Top 10 Books on the English Language

Need to buy a book about the English language but don’t know which one to buy or which review to trust?

This is my list of the top ten books on the English language. I have most of them on my book shelf and I’ve used them all either at work or at home.


English Grammar by Raymond Murphy

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve bought this book. People love it so much I usually end up giving them my copy. How can you know if you’ve understood a grammar point? You can’t until you’ve done an exercise – this book pairs a page of rules with a page of practise.

If you only buy one grammar book, make it this one. It’s an easy-to-use reference book that is perfect for self-study.


The Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R L Trask

This book takes you through each punctuation mark in turn and is written in a style that is easy to digest. The difference between American and British usage is a definite added bonus. Great little buy on punctuation.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
This book is a fun read about punctuation – I know, that sounds like an impossible task, but Truss manages to pull it off. You get caught up in her witty, easy-going style and while you’re journeying enjoyably through the book punctuation is demystified for you.


The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

First published in 1918, this book is so well known it has its own Wikipedia page and its history is chronicled in a book. It’s a guide to the American English writing style and is the go-to style reference book of many a writer.


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

In the first part of the book, King relates his early writing career; this is the memoir part of the book. The second half focuses on the craft of writing and is as enjoyable to read as the first section. He uses the analogy of using a writer’s toolbox and slowly fills it with the tools of his trade. Armed with your toolbox and with King as your trainer, writing well doesn’t seem such a daunting challenge.


On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

I asked a colleague to lend me a book for a flight we were taking together and he gave me this on the plane! I was initially not amused but within a few pages I was hooked. This is a captivating book on writing which reads like a novel. Zinsser’s key message is that writing is a craft that anyone can learn and all you need to do is practise! If you’re interested in this book, you might want to check out our book review.


The Concise Oxford English Dictionary by Oxford Dictionaries

A mini-edition of the world famous English dictionary. First printed in 1911, this English dictionary is regularly updated and is full of the latest expressions. A must-buy for people who prefer paper dictionaries to online versions.

1100 Words You Need to Know by Melvin Gordon

Not only have they just issued the 40th anniversary edition of this book, but English learners’ enthusiasm for it means it is consistently a bestseller on Amazon. This is not a book with lists of vocab; you build your vocabulary through exercises and this helps you retain the new words and their correct usage. A great self-study book.


Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green

If you only buy one book about English slang, buy this one. It includes slang from all the English speaking countries of the world and this amounts to 75,000 entries. A huge tome and surely a labour of love by Green.


The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language by David Crystal

Everything you’d ever need to know about the English language: from history to vocabulary, grammar, spoken and written English, regional varieties to studying the language. A beautiful book that any English language lover would be proud to own.

Bridget Rooth

If you purchase one of these books based on my recommendation, please give me your feedback in the comments below. Got other English language books you’d like to recommend? Please share them with us.

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