Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Books for Those Pesky Grammar Questions

Mignon Fogarty is a popular, no nonsense grammarian who has written numerous books, audio podcasts and a weekly post on various aspects of American grammar and tips for better writing. She is quoted as saying, "Usage not grammar confuse people." I bought her book (at left) with prize money from a writing contest and it was money well spent.

Fogarty is a favorite of mine and especially this book Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, St. Martin's Press 2008. It provides marvelous answers to my grammatical questions (and don't we all have them.) She takes a more relaxed approach to "correct" grammar. She advocates knowing your reading audience and if there are two ways of writing a sentence, choose the one that fits the majority of  your readers unless the writing is for a business, academic or for a general audience. If you are writing for localized geographic area of readers, some leniency may be granted to write in a way that it is perceived as correct even if it seems incorrect in other parts of the America.

 "An" versus "a" is one example. I was taught that "an" is proper before words that begin with a vowel and "a" is used before consonants. It usually works well until you get to words like "historic." In actuality, it is easier to remember that we should use "an" before  vowel sound and "a" before  consonant sound. Thus, according to Fogarty, page 6, "an hour" is correct because hour starts with a vowel sound. "A historic expedition" is correct while "an honorable fellow" is correct because honorable starts with a vowel sound. As you can tell, Fogarty's examples are clear and easy to remember.

There are pages of helpful appendices: conjunctive adverbs, subordination conjunctions, linking verbs, and common irregular verbs that are helpful to the student writer and a good refresher for the experienced one. The disjointed approach of the book is overcome by a helpful index in the back. I do not own  kindle but one reviewer said this book was a bit difficult to use because there was no table of contents in the Kindle version. The book does not seem to have much structure to it but the problems she solves are numerous and easily understood. read it enough to become familiar with it and it will be a resource you reach for often. The examples are clear. She gives easy to remember tips so rules become cemented in your mind.

Lynn Truss' book Eats Shoots and Leaves is about the correct use of punctuation. What I love most is how well the authored blends traditional "how to" with historical insights, quotes from famous authors, and humorous anecdotes. She writes with humor and a strong indignation about the amount of incorrect punctuation seen today. She blames emails and text messaging plus laziness for all of it, not ignorance. The book is written by a British author for a British audience and thus there are some phrases that we may ponder but with some thinking, they are understood. The book is well organized and easy to immediately find the "A' to your "Q." 

I keep Mignon Fogarty's book in the car for when I have a few minutes as I wait. You can pick it up, read a few pages or chapters and put it down knowing you spent your time well.
Lynn Truss' book I keep on my book shelf within easy reach. Both are good additions to your library and inexpensive.

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