Fun grammar guides for English

Former editor, Caroline Taggart, has written a series of books on punctuation, grammar, and spelling, that all contain her trademark humorous approach to the subject. Take a look at some of these books at the library.

Syndetics book coverThe Accidental Apostrophe: Colour and Discover [paperback]
“In Roman times, blocks of text were commonly written just as blocks without even wordspacingnevermindpunctuation to help the reader to interpret them. Bestselling author Caroline Taggart brings her usual gently humorous approach to punctuation, pointing out what really matters and what doesn’t; why using six exclamation marks where one will do is perfectly OK in a text but will lose you marks at school; why hang glider pilots in training really need a hyphen; and how throwing in the odd semicolon will impress your friends. Sometimes opinionated but never dogmatic, she is an ideal guide to the (perceived) minefield that is punctuation.” (Abridged from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKicking the bucket at the drop of a hat : the meaning and origins of popular expressions / Caroline Taggart.
“A fascinating collection of the many unusual and vibrant phrases that adorn our language, looking at their origins and meanings. Don’t be down in the dumps if you can’t cut the mustard when asked the definition of certain phrases – this down-to-earth guide is just the ticket. From advertising to the Ancient Greeks, from the military to meteorology, Kicking the Bucket at the Drop of a Hat takes us on a wonderful journey through our language’s history. With more phrases than you can shake a stick at, this collection will bring home the bacon for any Tom, Dick or Harry with a love of language.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMisadventures in the English language / Caroline Taggart.
“This book looks at some of the controversial aspects of English usage–grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation–and tries to assess what matters and what doesn’t. Looking at why it pays to be precise in punctuation–the hackneyed examples of “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” show how a comma can make all the difference–why tautologies are simply annoying; and how corporate speak can actually mean nothing at all; this book covers the aspects of the English language that could leave you with cause for concern. By turns an explanation of the rules, a rant against gobbledygook and other modern horrors, this book will aid you in avoiding embarrassing cliches and jargon, and help you put your words in the right places.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCollins little book of grammar secrets / Caroline Taggart.
“Let’s admit it, we all struggle with Grammar. There, they’re or their? Who’s or whose? Me or I? Fewer or less? Worry no more, Caroline is here to take the grind out of grammar in easy bite-sized chunks. With insights into hyphens and the dreaded apostrophe, comparatives and superlatives and whether England is singular or plural, she offers clear but light-hearted advice on getting things right when it matters – and relaxing just a little when it doesn’t.” (Abridged from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover500 words you should know / Caroline Taggart.
“Ever wanted to ameliorate your atavistic lexicon, engage in a little intellectual badinage or been discombobulated by tricky diction? 500 Words You Should Know has you covered. This book will inspire the reader to use uncommon words in their correct context, utilize the English language to its full potential, and test themselves on the words they think they already know. This veracious cornucopia of knowledge will have you confabulating with the literary cognoscenti in no time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAs right as rain : the meaning and origins of popular expressions / Caroline Taggart.
“Would you be down in the dumps if, when asked the definition of certain phrases, it was all Greek to you? Let’s not beat about the bush: the English language is littered with linguistic quirks, which, out of context, seem completely peculiar. If you can’t quite cut the mustard, this book will explain how on earth ‘off the cuff’ came to express improvisation, why a ‘gut feeling’ is more intuitive than a brainwave, and who the heck is ‘happy’ Larry. These expressions and countless more become a piece of cake once you’ve read As Right as Rain.” (Abridged from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy grammar and I (or should that be ‘me’?) : old-school ways to sharpen your English / Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines
My Grammar and I offers amusing examples of awful grammar, while steering you in the direction of grammatical greatness. Taking you on a tour of the English language through the minefield of rules and conditions that can catch you out, from dangling modifiers to split infinitives, it highlights the common pitfalls that every English language user faces on a day to day basis. Refreshing everything you should have learnt at school and more, My Grammar and I is informative yet entertaining.” (Abridged from the Syndetics summary)

New additions to the Community Languages collection.

Have you kept in touch with the latest arrivals of our foreign book collection? You can now view the most recent titles displayed on the First floor of the Central Library, Arts, Music and Literature area. Have a taste by browsing the following sellection of French, German, Spanish, and Chinese books and enjoy!

