Practical English Usage by Michael Swan – Book Review

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Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, 4th edition: International Edition 

Practical English Usage

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You would expect a book on grammar and style to be boring, not this book, it is written with humor and is easy to read.  Practical English Usage by Michael Swan seems to anticipate many of the common errors that students find.

Practical English Usage is a standard textbook for the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults).  The course has had a name change from TEFL ( Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  Practical English Usage is like a grammar dictionary, not a book that you would read cover-to-cover, but more like a textbook that you would follow along with an English course.

Practical English Usage has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Now revised and updated for the fourth edition, it answers the questions that teachers and learners ask about English grammar and vocabulary with clear, corpus-informed explanations and examples.

English is full of problems for the foreign learner.  Sometimes it is easy to explain inconsistencies, for example,

  • The formation of questions
  • The difference between since and for the meaning of after all.

Other problems can be a challenge for students and teachers.  For example,

  • How do you use the present perfect?
  • When do we use the past tenses to be polite?
  • What are the differences between at, on and in with expressions of place?
  • Why do we say a chair leg but not a cat leg?
  • When can we use the expression to do so?
  • When is ‘the’ used with superlatives?
  • Is unless the same as not?

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan is a guide to problems of this kind.  It deals with over 600 points, which regularly cause difficulty to international students of English.   This book will be useful to both the student and the teacher, looking for a clear explanation of a language point.

Practical English Usage intends to provide a resource for higher-level students of English and teachers.  Being a reference book, it contains information at various levels, ranging from relatively simple points to quite tricky problems.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Contents Overview
  • Language Terminology
  • Don’t say it: 130 common mistakes
  • Phonetic alphabet
  • Practical English Usage
  • Index


  • Paperback | 768 pages
  • 163 x 233 x 37mm | 1,014g
  • Publication 26 Jan 2017
  • Publisher Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Language English
  • Edition Revised
  • Edition | 4th Revised edition
  • ISBN10 0194202437
  • ISBN13 9780194202435
  • Bestsellers rank 13,637

Practical English Usage has  72 reviews and 1,166 ratings.  The rating from Goodreads is 4.3 stars.




Practical English Usage is a resource book for students and teachers; it is something like a dictionary or lexicon of phrases.  English is confusing to foreign learners.  Michael Swan helps learners understand language problems that are difficult to describe; for example, how do you explain the difference between must and have to.  As an English teacher, I found this book useful and reliable.  When a student comes to me with a question that I do not know the answer to, I refer to Practical English Usage for a precise answer.

Being a standard textbook for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), Practical English Usage should be on the must-have list of any serious student.


Practical English Usage by Michael Swan - Book review

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Aaron Skudder


  1. An excellent post, Aaron. I love it.

    I often get asked for recommendations by foreign learners and I’m always stumped as to what to say. 

    I’m not a teacher you see and whilst people are quite impressed with my English, I’m actually an intuitive learner – both with the spoken and the written word. I’m hopeless with grammar and sometimes, my best explanation is simply, “It’s wrong because it sounds off.” or “The word is misspelt because it doesn’t look right.” 

    My accuracy in these cases is about 95% and I’m quite happy with that but I do need to work on the rules and that involves reading books. So, this will definitely go on my list and will be very happily recommended if it is as humorous as you say (I do appreciate that in a reference book).

    Thank you for this post. 🙂

  2. Thanks Aaron for reviewing this book by Michael swan. I think I should try this book and see how practical it can be. I have seen a few books on Michael swan in the past and I am of the opinion that apart from being a good teacher, he is a good writer. I’d definitely check this out. Thanks for reviewing.

    • Michael Swan is at the top of his field.  Undoubtedly an English expert.

  3. Hello Skudder,

    That’s an eye opening read for everyone learning or teaching English as a foreign language. Practical English Usage must be an excellent book and tool, having over 2 million copies sold. 

    As a person that learnt English as a foreign language, I now can attest to the fact that it was not always easy. My native languages (they are two) have no similarity whatsoever with English. Prepositions, tenses, and all other aspects and elements of English take on totally different forms in my local languages. This is usually the case for many other learners of the language who are like me worldwide. Thanks, therefore, for reviewing and suggesting Michael Swan’s work as you say it is an easy and fun to use resource.


    Boniface- AndroidBix 

    • Hi Boniface-AdroidBix

      Thanks for comments.  May I ask what are your native languages?

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