The necessity of proper grammar is a blessing and a curse. A blessing for clear communication and consistency in how we communicate. A curse because it can be so complicated—everything from spelling to punctuation to phraseology.
To make matters confusing, there are conflicting style guides. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook has some key differences from The Chicago Manual of Style (used by all book publishers}. Hayley Jennings succinctly pointed out some highlights in her article “Write the Right Way.”
The vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief of Random House, Benjamin Dreyer, tackles the topic of grammar and style in his brilliant book, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (Random House, 2019). [As of this writing, it is 40% off on Amazon, only $15, and 30% off at Barnes & Noble.] If you like reading about words, grammar, and correct writing, this is the book for you.
He has an entire chapter on commonly misspelled words. For example: “Paraphernalia – that r just past the midpoint tends to fall out.” Or: “Cappuccino – Two p’s and two c’s. Also, there is no x in ‘espresso,’ but you knew that already.”
There is a 20-page chapter on the realities of fiction that is worth the price of admission.
My favorite chapter is called “A Little Grammar Is a Dangerous Thing.” I found it full of great reminders of simple things that may be in our lazy speech but simply not correct when written.
He also has great sections on semicolons, brackets, quotation marks, periods, commas, hyphens, and much more.
His last chapter is called “The Miscellany” and has some entries that made me laugh. #6: “Clichés should be avoided like the plague.” #8: “There is a world of difference between turning in to a driveway, which is a natural thing to do with one’s car, and turning into a driveway, which is a Merlyn trick.” #20: “They’re not Brussel sprouts. They’re Brussels sprouts.”
Terri L Gillespie
Brilliant! Thanks for the recommendation!
Barbara Ellin Fox
I’m so glad you referred to this book as brilliant rather than exciting because I know Benjamin Dreyer is about to slap my hands! My copy is on its way from Amazon. Thank you for this suggestion.
Good to know. Thank you.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thanks for the recommendation, Steve! I can’t wait to get it!
I’ll add this to my paraphernalia
for avoiding chiched plagues
and to help, inter alia,
in nots writing how I says.
Grammar is a prefect stern
whose rod is lasting shame
that makes our face so rosy burn
when error’s linked to name.
A reputation’s easy to devise
when it’s for careless writing;
when reading, agents roll their eyes
you can bet they won’t be biting.
So Amazon, you’ll get my money
that my oeuvre won’t be unintentionally funny.
Another great instructional book to add to my writing library! Thanks!
Rubbing my hands together in anticipation. (Yes, that fragment is purposeful.)
And yes, I ordered the book.
I can’t resist a book on words and grammar. If your recommendation hadn’t convinced me to buy it, the cover of the book did. Very cute.
Thanks, Steve. Glad to you highlight “Dreyer’s English” — I purchased a copy recently and have definitely found it helpful in my work as both my writing and editing work.
Looks like a great resource, Steve. The biggest grammar challenge I’ve faced since becoming a novelist is training myself to use the necessary incorrect grammar to inject a more personal feeling into my writing. After many years writing technical articles, book chapters, and a book in the formal writing style, it was uncomfortable to end sentences with a proposition when I began writing fiction. Painful to write partial sentences. And using ellipses after starting a sentence with a conjunction…well, that just plain hurt. But I’m over that now.
Proofreading is my weakness. I’m perfectly comfortable ending a sentence with the right kind of proposition. It’s the terminal preposition that made me squirm.
I have the CMS and truly despise it. I would light it on fire if it wasn’t on my computer. Commas are a true horror. Fourteen pages of comma use in the CMS is harder than poking hot needles into my eyes.
So, I purchased several books on decoding the CMS. I keep them at hand. Usually there are tears involved. Mine.
As I go through ‘another’ rewrite, I have an editor on my radar who will copyedit and proof my work. That also sounds like fun, because that will be changed.
I only bemoan because I have a headache this morning…
But, great resource information. I like/hate Strunk and White, I enjoy Spunk and Bite, Writing Well, It was the Best of Sentences, it was the Worst of Sentences. These ease me into the CMS without rolling my eyes, falling over, passing out, andwaking to sobs.
Oh, I know everyone feels the same, do not deny it! Except for editors and English majors.
Heading to Amazon, because there is no such thing as too many grammar resources to help us learn the craft.
I’ve long thought it would be fun to have a vanity license plate on my car that reads: I R A EDITUR … and see if anyone notices.
By they way, is a preposition that thing where a guy gets down on one knee and says something romantic?
Oh, how funny, laughed and laughed, glad I didn’t have a cup of coffee in one hand.
I would notice because I’ve been reading license plates since I can remember. No, that was not 1900.
I can’t answer the last question because he could be an editor begging the writer to ‘fix it before I die.’