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Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  176 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Are standards of English alright - or should that be all right?

To knowingly split an infinitive or not to?

And what about ending a sentence with preposition, or for that matter beginning one with 'and'?

We learn language by instinct, but good English, the pedants tell us, requires rules. Yet, as Oliver Kamm demonstrates, many of the purists' prohibitions are bogus and can be
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 22nd 2015 by W&N (first published February 12th 2015)
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Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: pedants and those insecure about the finer aspects of grammar
Why do pedants let great writers and poets off the hook? Why do they let the grammatical and spelling "heresies" of writers like Jane Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton or the Brontes pass without the same outrage and criticism that they reserve for the regular civilian? Why is the average person illogical and killing English if they use something like shall or will incorrectly when those writers are not? I always wondered, and I never understood either how they couldn't see that English is a ...more
This book debunks many pedantic myths about the English language and rules about a number of words, etc. For me it ranged from interesting, to laugh out loud funny (not that I am a recovering pedant in any way, no, not me, not even close...) to boring (and, no, I don't need a third comma but if you like those, feel free to use them). I can't say that I always agreed with him, and one of the book he argues with is one I enjoyed a great deal, but for the most part he is spot on. Many of the rules ...more
D.K. Powell
May 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Oliver Kamm is my new god. At least where the so-called 'rules of grammar' are concerned anyway.

For a long time, my sole useful guide to grammar and style which sat on my desk was Fowler's (I also have the Oxford Manual but find that less helpful). Recently I added my beloved Bill Bryson's 'Mother Tongue' as a fascinating tour through the English language. Now I've added Kamm's 'Accidence Will Happen' even though, interestingly, he cites Bryson five times and criticises him each time. I am nothi
John Fredrickson
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, language
This is the book that we would all like to have in our back pocket when we are confronted by a language pedant. It is an eminently readable book.

Kamm considers the English language as a living vehicle of expression, and contrasts this with the grammatical rules that people have developed to attempt to describe, and prescribe, its usage. He exposes many errors that pedants make, while explaining the likely source of the errors, then goes on to document historical evidence that the usage that is i
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fact
An interesting idea. I had expected that this book would explain to me why there are rules in English Grammar and why we should respect them. In fact, this was probably the opposite. Language is dynamic. That which was correct and proper twenty years ago will be different compared with now. Pedants are just that - being pedantic for the sake of it. The second half of the book was a list of grammatical examples, 'rules' that people have used, where they have come from and (usually) why there real ...more
Apr 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
...Nah. I get what the book is saying and it has a point but the first part was like listening to someone repeat the same opinion over and over again for far too long. The actual "guide" part has some interesting information and I've learned things I didn't know, but I am underwhelmed. ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Are using flat adverbs, splitting infinitives, starting sentences by 'And' or, spelling 'all right' instead of 'alright' signs of a bad English? According to Oliver Kamm, 'leader writer and columnist for The Times': no. No and, his stance is not an opinion coming out of the blue (like, past manuals about grammar picked at random -gnark gnark^^) but, supported by solid evidence -coming not only from various linguistic fields (e.g. the history and evolution of English language itself) but, also re ...more
Denise Louise
I guess I'm a stickler. I do happen to care about the difference between "Its" and "it's", and "to" and "too", and it does bother me to see apostrophes in plural words. According to this book, that makes me a rigid language nazi who doesn't understand that language rules are arbitrary and that language needs to evolve as people use it. I do happen to agree with that premise, though, and I couldn't care less about sentences ending in prepositions or split infinitives; some rules have indeed outli ...more
Jane Griffiths
Feb 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
largely an extended jeremiad against what he calls "the sticklocracy", by which he means the likes of Lynne Truss (of 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' fame, for those with short memories) Simon Heffer and John Humphrys, all of whom have written books about how to use English proper. He is very non-prescriptive, more so than I think I am capable of being. I cannot accept that "between you and I" is ever OK in Standard English, though I accept that it may be so in American. But he is spot on when he says ...more
Joseph L. Reid
May 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Absolute delight of a book. Kamm rejects sticklers who insist on outdated English grammar based on Latin syntax and rightly sides with who matters: those who use the language. He also mentions briefly how grammar is often used simply to separate people from the commoners; rejecting language based on grammar, even when it is in common usage, is classism and nothing less. Fantastic, informative and even witty at the right moments.
Catherine Oughtibridge
I love this book's attitude and approach to unsubstansiated rules of grammar, and the gentle acceptance it shows towards non-standard, but regionally used, turns of phrase. However, Oliver Kamm's own writing style is somewhat pompous. He demonstrates that his vocabularly is extensive, leading me to scribble definition in the margins. As much as I enjoy learning new words, I can imagine that for many this would make the book more of an ordeal than desired. ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: in-stock
I was looking forward to this book, but was disappointed. Whilst I agreed with most of what said, I was irritated by the way he said it. At the same time as he was criticising others for dogmatically putting forward preferences as facts, he was busy doing the same thing. At 278 pages it was also about 250 pages too long.
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though I was worried about buying a rehash of Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style, I bought it anyway.

