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Review of  Advanced English Grammar (2nd edition)

Reviewer: Marine Riou
Book Title: Advanced English Grammar (2nd edition)
Book Author: Ilse Depraetere Chad Langford
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 31.1239

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Chapter 1 (“Getting started: Forms and functions”) opens with the difference between a prescriptive and descriptive approach, and presents four different levels of linguistic analysis (morphology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics). The chapter then focuses on category and function for individual words and phrases, with an in-depth discussion of compound nouns (morphology and stress). The functions taken into consideration are: subject, predicate, direct object, indirect object, subject complement, object complement, adjunct, prepositional object, and prepositional complement. The chapter ends with a section on clause type (declarative, interrogative, exclamative, and imperative), subordination and coordination, and finite vs non-finite clauses. As the authors make clear (“the goal of this chapter was to refresh your knowledge of basic syntactic terminology” p. 24), the chapter is not intended for a reader with no previous knowledge of category and function. Some keywords such as “constituent” and “headword” (p. 15) are introduced rather quickly, and the more naïve reader will not find a full demonstration as to why these concepts are useful or practical instructions on how to carry out such analysis (e.g. identifying constituents and labelling them).

Chapter 2 (“The verb and its complements”) “zoom[s] in on the verb phrase (VP) from different angles” (p.31). First, the characteristics of auxiliaries (direct NOT-negation, subject-auxiliary inversion, ellipsis, contraction and weak forms) are detailed so as to compare them to lexical verbs. Section 2 side-steps to a discussion of interrogatives (closed vs open interrogatives, WH-constituents, inversion and DO-insertion, main vs embedded interrogatives, echo questions, tags). Section 3 then circles back to lexical verbs and their complementation, introducing transitivity. The term valency itself is not used, but the authors explain in a clear manner the connection between the semantics of a verb and the arguments that it licenses (p.54), with a subsection on clausal complements (including a discussion of THAT-clauses, TO-infinitive clauses, bare infinitive clauses, and -ING clauses). The authors also discuss the syntactic differences between prepositional verbs and particle verbs, listing a number of syntactic tests which can be used to tell them apart. Finally, Section 4 on the passive outlines the syntactic, semantic, and discursive parameters presiding over the choice of active vs. passive voice. As the authors admit, Chapter 2 is “ambitious and cover[s] a lot of ground” (p. 92). Some of the more complex concepts might have been kept for later. For example, middle voice (p. 56-57) might be quite challenging for student readers, as it uses concepts which have not yet been formally introduced at this stage in the book, such as semantic roles (first explicit explanation p. 79). Another slight criticism concerns the dense section on interrogatives at this stage of the book. I understand that this choice is motivated by the reliance of interrogative clauses on auxiliaries, but I fear it might divert the students’ attention away from the main focus of the chapter – verbs and their complementation.

Chapter 3 (“The noun and the noun phrase”) “look[s] at some of the basic facts concerning countability of nouns and how different determiners can combine with them [and] serve to establish different kinds of reference, how pre-modifiers […] and post-modifiers […] can be used to expand the NP, and how the NP determines verbal agreement” (p.160). The chapter initially lays out a typology of nouns (concrete vs abstract, common vs proper, animate vs inanimate, individuating vs collective, countable vs uncountable). It then details different types of determiners (articles, demonstratives, quantifiers, possessives, Saxon genitive) and their role in the construction of reference (generic vs specific). A section on modifiers covers adjectives and relative clauses (with a distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses). The chapter closes with a section on subject-verb agreement, “a topic that very nicely brings the NP and the VP together” (p. 156), circling back to topics such as collective nouns and complex NPs (e.g. starting with “a number of”). Contrary to previous chapters, Chapter 3 is accessible to intermediate as well as advanced students, as it goes step-by-step into concepts such as noun type.

