In this article we will review four of the best grammar books used to learn Italian; we will see how they differ, who would most benefit from using them, and what they can actually offer to the students who are interested in learning more.
Modern Italian Grammar
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Modern Italian Grammar is a suitable book for beginners and intermediate students who want to focus on learning more grammar and enrich their vocabulary.
This book is split into two main chapters – one for grammar and one for vocabulary. Part A is called Structures, where the authors present grammar lessons and principles related to the noun, article, adjective and so on. Part B, called Functions, is mostly related to vocabulary and how to start speaking correctly in various situations. This chapter is divided into multiple sections:
- Giving and seeking factual information,
- Actions affecting ourselves and others,
- Expressing emotions, feelings, attitudes and opinions
- Putting it into context
This part is a nice combination of grammar and vocabulary that makes it easy to remember different conversational topics, as explanations are present every step of the way.
There is an extra section called Expanding the horizons that focuses on a more specific type of language and communication, such as business, formal conversations, phone conversations, letters etc.
Part A emphasizes learning the parts of the speech with all of the details needed to get a clear picture of the topic. For example, the noun group is thoroughly explained, how to distinguish the gender, how to use the article, exceptions to rules, specific contexts, plurals and other important aspects.
Part B represents a comprehensive structure that offers multiple thematic conversation topics and teaches how to respond, react and understand various social contexts. A few relevant examples would be how to ask for/express permission, how to indicate preferences, how to describe people or objects, how to introduce yourself, and more.
The layout of the book is easy to go through, easy to follow and the explanations are simple and clear, perfect for anyone. There are a fair amount of examples provided throughout the book as well.
This book also offers additional information in the appendix section, for example, spelling, irregular verbs, the sequence of tenses, verbs and prepositions. These lists are comprehensive, offer a lot of useful information and can clarify a lot of questions that the student might have regarding these topics.
All chapters and the lessons included in them act as independent modules. They are not connected directly, but they all represent a valuable and extensive source of learning. The book provides a lot of explanations, the only downside to it is that you have to look for exercises somewhere else as this book doesn’t have any. You can purchase the workbook separately, more details here.
Absolute beginners might find this book a bit hard to digest, someone who already had contact with the language, or another basic grammar book, might see this as a very useful book to learn more.
Intermediate students can definitely find value in it, considering it’s such a detailed book and offers plenty of explanations. Opinions are shared when it comes to deciding which type of students should get this book, some say it’s not good for beginners, and others say it’s perfect.
In all fairness, Modern Italian Grammar is a powerful learning tool and can definitely improve your Italian level.
Complete Italian Grammar
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Complete Italian Grammar is the perfect fit for anyone who is starting to learn Italian. The book covers all major topics that a student needs to study, provides a lot of explanations and the information is presented in a clear manner and is easy to understand.
The book is structured into 20 chapters, each representing one major topic, for example the noun, the adverb, the sentences, the numbers, the verbs and the list goes on.
Aside from the regular lessons, this grammar book also includes exercises, and lots of them. The answer key is present as well so you can check the results of your exercises. Other useful items in the book are the irregular verbs list and the IT-EN & EN-IT glossaries, which makes it easy to check vocabulary related questions.
Learning grammar can be a lengthy and occasionally, boring process. It’s not the case when it comes to learning Italian grammar from this book.
The information is structured very clearly, the explanations are short and concise, the lessons have a “Be Careful!” section where the authors present very important grammar rules.
The vocabulary enclosed is useful and most of the time thematic, which makes it easy to remember – for example, the expression of time: today, tomorrow, yesterday, year, month, week.
A great example of how explicit the lessons are is the explanation on how to adapt the article to an adjective that is placed before a noun – this is quite a problematic issue to understand in Italian and to use it correctly.
Another useful feature in this book is the Grammar in Culture section, which presents how grammar interferes and influences the spoken language. Relevant examples would be the lack of articles when using technology-related words (Internet, Facebook, Instagram etc), using adjectives to describe the weather (Fa caldo – It’s hot) or the usage of the familiar vs the polite address (tu vs Lei).
The exercises usually follow each lesson. This way the information you just read is still fresh in your mind and you can test your knowledge straight away. The structure of the exercises is filling in the blanks, adding the missing ending to words, translating sentences, rephrasing, asking questions and many others.