I'm glad I did. This is a light, fun, and very informative little book.

I learned new words, learned more grammar, and all the while became less of a pedant. Highly recommended, but read Pinker first!
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won a free copy of this book from Goodreads FirstREads.

Oliver Kamm has a lovely sense of wit and style. The book is in two parts. First, an explanation of sticklers and what linguistics is in reality aka outside the pedant's trolling. Second, an alphabetical tour through many of the popular boogeymen of this crowd. Entertaining and example filled.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So boring. Not to mention smug.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Cured me of a mild case of pedantry (and thus improved my writing, I think).
Jessica Feinstein
May 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Definitely got me thinking but I didn't agree with everything. ...more
May 30, 2021 rated it it was ok
While I understand what Oliver Kamm is trying to do here - demonstrate that language usage changes and evolves and there's little point trying to rigidly stick to all grammatical rules regardless - he should have made it more interesting and probably could have done it in fewer words and with less repetition. I'm sure he does know how to edit...

OK I haven't read the whole book yet, I will go back to it at some stage. The author likes the sound of his own voice a bit too much for this reader (who
Oct 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, library
This was useful. I found the first section more helpful, as it focuses on why we should ignore sticklers and pedants (particularly good advice for fiction writers). The second section focuses on specific usage, and was rather dense going. Overall, I probably prefer Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style, but this was helpful additional information.

I'm really generally not pedantic, and appreciate authors who emphasize sense over style. It's nice to have my intuitions validated (although I suppose I
Sep 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you read this book you may get angry with the author, Oliver Kamm, think he’s a jerk, and start screaming at him. The book is about English usage, a subject that arouses a surprising (and you might say comical) amount of passion from people.

For example: saying “between you and I” instead of “between you and me”. I would say “you and me”, and most grammar books would recommend this. As one critic said, “between you and I” smells of “false genteelism”. But Mr. Kamm defends “you and I”, citing q
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I gave up reading books on grammar and English usage a couple of years ago. The books that were most widely celebrated struck me as simply being platforms for the authors to speak snottily about those who they wish to educate (Eats Shoots and Leaves is an example of such a book). I'm very glad I heard about this book.

As one of those derided on social media for trivial mistakes of grammar, it was great to find a book that was written for those who are not pedants. The first half of the book is de
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, non-fiction, 2016
Permissive prescriptivist proscribes pedantic pundits' peeves.

Kamm's dayjob is as a columnist at the Times, and he has a strong grasp of the English language (or as he calls it, 'Standard English'). He admits to having been a stickler for 'correct' english, and used to get upset when people used disinterested to mean uninterested or who instead of whom. But he has changed his mind, and realises that in most cases it's not that big a deal. Most of the time it's a matter of register and style rath
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am multilingual and have experienced both sides of Oliver Kamm's argument -- his own, which is that language is a living thing and cannot be ruled by grammar and spelling the way purists would like, and the converse, which is that writing or speech that doesn't obey the rules is just plain wrong. (This second viewpoint holds sway in France, and the French are perfectly happy with it, although the use of "popular," "familiar," and even "vulgar" terms is much more prevalent in spoken French than ...more
Michael McCluskey
I enjoy a book about good writing/speaking. This book sets itself apart from the usual guide by saying that usage determines rules and not the other way around. In fact, the entire first third of the book seeks to drill this idea into our heads using what the author considers to be the mostly unqualified opinions of pedants. Unfortunately, he goes on to share his opinion concerning usage to give us the exact thing he spent so long essentially refuting. Not bad, but not original either.
Interesting to see a grammarian espousing usage rather than formality.
Jack Fleming
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A useful corrective and counterweight to the arguments of grammar bores the world over, who mistakenly think themselves guardians of the language, as if it required such a thing.
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
This little book has been so useful in highlighting the rules of English that actually matter from the ones that are paraded around by pedants.
Chris  R
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