Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage by Oliver Kamm
(Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2014)

Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage

by Oliver Kamm

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, we are told, requires rules. Every generation believes that standards of English are deteriorating. Yet people carry on speaking, writing and understanding language, and usage changes and adapts. There are many possible ways of expressing yourself fluently, grammatically and idiomatically. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens frequently used constructions that breach many people’s notion of correct English.

From splitting infinitives to dangling prepositions, this erudite, entertaining and deeply reassuring guide demonstrates that many of the so-called rules of good style are little more than folklore mixed with prejudice and can be cheerfully disregarded. Oliver Kamm explains why the pedants are wrong, why the much-lamented ‘good grammar’ that ceased to be taught to school children in the 1960s should not be brought back, and why to deliberately split an infinitive, in the right context, is perfectly alright.

This is a book for anyone who cares about language and how it is used. With authoritative advice on the linguistic conundrums that we all face, Accidence Will Happen will become an indispensable companion for readers, writers and users of modern English.


This is the most intelligent and entertaining book about the English language I’ve ever read, one that has transformed how I think about usage. It should be required reading for anyone who loves the language, especially those entrusted to teach it. Pedants are going to hate this book—and quietly take its lessons to heart. ”
- James Shapiro, Professor of English at Columbia University and author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
Accidence Will Happen is a unique and indispensable guide to usage. It’s distinguished by the author’s keen discernment, his reliance on scholarship rather than dogma and superstition, and an ability to cite literary examples of contested constructions that is literally (yes, literally) awesome (yes, awesome).”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.