French Books

PS: I love you
“The story is based on Holly and her husband Gerry who passes away with a brain tumour. Holly found it hard trying to come to terms with what has happened to her. She receives a call from her mother saying there is a note for her. It turns out her husband has left her notes that last 10 months. Each month a new one is opened with something different to help guide her to progress with her life ‘without’ him. This novel is a must read as it would touch the heart of the reader.” – (Drawn by publisher’s description)

German Books

Theo Boone und der unsichtbare Zeuge
“Theo Boon, the son of a lawyer and a lover of law and justice, lost the most difficult case – and he’s only thirteen! During his time in Heimatstadtchen, south of USA he takes on a sensational crime. This seems to be the perfect crime, and soon becomes apparent that the defendant will escape his just punishment. But there is an eye-witness!” – (Drawn by publisher’s description)

“A demonic psychological thriller, the nightmare of a woman. It is the first case for Carl Mørck from the Department of Special Q in Copenhagen. On 2 March 2002, a woman disappears without a trace on the ferry from Rødby to Puttgarden. Everyone suspected the cause being death by drowning. But Merete is not dead. She is being held in a prison made of concrete. A distorted voice comes from a speaker somewhere in the dark: “Congratulations on your birthday, Merete. You’re here for 126 days, and this is our birthday gift to you. The light will stay on for a year unless you give us some answers.” – (Drawn by publisher’s description)

Spanish Books

El tiempo entre costuras
“A fabulous novel covering from the years previous to the Spanish Civil War to the end of the WWII, with scenes covering Madrid, Tanger and Tetuan, Madrid again and Lisbon to finally return to Madrid once again, with intrigue and history development with a formal bibliography of the non fictional aspects of the book which give a hard backbone to the fiction of the novel. In Spanish works just fine even her author has a PhD in English literature and applies many of the techniques used in English to this very Spanish novel.” – (Néstor C. Tirado,M.D)

“As a young girl growing up in Spain, Ana Larragoity Cubillas is powerfully drawn to Puerto Rico by the diaries of an ancestor who travelled there with Ponce de León. Ann travels across the ocean to a remote sugar plantation where she faces unrelenting heat, disease and isolation, and the dangers of the untamed countryside. But when the Civil War breaks out in the United States, Ana finds her livelihood, and perhaps even her life, threatened by the very people on whose backs her wealth has been built. This is a sensual, riveting tale and thrilling history that has never before been brought so vividly and unforgettably to life.” – (adapted from description)

Chinese Books

Quan jia fu mao yi ji jin
“New Knitting tricks by a number of well-known knitting experts selected out from more than a thousand patterns. This book brings together various knitting patterns, and offers ideas and techniques how to use materials for knitting and weaving.” – (Drawn by publisher’s description)

Shuo huang: jie chuan shang ye, zheng zhi yu hun yin de pian ju
“This book focuses on criminal investigations and law enforcement agencies in Europe and America. It offers accounts of the personality traits of suspects and the ways judges, prosecutors, lawyers and police address the various issues. It also includes a collection of insights from psychiatrists, social workers and consultants enabling the reader to develop an understanding how to prevent deception at home and in the workplace.” – (Drawn by publisher’s description)


Recent picks about languages

Syndetics book coverThe language wars : a history of proper English / Henry Hitchings.
“The English language is a battlefield. Since the age of Shakespeare, arguments over correct usage have been acrimonious, and those involved have always really been contesting values to do with morality, politics and class. THE LANGUAGE WARS examines the present state of the conflict, its history and its future…. grammar rules, regional accents, swearing, spelling, dictionaries, political correctness, and the role of electronic media in reshaping language.” (

Syndetics book coverOK : the improbable story of America’s greatest word / Allan Metcalf.
“It is said to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet, more common than an infant’s first word ma or the ever – present beverage Coke. It was even the first word spoken on the moon. It is “OK” — the most ubiquitous and invisible of American expressions, one used countless times every day. Yet few of us know the secret history of OK — how it was coined, what it stood for, and the amazing extent of its influence.”–Publisher’s description. (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverRead and write Hindi script / Rupert Snell.
Read and write Hindi script is a clear step-by-step guide to the written language, with plenty of examples from real-life texts to show how it works in context and lots of exercises to reinforce your learning. This new edition has an easy-to-read page design. You can still rely on the benefits of a top language teacher and our years of teaching experience, but now with added learning features within the course and online.”

