When we’re writing, we run into a lot of technical issues. Where do the quotation marks go? When is it correct to use a comma? How should titles be formatted?
Some of these questions are answered by the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But other questions are not addressed by grammar. There’s no official rule for how to format a title.
We writers need trusted resources that we can use to resolve all these issues, especially if we want to produce work that is both grammatically correct and stylistically consistent.
Style guides answer grammatical questions and provide guidelines for consistency. But there are lots of different style guides, from the The AP Stylebook to the The Chicago Manual of Style. Which one should you use? Read more
Many people don’t realize that these two words do not share the same meaning and therefore cannot be used interchangeably. As a result, both fewer and less are often used incorrectly.
The difference in meaning may be subtle, but it’s significant and remarkably easy to remember. Let’s see what Dictionary.com has to say about these two words:
fewer: adjective 1. of a smaller number: fewer words and more action.
less: adjective 1. smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.
The grammar rules are clear; let me break them down for you. Read more
Proper capitalization is one of the cornerstones of good grammar, yet many people fling capital letters around carelessly.
Not every word deserves to be capitalized. It’s an honor that must be warranted, and in writing, capitalization is reserved only for special words.
Most of the grammar rules are explicit about which words should be capitalized. However, there are some cases (like title case) in which the rules are vague. Read more
I recently started relearning how to play the guitar after a rather long hiatus. It’s not like I ever learned how to play it properly in the first place — so I’m a true beginner. And at times, I find it frustrating. I just want to pick the thing up and rip out a song, but I’m constantly tripping over my own fingers, and let’s not even talk about the pain that comes from pressing your fingertips against thick metal strings, repeatedly and for extended periods of time.
Writing’s not so different from playing the guitar. Sometimes we get hung up on the technicalities of the language, and the creative flow is hindered. It’s not easy to rip out a short story when you’re worrying about whether you can end a sentence with a preposition or whether your terminal punctuation marks go inside or outside of the quotation marks. These kinds of setbacks can be painful. Read more
Let’s get technical for a minute. What, exactly, is grammar?
According to Wikipedia:
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules….Linguists do not normally use the term to refer to orthographical rules, although usage books and style guides that call themselves grammars may also refer to spelling and punctuation.
Technically speaking, in linguistics and academia, spelling and punctuation are not components of grammar. When we discuss the mechanics of writing, we don’t refer to grammar. We refer to grammar, spelling, and punctuation because they are separate components that provide the rules for written language. Read more
“I don’t like to end sentences with prepositions,” my friend said while we were discussing ways to restructure a sentence.
“But it’s fiction,” I told her, “In college, as a creative writing major, I was taught to learn the rules, and then break them.”
In this case, it sounded unnatural to write the sentence without ending it with a preposition. Following the rules too rigidly is especially problematic in dialogue. Nobody would say “To which store are you going?” No. We say, “Which store are you going to?”
Writers need to value good grammar, but sometimes it makes sense to break the rules. Read more
Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be.
Some are sticklers who insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.
Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why. Read more
Can you imagine a nutritionist who eats exclusively at fast food restaurants? A personal trainer who never exercises? A writer who can’t be bothered with grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
In most professions, best practices and tools of the trade are mandatory. If you want to be a doctor, you have to have a PhD. If you want to land a job in accounting, you need math skills. But writers can easily finagle around best writing practices, especially with the increasing accessibility of self-publishing.
Basic grammar skills used to be mandatory–not just for writers but for all high school graduates. These days, you can get out of college with a degree but no clue how to properly structure a sentence or differentiate between they’re, their, and there.
I’m a writer, but before I’m a writer, I’m a human being. And as a human being, sometimes I make mistakes.
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes–some big, some small. Today, I want to talk about what happens when we, as writers, make a mistake in our work: a typo, an incorrectly structured sentence, or a misspelling.
When writers make mistakes like these, it can be embarrassing. Occasionally, when I’m going through old posts here at Writing Forward, I’ll come across some typo or mistake and I’ll fix it. I do everything I can to ensure that this happens as rarely as possible; I proofread everything I write from my blog posts to my comments, tweets, and emails. But sometimes, mistakes slip past.
There was a time when I’d catch one of my own (published) mistakes and be completely horrified. I could feel my neck and face turning red from embarrassment and even though I’d fix the mistake, it would haunt me for hours. Did it cause me to lose a reader or a client? How many people noticed it? I just wanted to crawl under a rock — even if was just one little tiny typo. Read more
Homophones are those annoying words that sound exactly alike but have different meanings and are often spelled differently.
They give English teachers nightmares, cause headaches for students, and drive editors crazy.
We writers need to be diligent about homophones because spell-check won’t catch them, and many readers cite misspelled homophones as pet peeves.
