I think most people agree there is a component of skill in art making; you have to learn grammar before you learn how to write.
~Chris Van Allsburg~
By Jayne Bodell
Please don’t confuse being an expert with being perfect. Even the experts have to consult with other experts. Didn’t you know that an expert is one who knows where to find the answers? When I don’t know the answer to a grammatical question, I start with one of these references.When I don’t know the answer to a grammatical question, I start with one of these references. Click To Tweet
- Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. I reach for this reference first, probably because it’s been with me forever. Well, not quite forever; 1972 was the first published year. If you used this book, you’re probably old. But don’t let the age fool you. The explanations and examples are easy to follow, and there are exercises if you’re feeling energetic. Best of all, if I’m looking for something simple, I find it comforting to reach for a book from my bookshelf instead of hunting the internet.
- McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage by Mark Lester and Larry Beason. When I started my grammar blog, I knew that I had better check what new references were available in grammar land. It didn’t take long to realize that this gem was a keeper.
The text is less formal than the Warriner’s, almost reading like a novel. Sounds like a stretch, but I like reading about this stuff, okay? I also like the section on grammar etiquette for digital communication. Their opinion is that grammar rules were not written with digital discourse in mind, but that we should err on the side of correctness because we don’t have an excuse to be sloppy.
- The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn. I consult this book as a substitute for the Chicago Manual of Style. If you’ve ever tried to find something in the Chicago Manual, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Amy Einsohn uses this book to teach her copywriting class, so she approaches the subject of grammar from a copyeditor’s standpoint. The book is well organized, and the layout makes sense. Chapter 14, “Grammar: Principles and Pitfalls,” discusses the stickier topics that come up in grammar and how copyeditors, authors, and other experts deal with them. This chapter would be most helpful for writers who are learning to work with editors.
- The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson. The book has been around since 1983 with one revision in 1991. Johnson was a Harvard graduate and book editor for Simon and Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf. He starts the book describing what makes up a sentence. From there he breaks down each part: tense, agreement, structure and punctuation. I like his in-depth explanations, but if you’re a grammar novice, you might want to read bits and pieces or save this for when you want to graduate to the next level.
- Grammarbook.com covers all the basic grammar questions you may have. Jane Straus is the founder of this website and the author of the best-selling book, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. Unfortunately, Jane died in 2011, but the site continues to be updated with a blog. The articles are informative and come with a quiz at the end to test your understanding. The site started the new year with a giant quiz that covered the past year. The answers contain links to the articles that the question addresses.
- Daily Writing Tips. This is a website that will improve your grammar skills, guaranteed. I signed up for about six months. Each day you receive an article and daily exercise to read and complete. These exercises were difficult, so if you plan to sign up, expect to take your time because you’ll need to study the explanations to understand the concept. I finally had to stop my subscription because, like all daily things, if it’s not personal hygiene related they get overlooked. But, if you plan to put some time into your grammar skills, this would be the place.
When I joined in late 2016, they offered three free books as an enticement. If you get the same books today, you’ll be as disappointed as I was. They were from 2007 and looked like they were thrown together for website freebies. I wrote a blog about this website listing the pros and cons if you want more details.
These suggestions only scratch the surface of references to hone your grammar skills. I have also used Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl site but found it cluttered and slow to load. It’s up to you to find what works best for you, but I do recommend that you buy some grammar books. There’s something about writing in your nook and being able to reach for a book to find the answer you’re looking for.
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