Essential Spanish Grammar
November 7, 2013
Author Seymour Resnick
Series Dover Essential Grammar
Publisher Dover Publications
Publication Date 1959
Skill Level Beginner, Intermediate
I really liked Seymour Resnick’s Essential French Grammar, so I was disappointed not to be able to give his Essential Spanish Grammar a similarly glowing review. There is a special place in my heart for well-written, old-fashioned grammar texts.
As is the case with other books I have read in this Dover Publications series, Essential Spanish Grammar is a slender and highly portable volume that often makes me feel as though I am passing through a foreign-language version of The Elements of Style. It is concise, orderly, illustrated with many helpful examples, and full of clear, solid writing and common sense.
Unfortunately, Essential Spanish Grammar was written in 1959, and I think the world may have changed too much for this summary of Spanish grammar to work without a revision. At the time a professor of Romance languages at Queens College, Resnick made a decision in writing this that I already find odd for 54 years ago, but that simply doesn’t work in the modern world: he opted to skip the informal forms in Spanish.
Thus, even though the book roams delightfully through verb forms for present, past, imperative, present and past perfect, future, conditional, reflexives, and subjunctive, all this is done without benefit of the forms for tú (the singular informal “you”). He also omits verb forms for vosotros, an informal plural “you,” but since only a small percentage of the Spanish-speaking world uses vosotros, this omission is reasonable. (Sorry, Spain!)
Regarding tú and vosotros forms, Professor Resnick writes on page 28, “You will probably have no opportunity to use these forms, and should avoid them; we mention them only so that you will recognize them if you hear them. Concentrate instead on the polite forms usted and ustedes.”
This book was designed for “the adult with limited learning time,” but even so, a grammar that bothers to tackle imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive should also tackle tú. (To any skeptical teenagers reading this, I would like to note that people were indeed enjoying intimacy all the way back in the middle of the 20th century!)
One other thing that perplexed me: Resnick offers some examples using the form le, which is normally an indirect object form, as an alternative to the masculine direct object lo. As in: Cuando le vea, se lo diré. (When I see him, I shall tell it to him.) This is a use of le I can’t recall having seen before, and in a quick overview, its appearance alongside the way, way more standard lo’s is confusing rather than illuminating.
The quality of what Professor Resnick did include is very high. People who have studied Spanish, who are rusty in it, and yet who are fairly confident that their tú forms are roughly in place could enjoy and benefit from this book as an efficient reminder of language concepts once learned.
Following the grammar discussion is a pages-long list of cognates. Maybe some people will like this feature; I personally read Dover’s Essential Grammar series for the grammar, though, not the word lists. I do not find long lists of words to be productive learning tools.