Chapter 4 (“Aspect and tense”)
The chapter starts with a very clear introduction on tense and aspect, and their interrelation in English. The authors opted for a semantic definition of tense and they consequently list eight tenses (present, past, present perfect, past perfect, future, future perfect, past future, and past future perfect). Section 2 classifies verbs according to situation type (state, activity, accomplishment, achievement) depending on duration, dynamicity, and inherent endpoint. This section is flawlessly fluid and manages to avoid overly technical terms, for example by using the self-evident term “inherent endpoint” instead of the more challenging term “telicity”. The rest of Section 2 focuses on the basic meanings of the progressive (ongoingness and limited duration) and connects them to situation type. Except for a section on future time reference, the authors adopted a form-to-function approach, showing how each tense can be used to locate situations in different time-spheres, with systematic reference to situation type. The section on the present perfect is very thorough and includes a series of useful diagrams (p.215) some of the constraints on the use of temporal adjuncts (e.g. SINCE, JUST). Overall, Chapter 4 offers a unified and step-by-step account of the English tense and aspect system, highlighting the individual contribution of the forms involved (temporal features, aspectual markers, situation types). The hypothetical and counterfactual uses of tenses, such as the modal past, are treated in full in Chapter 5.

Chapter 5 on “Modals and modality” starts with a definition of what modal meaning is, and a brief list of different forms which have modal meaning in English. Section 2 focuses on modal verbs (modal auxiliaries, lexical modal verbs, and periphrastic forms such as OUGHT TO). Section 3 is entitled “Composition of the modal sentence” and explains the distinction between modal meaning (M) and proposition (P), which is then used to introduce two key concepts: 1) scope of negation, and 2) temporal location of M vs. temporal location of P. Section 4 defines epistemic modality, details which modal verbs can express different subtypes of epistemic meanings, and includes a valuable section on the intersection of epistemic meaning, aspect, and situation types. Section 5 addresses non-epistemic (“root”) modality with a similar structure. The authors devote a short separate section to SHALL and WILL. The chapter closes with two short but efficient sections on the subjunctive (Section 7) and the modal past and modal past perfect (Section 8). The chapter succeeds in “pinning down the exact difference in communicative effect between each of these modals” (p.284) in a way that is both compact and thorough enough for advanced students. I found it extremely valuable that the authors were so explicit about the “very delicate interaction between situation type, various facets of temporal reference and modal meaning” (p. 300).

Chapter 6 (“Discourse”) focuses on “grammar beyond the level of the sentence” (p. 316) and elegantly ties together some of the topics covered in previous chapters. After an illustration of the interrelatedness of the different phenomena featured so far, Section 1 on cohesion presents some of the key concepts of information packaging and uses IT-clefts, WH-clefts, and extrapositions as cases in point. Section 2 describes grammatical markers of cohesion (anaphors, cataphors, ellipsis) and lexical markers of cohesion (e.g. although, since, therefore, actually, anyway, obviously).


An Advanced English Grammar bridges the gap between grammar textbooks whose main focus is on language learning and more advanced grammars that can be too intimidating and ambitious for undergraduate students. As its title explicitly says, the target audience is advanced students. As such, it might not be suitable for first-year university students in English Studies whose native language is not English. The authors very carefully define every technical term they use, and they abide by their promise to “be accessible to students with no background in linguistics” (p. ix). Technicality is not the main reason why the textbook is better suited to advanced students, density is. The authors use clear language (with short, focused sentences) and a pleasant layout (the keywords are in bold, the titles visually prominent). The reader is explicitly walked through the logical flow of the different chapters, sections, and topics, and great care has been given to strike an engaging balance between formality and familiarity. Numerous exercises are provided (between 9 and 33 per chapter). They are carefully crafted and very classical in terms of form and content, falling into two main categories: exercises that test English proficiency (e.g. “fill in the gap”) and exercises that focus on grammatical analysis (e.g. delineating, labeling, or explaining how two forms have a different communicative effect). A companion website provides a number of additional resources: a glossary, 28 additional exercises, and the key to all exercises (though the latter does not seem to be accessible just yet). Overall, this is a very solid linguistically informed grammar of English, and in the future, I will refer my students to it.
Marine Riou is an Assistant Professor in English Linguistics at Lumière Lyon 2 University (France) and Adjunct Research Fellow at Curtin University (Australia). Her main research interests include grammar and prosody in interaction, corpus linguistics, and linguistics applied to health.

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