Grammar is Your Friend

Want to make yourself unpopular? Correct someone’s grammar.
And yet, for a writer, grammar isn’t just making sure you’ve got the right
their-there-they’re, it’s about understanding how sentence structure and
punctuation can be used to make your writing more effective.
My students have often jumped to point out e e cummings’s
lack of adherence to punctuation and capitalization rules as proof positive
that creative writers (especially poets) do not have to hew to the strictures
of grammar. To them, I offered the following advice, “In order to break the
rules, you need to know the rules.” I still truly believe that. But perhaps
more correctly, I should have said, “If you’re going to break the rules, make
sure it is for a purpose.”
Writing a sentence fragment. Ending a sentence with a
preposition. Starting a sentence with a conjunction. All grammatical no-no’s
that can be used with great effect. However, breaking the rules must be
intentional, not because you are willing to write sloppily.
And so, to help those of you that may have tuned out your
high school English teacher, I’ve put together a list of grammar resources that
are not tiresome, but rather are really quite fun.
Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing 
A seriously fun podcast by Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to
For those of you who puzzle with punctuation. Here’s the book
description: In Eats, Shoots & Leaves,
former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical
state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully
urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and
semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. Using
examples from literature, history, neighborhood signage, and her own
imagination, Truss shows how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and
the hilarious consequences of punctuation gone awry.
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in
Plain English
As described by Publisher’s
: O’Conner’s bestselling guide to grammar is an
invigorating and entertaining dissection of our ever-evolving language. He guides readers through conversational conundrums with
aplomb, filling in not only the logic behind the appropriate choice for, say,
possessives, but also explaining such oddities as the spelling of restaurateur
(instead of a “restauranteur”), the proper pronunciation of prix fix
(“pree feeks”) and a slew of mnemonic devices to help amateur
grammarians keep ifs, ands and buts in check. It’s these small digressions that
make the book so readable, even for those with a deep-seated hatred for
grammatical do-goodery. O’Conner gleefully eviscerates poor sentence
construction and dangling participles, soothes verb tension and debunks the
frequently intimidating semicolon with finesse. Tempered with a heavy dose of
wit (reaching its nadir in her chapter on clichés), O’Conner’s lively treatise
is as vital as a dictionary for those who wish to be taken seriously in speech,
in print or on Facebook.
For those of you who need a case by case clarification, I
present OWL, the Online Writing Lab of Purdue University which is an
outstanding resource for all things grammar and citations. I have steered
students on a regular basis over the last ten years toward this wonderful
So, don’t dread grammar; revel in twisting it to your own purposes. It’s still a bad idea to correct someone else’s grammar, no matter how much you want to. Just do it in your head, like I do. (And for those who were wondering, I was breaking those grammar rules in spades so as to illustrate my point.)

Have a wonderful writing week,
Erin Hollowell

1 thought on “Grammar is Your Friend”

  1. All great choices. I'll add my favorite reference material along these lines for those who like their grammar lessons with some witty ribald repartee: Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The Deluxe Transitive Vampire; Torn Wings and Faux Pas; The New Well Tempered Sentence. She calls them handbooks for the innocent, the eager and the doomed. You've never had so much fun checking grammar and punctuation as with Karen's guides.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top