Book review: "My Dog Bites the English Teacher"

grammar-dogbitesMarian Anders tells the truth when she writes, "Unless you want to be an English teacher, you only need to know the grammar necessary to write correctly — for school, work and your personal life." That is the guiding principle of Anders’ book, "My Dog Bites the English Teacher: Practical Grammar Made Quick and Easy" (Aviary Publishers, available in bookstores and online at

Anders, who lives in the Triangle and has taught English at St. Augustine’s College, aims to help students overcome common writing problems with step-by-step lessons and exercises. She emphasizes a practical approach, teaching what everyone needs to know to write correct sentences.

She starts with an explanation of verbs and subjects. Her "time change" tip for helping students identify verbs is useful. That is, add a time element such as yesterday (past), every day (present) or tomorrow (future) to a sentence and notice which word changes. That word is the verb. The title sentence, illustrated on the cover with the image of an English (of course!) bulldog, comes into play during the explanation of the "time change" tip.

Then Anders works through more difficult topics such as phrases and clauses, commas, and case and agreement. She has helpful exercises with an answer key in the back of the book. I thought her explanation of essential and nonessential material — a concept I had trouble with as a student — was particularly effective.

Those who read the whole book will find a chapter titled "Traditional Grammar: Not for the Faint of Heart," which explains, among other things, verbals, relative clauses, and transitive and intransitive verbs. Anders briskly handles these topics; she doesn’t beat a dead horse.

The organization of Anders’ book is its most useful feature. She has included cross-references within the early chapters to more detailed explanations in later ones. As she told me when I talked briefly to her, the book is designed to be used in progressive but discrete chunks. If a student doesn’t need to go beyond, say, subject-verb agreement to the chapter on "Powerful Writing," which covers misplaced and dangling modifiers and active and passive voice, the student can stop.

"My Dog Bites the English Teacher" could be used as a supplement to a composition course or as a self-study tool, but I can certainly see its being used as the main grammar teaching text for a high school class. At $14.95 it would be much less expensive than many textbooks and probably just as effective if used with daily writing practice.

To read more about the book or the author, go to

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.