There is a lot more available online than when I first compiled this list, so please check out my web links pages for digital resources.
It is good practice to use an English/English dictionary, but many such dictionaries are designed for native speakers. Two exceptions are:
Longman Learners Dictionary (published by Longmans)
Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary (published by Collins).
I especially recommend COBUILD, because it is very reliable and gives clear explanations of how and when to use words and expressions.
A thesaurus helps you to find words with similar meanings. I recommend:
Roget's International Thesaurus (published by HarperCollins)
Here is an example of how to use a thesaurus. Suppose you are writing an essay in which the word 'poor' appears several times. If you go to the back of the thesaurus you will find an alphabetical list. Look for 'poor'. There will be several subsections, each with a number next to them. The numbers refer to paragraphs in the main (front) part of the book. Go to those paragraphs, and you will find words with a meaning that is related to the idea of being poor, such as 'destitute', 'deprived', 'underfed', 'starving', as well as nouns like 'poverty', 'hardship', 'need', and even quotes, such as 'houseless heads and unfed sides' (Shakespeare).
A thesaurus should be used as well as a dictionary, not instead of one.
3. English Usage
Guides to English usage give information about words and expressions which are often confused or misused. Here are some you may find useful:
Collins COBUILD English Usage (published by Collins)
Fowler's Modern English Usage (published by Penguin)
Plain English: A User's Guide by Philip Roberts (published by Penguin)
Usage and Abusage by Eric Partridge (published by Penguin)
The Penguin books are paperback, and therefore inexpensive, but the Collins is the best; if you want to know the difference between 'homework' and 'housework', or the American spelling of 'colour', or whether 'football' is different from 'soccer', this is the book!
I have strong feelings about grammar, so I must try to be fair! Here are some books which are popular with students:
Collins COBUILD English Grammar (published by Collins)
Collins COBUILD Student's Grammar: Practice Material by Dave Willis (published by Collins)
English Grammar in Use: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Students (With Answers) by Raymond Murphy (published by Cambridge University Press)
Using Basic English Grammar: Form and Function: A Reference and Practice Book with Answers by Edward Woods and Nicole McLeod (published by Prentice Hall)
Personally, I don't like Woods and McLeod, but it would take me a long time to explain why. Basically, I disagree with a lot of their explanations. Murphy is better, and students seem to get a lot of confidence from doing the exercises. Once again, though, I stand by the Collins.
5. Writing Skills
Most books for practicing skills are intended as textbooks to be used with a teacher. For advanced students who really want to develop their writing skills, though, I recommend:
Reading and Writing Short Arguments by William Vesterman (published by Mayfield, California)
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