A Writer’s Library – Grammar

In this first series of posts I will review books that in my opinion every writer must have on his shelf. I will do it one book at a time, with emphasis on a different aspect of writing each time. The first, most basic book you must own is a book on grammar. Too much writing these days contain misplaced apostrophes (it’s or its?), wrong verb-tenses and other such grammar issues that can easily be corrected by one perusal of a high-school grammar book. I regularly use Wren and Martin High School Grammar and Composition for all my grammar needs. It never fails me.

It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, good grammar will make your writing stand out. I work in a corporate environment and you will be amazed to know how many grammatical nightmares I see in my work inbox everyday. Look around you on the internet. Do you really have to go that far to find a piece of writing that’s not riddled with errors? What would you rather read? “im pikin up sum frends” or “I’m picking up some friends”?

Grammar doesn’t just lend credibility to your writing, it makes it legible. If your spelling and grammar are correct, before anything else, you will be understood. And in today’s world where everyone’s speaking at the same time, being understood is half the battle won.

One of the common reactions I get when I recommend this to writers who are starting out is one of indignation and embarrassment. There is absolutely no reason to feel this way. If I were to decide to pursue something in Physics, the first thing I would do is go over my high school Physics textbook as a refresher (F = ma and all that). This is no different. Spelling and grammar are absolute essentials if you want to write well. If it takes going back to a high-school-level book for you to dust off those cobwebs, please don’t let your ego get in the way.

For those of you who already own and use a grammar book, perhaps you could give some recommendations in the comments section below – which book do you use? What are some common topics that you keep going back to? Have you come across any bad grammar books that we should be wary of?

Comments

  1. 1) “In this first series of posts” is ambiguous. It should be “In this first post, part of a series”, or some variant of this. I doubt you meant that this post is the first of several such series, in which case, it should have been “In *these* first series of posts”.

    2) Should be “In this first series of posts, I will review”. Oxford comma. (Because we are talking of being understood.)

    3) “that in my opinion, every writer…”. Oxford comma.

    4) “you would be amazed to know” instead of “you will be amazed to know”. Better choice of tense.

    5) “Do you really have to go that far to find a piece of writing that not riddled with errors?”. Missing “is”. “that *is* not riddled with errors?”.

    6) ” “im pikin up sum frends” or “I’m picking up some friends”? “. Oxford comma. Full-stop at the end of the intended grammatically correct statement.

    7) “Grammar doesn’t just lend credibility to your writing, it makes it legible.”. “it also makes it legible”. The word “also” has to be present in a sentence structured as “doesn’t just…”. Ideally, it should have followed the structure “not only… but also”.

    8) “If your spelling and grammar are correct”. “Spelling” should have the plural form of the word.

    9) “And in today’s world where everyone’s speaking at the same time”. Sentence beginning with a conjunction.

    10) “…when I recommend this to writers who are starting out is one of indignation and embarrassment.” The placement of “this” is ambiguous. It should be “this book”. It could be misunderstood as “this” meaning the general advice.

    11) “If I were to decide to pursue something in Physics, the first thing I would do is go over my high school Physics…”. Parallelism. “If I were” usage means you should use “I would do would be to go over”. “is” is wrong.

    12) “F = ma”. Saying this means you have absolutely no knowledge of fundamental Physics, which, I don’t think you would object to.

    13) “If it takes going…”. The usage of “takes” is awkward. It should be “means”.

    14) Finally, “The Writers’ Mentor” instead of “The Writer’s Mentor”. Misplaced apostrophe.

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  2. Excellent, abc. Thank you. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone turned up and made a list such as this. I don’t agree with any of your points but point 5, which I’ve now corrected. All the other points, I am sure you will agree, are up for debate, and I stand by them all. Perhaps we could argue about them over email?

    Also, I am not anal about every little part of grammar per se, only the high-schoolish errors. Getting every bit of grammar just right in all sentences is nearly impossible given the size of the language and the different ways in which it is used in different parts of the world – not to mention differences in colloquial and written English.

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  3. I am hardly an expert, but I agree. Good grammar does add brownie points! There have been books with good plots but while reading them, bad grammar and bad use of language have often distracted me. That to me is a turn off when I am in the mood to read a good book.

    A few months back I was looking for a good grammar book and the red cover of ‘Wren and Martin ‘ is what came to mind, though am ashamed to say, it took a few friends to help me recollect the name! I have always appreciated the book, but sometimes I find it a little too technical too. For example: I might read a sentence and immediately, wrong use of tenses or incorrect language might jump out at me. I won’t be able to place my finger on it or tell you the technical term for it like past perfect etc. but I would know it’s wrong and how it would be right! Many a times I wonder if I should pay more attention to knowledge of technical terms too rather than going by gut feel/experience of reading over the years.

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    • Hi Deepa,

      Welcome to the blog. I believe it’s your first time, and hopefully not the last. You’re right about grammar, of course. I cannot say I’ve read Wren and Martin cover to cover, and I cannot trust myself to know the technicalities of grammar (like gerunds), but I do know the basic tenses. I think when we speak of correct grammar, most of us refer to the very basics – like using the correct tense of the verb – that add to the clarity of the text. I think it helps to view grammar as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. But then that’s my personal opinion. Grammar Nazis will disagree.

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Keep visiting 🙂

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