Syndetics book coverYufa! : a practical guide to Mandarin Chinese grammar / Wen-hua Teng. “A Practical Grammar of Contemporary Chinese explains the major topics of Mandarin grammar in clear and concise language. Real language examples and plenty of varied and imaginative exercises show how grammar works in practice. This innovative new book facilitates learning by presenting a systematic, jargon-free guide to Mandarin Grammar. The book is broken into three sections: the core structures of Chinese grammar; use of language in context; and useful expressions and patterns.” (

Syndetics book coverAll in a word / Vivian Cook.
“Delve into the Hidden Nature of Words. How do we learn words as a child? How are words born, and why do they die? Why do some never get spoken and others never written? Charmingly illustrated and overflowing with a rich assortment of games, lists, puzzles, and quotes, All in a Word contains everything from polite words to crass words, from p-c words to Shakespeare’s words, from food and wine words to jazz and drug words. It’s an irresistible exploration of the abundance and variety of words. Book jacket.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRomanian practical dictionary : Romanian-English, English-Romanian / Mihai Miroiu. ” This new dictionary is designed to meet the needs of a wide range of different users, particularly travellers, businesspeople, translators, and students. It is equally useful to English speakers and Romanian speakers.” (

Need a bilingual dictionary? Or any dictionary at all?

Studying a language? Brushing up your French/German/Spanish/Italian for an overseas trip? Oxford Reference Online has bilingual dictionaries available for all of the above – and it’s free to use for library cardholders. (Also included are Irish, Welsh and Latin dictionaries.)

Languages don’t interest you? Oxford Reference Online also includes subject reference resources like science dictionaries, medical dictionaries, dictionaries of quotations, names and places, law, mythology, folklore, psychology – pretty much any kind of dictionary or companion guide you can imagine.

(I think my personal favourite in terms of resources I never expected to encounter, but am chuffed exist, would have to be the Dictionary of Opera Characters, closely followed by the Oxford Companion to the American Musical. Log in and check them out)

As a side note, here’s a selection of other language learning resources you might be interested in:

  1. Q's course in Māori Spanish Language Builder Le chat chapeauté The Very Hungry Caterpillar ; translated into Chinese Arabic practical dictionary At the library: Language kits – the library has these available to borrow in many different languages and they’re $3 to borrow for 4 weeks. We also hold foreign language novels for adults and picture books for children (here’s an example of the French language children’s ones – replace ‘French’ in the search box with your language of choice to search for these in another language), magazines, grammars, vocabularies, and of course dictionaries that you can borrow. Want something more visual? We have foreign language films with English subtitles you can borrow to brush up on your listening comprehension skills (these are $4 for 1 week). Try our languages subject guide for tips on searching for these on our online catalogue.
  2. Also via the library, but this time online: downloadable language learning audiobooks. Try a search on Overdrive Audio in our eLibrary for languages – you’ll be surprised how many language learning audiobooks come up. Easily transferred to your mp3 player of choice.
  3. PressReader – another database the library subscribes to that cardholders can access for free. PressDisplay gives you instant access to over 1700 newspapers from 92 countries in 48 languages. Want to read Le Monde in French while eating breakfast at home? Now you can – and it will appear on the screen laid out exactly like the print version.
  4. BBC Languages – this should be your first stop online. Free audio and video courses, quizzes, and all kinds of excellent resources.
  5. Yahoo News/Google News in different languages, e.g. here’s the German language Google News. Change the country code at the end, e.g. .nz for New Zealand, .de for Germany, .fr for France, to get the version you want. Similarly, reading Wikipedia articles in other languages can be a good test of your reading skills in that language as well, and if you know the subject matter of the article, you’re on familiar territory anyway – which can help! Here are all the different language Wikipedias.
  6. Browser extensions for language learning. There are a great deal of these for Firefox – have a browse and find one you’d like to try. (You’ll need to scroll down the page for a fuller list of popular language learning add-ons).
  7. iPhone apps. We found this article that lists 50 iPhone apps for learning languages, for all you lucky people who happen to have an iPhone. Flash cards!
  8. In-person resources in Wellington… For a small fee (not specified on their website), you can get a public membership to Victoria University’s Language Learning Centre at their Kelburn campus. Other paid courses are run at the Goethe Institut – for German, and the Alliance Française for French. And we’re sure there are more – maybe try a search on
  9. Sometimes iffy, but often useful: Google Translate. Will give you a (very!) loose translation, and can be good if you need an idea of what a page in a language you don’t read is saying. Oh, and did you know there’s a Te Reo interface for the Google search engine.
  10. Hm, and the World Cinema Showcase is coming up too!