The content of the book is engaging and nice to go through, not to mention very explicit and valuable. It’s a great resource to start learning Italian, it sets a good grammar foundation and introduces you to the vocabulary mechanism as well. This book is perfect for beginners.
Schaum’s Outlines of Italian Grammar
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This book is not a quick course to learn Italian grammar or vocabulary, it’s a more conservative type of resource, perfect for students who already have some knowledge in the field and want to improve their grammar.
The content of the book is quite complex and therefore people who want a quick method to learn grammar should focus on something else.
The book is structured into ten chapters that include all of the main grammatical parts, followed by a verbs chart and answers to the exercises.
The introductory chapter is Italian pronunciation, which includes very relevant examples of correct pronunciation. The most complex chapter is the verbs; this one includes conjugation, tenses, sequence of tenses and lots of explanations on exceptions from the rules.
The chapters are paired based on a logical structure – nouns with articles, adjectives with adverbs, numbers, dates and time. Other chapters include negative words and constructions, interrogative words, pronouns, prepositions and special uses of certain verbs.
The book goes deeply into grammar, providing explanations and examples that are usually a point of interest for intermediate or advanced students.
Each lesson has a lot of exercises, which are commonly met at the end of each lesson, but here you find them after every major explanation provided. For instance, the author explains how to differentiate and create the feminine version of a noun, you have the exercises for this part to make sure you understand the information, and then you get to the part about the plural of the nouns. This style has been proven to be very efficient.
Each major chapter has a review section, with a few exercises to test all of the items presented before. The exercises are complex and range from fill in the blanks to translation or rephrasing. All of the answers are provided at the end of the book.
Schaum’s Outlines of Italian Grammar is a gold mine with so much to offer. It’s perfect for the intermediate and upper intermediate students. Those who want to sharpen their skills, who want to score higher on their tests, or have a better understanding of a more complex level of grammar would benefit most from this book.
Italian Grammar Drills
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Italian Grammar Drills is a fairly good book, not very complex, but not lacking information either, which makes it ideal for beginners and intermediate students.
If you are the start of your learning experience, it’s definitely worth looking into it in order to get a strong foundation for later on.
The structure of the book includes 19 chapters, starting from noun, articles, pronouns and ending with tenses, moods and exclamations. It covers all basic grammar topics as well as vocabulary, idioms, special constructions and verbal expressions.
Each chapter is full of exercises, just like Schaum’s Outlines of Italian Grammar, only here the complexity is not so high. This is not a minus at all, it’s actually a very good thing for the audience the book has. As expected, you can find an answer chapter at the end of the book.
The book is nicely structured, pleasant layout, easy to go through and most importantly, the explanations are clear and thorough. There is quite an extensive amount of words you can learn on every page and you also get to use them when you review through the exercises.
The author really tried structuring the information in a logical way and she managed to do that. Besides the regular grammar rule explanations included in every lesson, she also includes some expressions, their usage and extra information on how to use them.
As mentioned before, the book does not lack vocabulary information either. A beginner would find plenty of new useful words, not to mention the idioms and expressions as well.
The content of the book is great inexperienced students who want to learn more about Italian vocabulary and grammar. It represents a good foundation for anyone who is starting to learn this language; however, it should come as a supplementary source to another course or learning plan.
These four grammar books, while very popular and well-made, aren’t your only options. There are two more popular choices that I want to briefly mention. But, because we weren’t able to get our hands on a copy ourselves, we’ll just give a very brief description of them before moving on.
Barron’s Italian Grammar – This is a small pocketbook that is easy to carry around, but may be hard to make out the small print if your eyesight isn’t good. It seems to be a bit less extensive than the other options but it’s very affordable.
Essential Italian Grammar – This is another extremely popular and affordable option for students. It’s quite old, having been made in the 60’s, and while some of the words may not be used as much anymore, the majority seems to still be relevant. It appears to be less comprehensive and less fitting for serious students. That said, casual learners or those who want a less complex overview of Italian grammar may prefer this book.
The same can be said for any language and student out there but before you can choose a “perfect” learning book or course you must first assess your needs and goals, research the available options and choose one that’s appropriate for your study plan.
The above-presented books can be perfect for some and not enough for others, it all depends on what kind of students they are, what their plan is, how deep they want to go into the language and how much effort they are willing to put in.
My advice is to take your time and create a learning plan for yourself, think of the way you want to learn, what’s easier for you to understand and memorize and then choose a book that is built in a way that facilitates your learning process.