And we never want to annoy our readers! That’s a cardinal sin. Read more
There are tons of newfangled applications, tools, and other resources and best practices that we writers can use to ensure our writing adheres to the tenets of good grammar.
Some writers swear by all the new high-tech apps, and I think it’s smart to give them a whirl and see if they offer any benefits for your writing.
I’m a lover of gadgets and technology. I’m still crazy about my iPhone, I love my Kindle, and I have a lot of fun with my iPad Mini. However, when it comes to writing, and more specifically, when it comes to proofreading and editing to make sure my grammar is correct, I’ve found that I like to stick with the basics. Read more
There’s good grammar and bad grammar, proper grammar and poor grammar. Some writers have fun with grammar and for others, grammar’s a bore. But in order to communicate effectively and for our writing to be professional (and publishable), we all need reliable grammar resources.
There is no grammar authority, no supreme court of grammar where judges strike down the gavel at grammar offenders. Grammar is not an exact science (in fact, it’s not a science at all), and even among the most educated and experienced linguists, the rules of grammar are heavily debated.
Of course, there are some basic rules we can all agree on, and these can found in any good grammar resource. There are gray areas, too, which are skillfully handled by style guides.
As writers, we need these resources. They help us navigate language so we can use it effectively. Good grammar ensures that our work is readable. And we all know that bad grammar can make a piece of writing unreadable, unprofessional, and sloppy.
In today’s world, with so much information at our fingertips via the internet, it can be challenging to find good grammar resources that are reliable and that come from credible sources. Google any number of grammar-related search terms and you’ll find page after page of articles and advice on grammar, many of which contain some of the worst grammar mistakes, a clear indication that such resources are neither reliable nor credible.
So when you choose your resources, choose wisely and make sure the authors are reputable and in a position to be postulating about grammar.
Writers must also choose resources that are appropriate to what they write. If you’re writing for a particular publication, make sure you check to see which style guide they use, and then adhere to it.
Ten Good Grammar Resources
Here are ten resources to get you started. These are a mix of websites, podcasts, and books. Some are free, others require an investment, but keep in mind that when you invest in resources like these, you’re investing in your writing.
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is a fun and accessible book packed with grammar tips and geared toward writers. It’s a grammar book, but it doesn’t read like a textbook. Author Mignon Fogarty has a B.A. in English, an M.S. in Biology, and has worked as a magazine and technical writer.
- Before the book, Grammar Girl’s podcast made her an online sensation. Her website features full written transcripts of her podcast for folks who prefer to learn via reading. If you’re listener and learn well via audio, be sure to subscribe to her podcast via iTunes.
- Washington State University’s Paul Brians has been maintaining a massive list of common errors in English, which is well worth checking out. This list is a great starting place if you want to check off your basic grammar skills to see if your writing is on the up-and-up.
- The Chicago Manual of Style is the most widely used style guide in publishing and includes a variety of rules on grammar as well. This particular guide is perfect for general writing, including fiction and creative nonfiction.
- Schoolhouse Rock was a beloved series of animated short films that gave kids growing up in the 70s and 80s a basic education in grammar. One of the most popular installments, “Conjunction Junction” is available online and you can search YouTube to find plenty more treasures from Schoolhouse Rock’s vintage collection.
- Dr. Charles Darling was a professor of English at Capital Community College for over thirty-five years, and his Guide to Grammar and Writing is available online in loving memory of him.
- This online Grammar Handbook from the University of Illinois is clear, organized by subject, and easy to peruse.
- The Gregg Reference Manual is widely used among professionals and in business. It has been called “the most up-to-date, authoritative source on grammar, usage and style for a variety of business documents.”
- There’s an app for that! Depending on your platform or device, you can find tons of grammar apps, so the answers to your grammar questions will be at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere! I’m a fan of the app “Grammar Guide” (for iPhone). But it’s pretty stripped down — it simply gives examples and no detailed information. Check your app store for a good grammar app that works for you and your device.
- Don’t go to Wikipedia to learn grammar, but if you’re trying to remember one of those pesky rules you’ve forgotten, it can usually do the trick. Note that Wikipedia is not recognized as an academically acceptable resource, but it includes sources at the bottom of each article, and these can put you on the path toward finding great resources on any subject, including grammar.
If grammar frustrates you, you’re not alone. Writing is enjoyable for most of us, but there are some aspects to it that are hard work. For some writers, grammar is a major struggle, but one that can be overcome with commitment and the right resources. Commit yourself to making good grammar integral to your writing and soon you’ll feel comfortable and confident about grammar.
As a writer, how do you feel about grammar? Love it or hate it? How often do you look up the rules? Do you have any favorite grammar resources to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.