The English language: flamboyant, extensive, articulate, and at times downright confusing. As a working writer, it's when it becomes downright confusing that I find this book both helpful and indispensable... kind of.
As the names suggest it's a brief guide to correct English usage, or to put it another way: it tells you how to write all proper 'n' that. Like what the Queen does, innit!
This book provides a list off oft-misused words, shows you their latest spelling, and even how to pronounce them. But what I use this for most (and I suspect it's the reason you're looking at it too) is as a guide to correct English grammar and punctuation.
This it does well - but in a rather confusing manner. I must admit, that even though it provides us with examples of usage from the likes of Virginia Wolfe and George Orwell, sometimes I find myself none-the-wiser, having to read over instructions perhaps several times to get my head round them.
That's because unfortunately, this book is written in a very formal style (as one might expect from an Oxford guide) rather than plain English.
There is also a section on word formation which I find handy from time to time; giving examples of different endings, and word formation - and any exceptions to the rules (watch out for them!) likely to land you in hot water if not picked up on. And if you're into writing, the book becomes quite interesting and has you going, 'Ahhhh!', as often as it does, 'huh?'
For example here's a short extract (one of the more clearer examples I might add) that I found interesting: 'A sequence of three full stops marks and ellipsis or omission; a fourth is added if this comes at the end of a sentence, e.g. One critic wrote 'A guidebook... that I would not want to be without.... It has been my constant companion.'
Sadly, the most confusing thing about this book though, is how to navigate it - often I find myself rifling through its pages in a desperate attempt to find any reference to the particular problem at hand. Eventually I'll find it (and then begins another slog - that of deciphering the mysterious rules within), but the process is far from speedy and intuitive.
To sum up - I wouldn't, or even couldn't be without my copy of this book; but for a book which strives to make crystal clear the rules and regulations of written English, the methods which it employs to do it, means at times, they remain clear as mud.
I shall leave you with the opening words printed on the 1st page of the book's introduction: 'It is one thing to use language; it is quite another to understand how it works. (Anthony Burgess, Joysprick)'.... And at times it is quite a thing to understand this book too.