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Review: REBEL WITH A CLAUSE by Ellen Jovin

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

ABOUT THE BOOK: An unconventional guide to the English language drawn from the cross-country adventures of an itinerant grammarian.

When Ellen Jovin first walked outside her Manhattan apartment building and set up a folding table with a GRAMMAR TABLE sign, it took about thirty seconds to get her first visitor. Everyone had a question for her. Grammar Table was such a hit—attracting the attention of the New York Times, NPR, and CBS Evening News—that Jovin soon took it on the road, traveling across the US to answer questions from writers, lawyers, editors, businesspeople, students, bickering couples, and anyone else who uses words in this world.

In Rebel with a Clause, Jovin tackles what is most on people’s minds, grammatically speaking—from the Oxford comma to the places prepositions can go, the likely lifespan of whom, semicolonphobia, and more.

Punctuated with linguistic debates from tiny towns to our largest cities, this grammar romp will delight anyone wishing to polish their prose or revel in our age-old, universal fascination with language.

REVIEW: Rebel with a Clause, Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian by Ellen Jovian was not at all what I expected. Honest to god, I thought I was buying a grammar reference book that I'd add to the stack on my desk and pull down whenever I wanted to check when to use “which” or “that.” Turns out, it’s about language educator Ellen Jovin’s experience traveling the United States, setting up her Grammar Table in public spaces, and engaging with kids, book clubs, readers, writers, drunks—anyone who approached—about words.

At once entertaining, humorous, and educational, one of my favorite chapters, "A National Obsession: The Oxford Comma" is a hot topic for many across the country. Jovin says no matter the location, weather, or time the serial comma is always discussed.

“What if it’s just three words, though? Like, ‘I ordered salad, spaghetti, and soda.’ You still use it there? I’m testing the depths of your dedication.”
“Yeah, definitely,” said Joseph. “It just sounds weird otherwise, because if you say ‘I ordered salad comma, spaghetti and soda,’ it’s like spaghetti and soda are one entity. What is that?” He made a face. “That’s nasty.” —p.12

Each chapter wraps with a Quizlet: sample sentences to see if you were paying attention.

Jovin and the people she met offer humorous, enlightening, and judicious commentary. If you love language, you will want to add this to your non-fiction reading. And “which” and “that”? She covers “Bewitching Whiches” in Chapter 40. I'll definitely add this to my reference stack on my desk.


Ellen Jovin is a cofounder of Syntaxis, a communication skills training consultancy, and the founder of the Grammar Table, a traveling popup grammar advice stand. She has a BA in German from Harvard College and an MA in comparative literature from UCLA, and she has studied twenty-five languages just for fun. Ellen lives with her husband on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.


Christina Morland
Christina Morland
Jan 20, 2023

Thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention! Definitely purchasing, as I'm sure the book will help me develop my own grammar awareness, as both a writer and a teacher!

Christina Boyd
Christina Boyd
Jan 20, 2023
Replying to

The stories are fantastic, and the way she brings language to the public is admirable and fun.

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