How can I find a topic I have a question about in CGEL?
I often have problems but can't find the topic when I go to CGEL.
Is there any better way to deal with a problem like this? How do you search in CGEL?
CGEL --> (The Cambridge grammar of the English language 2002 - Rodney Huddleston)

I want to find topics where '[verb + Object + infinitive]' is explained, about 'passive infinitives' like '[object + to be done + preposition]' and gaps or hollows.
  • I often find it difficult to read CGEL due to the Technical terms mentioned in there, How to deal with it?
  • 3
    By "topics of your doubts" do you mean "topics you have questions about"?
    – alphabet
    Jan 15 at 15:02
  • Can you give one or two examples of topics you are not able to find in the CGEL index?
    – Shoe
    Jan 15 at 16:11
  • 1
    @alphabet yes that's what i meant
    – hwkal
    Jan 15 at 21:52
  • @Shoe I have updated my question, could you see that again?
    – hwkal
    Jan 15 at 21:59
  • 4
    CGEL is really intended for linguists, and proficient speakers of English. It is a challenging book for native speakers to understand if they do not know the basics of grammar, and the vast majority do not. Read a more concise grammar book such as Michael Swan's Practical English Usage The topics are easy to find because they are listed in alphabetical order, as if it were a dictionary.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 15 at 23:19
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA I do use it, i have a physical copy of it.
    – hwkal
    Jan 16 at 0:56
  • 3
    There's also Advanced Grammar in Use if you want to push yourself further, there are plenty of exercises which you can do on your own.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 16 at 19:37
  • @Mari-LouA Coincidently, I am reading that book and have found some grammar mistakes such as in sections B and C of unit 18.
    – hwkal
    Jan 17 at 14:41
  • the book, however, is great for advanced structures.
    – hwkal
    Jan 17 at 14:43
  • 4
    “Doubt” is only used in Indian English to mean question or problem, and is likely to be misunderstood on an international platform such as this. I have edited your question in what I hope is an appropriate manner. You can be excused that, but not starting sentences without a capital. It is in your own interest to pay attention to such things in future.
    – David
    Jan 18 at 23:28
  • 1
    @David Thanks! and now I can see the mistakes I made
    – hwkal
    Jan 19 at 0:01
  • Is how to look up stuff in a book on topic here? Seriously?
    – Lambie
    Jan 20 at 16:54
  • 1
    Tip: Where you would think infinitive, type non-finite. Also, Google can be your friend, e.g.: “passive infinitive” “cgel”. Jan 21 at 1:51

2 Answers 2


The CGEL is a huge book and has a correspondingly large index. The topic of gaps, for example, is covered in over twenty different places, in various chapters.

The CGEL's terminology differs in many ways from the terminology that most non-native learners are familiar with from their lessons and grammar books. For example, CGEL uses the term adjunct instead of adverbial. If you are looking for information on adverbials in the index, you will find only one reference to it, namely "adverbial phrase" in a footnote on page 612 where it points to a problem with the term.

So, to answer your questions:

  1. How do you search in CGEL? I have no search tips. It often takes me quite a while to find exactly what I am looking for.
  2. How to deal with the technical terms? I recommend the student's version of the CGEL, written by the same authors. It is far shorter, aimed at English learners, and has a good glossary of terms.

A Student's Introduction to English Grammar

  • 1
    Okay I’ll look it up
    – hwkal
    Jan 16 at 9:41
  • most non-native learners are familiar with? How about native speakers? Some of the stuff in CGEL is odd.
    – Lambie
    Jan 20 at 16:53
  • I would remove “non-native” and say: CGEL’s terminology differs (often significantly) from what most students would be familiar with. Jan 21 at 1:41
  • @Tinfoil Hat. If we are talking about the entire population of students in English-medium schools, then it is undoubtedly true that most of them will be unfamiliar with the CGEL's terminology. In fact, I would go so far as to claim that most such students are taught or know only a small number of basic grammatical terms. My differentiation here is explicitly between the terminology that non-native speakers are likely to have been taught in their English lessons and the terminology that the CGEL uses.
    – Shoe
    Jan 21 at 9:19

This is a community Wiki. Feel free to add suggestions to this post!

There's no absolutely straightforward way, but here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure you have read the first chapter. This will teach you an awful lot about the grammatical framework used in CGEL and how it works.

  2. Read all of the chapter headings in full to see which chapter you think you will find the answer to your query in.

  3. If you've identified the chapter(s), then go to that chapter and read all the headings for that chapter on its contents page. This will often take you directly to the right section.

  4. If you have an idea of the chapter, but don't know the exact page, make a note of the page numbers for that chapter and then proceed to stage 5 here.

  5. Decide which index you need to look your query up in. There's a lexical index where you can look things up by word or sometimes phrase. There's also a conceptual index, where you can look up things like "passive" or "noun" or "conditional" and so forth. Proceed to suggestion 6.

  6. When you find the correct entry in the index, there's often very many sub-entries. However, hopefully you've identified which chapter you're going to find the answer in (from suggestion 4) and can narrow down the entries to the specific range of pages for that chapter. Note down the page numbers or, better, go to suggestion 7.

  7. Take a photo of the entry in the index on your phone. You can then enlarge it and use it to navigate through the book without flipping backwards and forwards to the index - which is excruciatingly annoying to have to do.

  8. If you purchase the Kindle eBook version that Amazon sells, you can search the full text for any word or phrase. The Kindle version (like the hardcover version) is absurdly expensive, but you can get a short-term "rental" at a somewhat saner price.

  9. If you've managed to get hold of a copy of CGEL, you definitely have the resources or resourcefulness to get hold of a copy of Huddleston and Pullum's (and Huddleston, Pullum and Reynolds's) A student's introduction to English Grammar [henceforth ASIEG]. Quick tip: you can normally join Sribd.com for free for 30 days. If you join, you can download an electronic copy of the book. I'd go for both the first and second editions (loads of other great stuff to download for free during your 30 days). If you’re serious enough to want to use CGEL, it is a very good idea to read ASIEG first. Whether you do this or not, ASIEG is easier to navigate than CGEL, but is arranged in identical chapters with more or less the same structure. If you can find it in ASIEG, you'll then find it easy to find in CGEL. And ASIEG might resolve it for you anyway.

  10. Go to EL&U chat. Explain you're stuck and ask if anyone can direct you to the right bit of CGEL.

  11. Ask here - but only if you've done everything else above.

The Original Poster's queries

My guess is that you'll find info on verb + object + infinitive in the chapter on verbs and verb phrases in whichever section deals with the different types of complementation of verbs.

You'll probably find stuff on passive infinitivals in the chapter on non-finite clauses. You'll find info on hollow clauses in that same sub section of the chapter on non-finite clauses.

Good luck!

  • One other note: if you have the Kindle eBook version, you can search the full text for any word or phrase. I use this quite a lot.
    – alphabet
    Jan 25 at 16:01
  • @alphabet I've turned this into a community Wiki. Want to add that in? (On a separate note: Kindle?%! When did that happen?) Jan 25 at 16:09

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