Chapter Four discusses more “tricky words,” but these are words that have either been introduced since 1900 or have undergone changes in spelling or meaning.

Chapter Five is dedicated to “look-alike words.” These are the sorts of words I write about in “words commonly confused” posts. For example: adverse/averse, affect/effect, fortuitous/fortunate, route/rout, set/sit, etc.

Chapter Six gives a thorough treatment of the formation of English plurals….

All English teachers collect quotations to illustrate usage, but Professor Spector has to be the greatest quotation collector of all time. During several decades of teaching English to college students, he has put together an enormous collection of quotations, not only gems from long-dead authors of English classics, but the utterances of athletes, actors, and other cultural celebrities. Browsing this grammar book is as much fun as spending time at Brainyquote…. Instead of beginning each lesson with a rule or definition, Spector begins with quotations drawn from the writing or speech of (mostly) native speakers. For example, he begins his explanation of nouns in Chapter Two with these quotations:

Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired. —Mark Twain.
I’m not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat. —Will Rogers.
You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think. —Milton Berle.
Cricket is basically baseball on Valium. —Robin Williams.

These four quotations, in which each noun has been underlined in the book, are then used to illustrate the part of speech called noun.

This is the logical way to present language. It is how we all learn our native language: speech first, explanations afterwards.

Some of the explanations are fairly lengthy. For example, Spector’s discussion of the split infinitive in Chapter Three covers two and a half pages. The impatient reader can skim the arguments and just read Spector’s advice, which stands out in boldface type.

The advantage of peppering the lessons with funny and often profound quotations is that some of them will lodge in the mind of the student. Then, because they’ve been internalized, they anchor the usage they illustrate in the memory. A really cool bonus to the book is a website that contains practice drills….

English teachers looking for a text that may appeal to grammar-phobic students are encouraged to take a look at this one.”

“The quotations used to illustrate usage add a dimension that will be especially valuable to ESL learners and struggling native speakers. It’s also a treat for those of us who have mastered basic grammar, but still enjoy reading about the language.”

–Maeve Maddox, Daily Writing Tips

 

I loved the whole concept of the book – using quotes to make points about grammar and usage. The quotes are very appropriate and the manner in which language rules are explained is very well done. Also, to give readers a better understanding of the rules, Spector has given the history behind them.

For example, looking at the words Alternate or Alternative, the author uses a few quotes including this one : ‘Men and women do behave wisely, once all other alternatives have been exhausted.’

He says that there is often confusion about whether to use ‘alternate’ or ‘alternative’ and explains the traditional difference – alternate: something that happens/appears by turns and alternative: having a choice. However, he explains, that since the 1940s, Americans have used the word ‘alternate’ to refer to choice and hence are often confused. The author then goes on to explain the best usage.

May I Quote You On That makes a good addition to a writer’s collection of reference books.

—Corinne Rodriguez, WriteTribe.com

 

✩✩✩✩ Innovative and Well Crafted – Actually Makes Learning Fun
What fun! For anyone looking for an innovative way to learn and retain the rules of grammar and improve communication, I can’t praise this book enough. Stephen Spector’s conversational writing style made this seem more like a game than a lecture. using quotations to kick off lesson, while also giving the background of the grammar rules, drew me into the details and made it easier to put things into perspective. I think that this book would be beneficial on so many levels, but especially valuable for people interested in writing and speaking correctly.
*I received my copy through NetGalley.com in exchange for an honest review.
— Amazon user Janet

 

✩✩✩✩✩  Interesting and helpful book for everyone
I started to read this book expecting it to be a boring grammar book, but it’s not at all. In fact, I have trouble putting it down when it’s time for bed. The quotes from famous people make it extremely interesting and I’m learning from them at the same time. I highly recommend the book for everyone, but particularly for those who want to sound professional in their writing. It would also be especially helpful for those doing job interviews or for people who speak English as a second language.
— Amazon user docter small

 

✩✩✩✩  It’s a really cool read if you are into words and learning how to use them correctly.
“You may find that some of these quotations are memorable. That’s good, because if you remember them, you can model your own sentences on them.” And it’s true.

This book is based on quotations to help you understand the grammar rules through examples and famous words. But it’s also a lot more.

Sure it helps you to know how to use “Further” or “Farther”, “Pendantic” or “Didactic” and give you tools to remember when to use “May” or “Can”: “Here is a rule that I’ll bet you’ve heard: if you can do something, you have the ability to do it; if you may do it, you have the permission.”

But it also help you with punctuation if you are into editing and using the correct abreviations. You learn about the common nowadays mistakes. Like with “Kudos” that is a singular Latin noun, everybody thinks is plural. :-)

Honestly, it’s not a book you read before bed. But It’s one, I was enjoying opening in the Métro to improve, review my vocabulary or just to enjoy the quotes.
I’ve also appreciated all the side informations given by the author to make the grammar fun. It’s like someone is telling you an historical or a practical story that you are able to understand easily.

It’s a really cool read if you are into words and learning how to use them correctly.
A great Christmas present too.
— Amazon user luciefuentes

 

✩✩✩✩✩ A Wonderful Companion

This is a delightful, remarkable book, chock full of interesting quotes from interesting people, all making one grammar point or another.

As with drinking gin, a little bit at a time is good, but a lot at once is not so good. This is a wonderful companion but spread your visits out. There’s a lot in it. One wonders how he managed to get it all together; it’s doubtless a very long-term labor of love.

By all means, you may quote me on that.

.brad.06october.2015. (P.S. I read the whole thing, so this really is a “review”, unlike many – or even most – of my others.)
— Amazon user Brad Johnston