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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 use language 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.
Reliable Writing Resources
In today’s world, with so much information at our fingertips via the internet, it can be challenging to find grammar resources that are reliable and that come from credible sources. There are pages upon pages 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. If you’re listener and learn well via audio, be sure to subscribe to it. Her website features full written transcripts of the podcast for folks who prefer to learn via reading.
- 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.
- The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a rich resource with information on style guides and a searchable index packed with grammar-related information.
- 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.
Grammar Resources for Pros
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 proper 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.
Thanks for the reminder about the Gregg handbook, a true blast from my past. I took 3 years of shorthand back in high school and am certain it’s why I know my comma usage better than anyone!
Commas are the trickiest punctuation marks to master! Good for you!
THANK YOU! I absolutely suck at grammar. This page will be at the top of my bookmarks on grammar so that I can come back to it again and again and again!
Awesome! I’m glad you found this helpful. Don’t give up on grammar.
Melissa: In my teaching and editing–where I read a ton of material by new writers–the most common grammatical mistakes I see are: 1) the subjunctive case (“If I were to go” is correct: “If I was to go” is wrong); 2) misuse of the relative pronouns “who” and “that” (“The people that went to the dance” is wrong; “The people who went to the dance” is right); 3) dangling modifiers (“While running along the street, a fire hydrant began to spout water.”); and 4) subject-verb disagreement (“The woman with all the dogs walks down my street” is correct.)
Hi James. Those are some of the most common mistakes I see too. The if/were construct is so common, I think it’s on the verge of becoming common usage. That one doesn’t bother me so much, but who/that makes me grit my teeth. However, I’ve run into a few who/that conundrums (I can’t think of an example off the top of my head), where it was unclear which would work better. Writer’s best judgment is always the last call.
What about Strunk & White’s Modern English Usage/Elements of Style?
I love Strunk & White and considered it for this list but I feel that it’s more of a primer than a reference. It works more as a text that you sit and read through and isn’t quite as functional when you need to look up something specific. Also, it’s practically a pocket-book (such a tiny thing!) so while it definitely covers “most common mistakes,” it really doesn’t address intermediate and advanced grammar and style issues. I did write a recommendation for Strunk & White in another article and definitely encourage all young and beginning writers to get a copy and read it thoroughly. Thanks for adding this! It definitely warrants a mention.
Melissa, thank you very much for sharing these Resources, this kind of articles are very helpful for people like me ( english is not my native language), i hope i can reach your writing level someday 🙂
Aw, thank you. You’re too kind.
I’m pretty sure that my posts are FULL of grammar mistakes, however i’ve never stopped writing. is that improving it ?
If you write continually, there will probably be some improvement over time. The grammar won’t improve, however, unless you make an effort to improve it. Reading quality work also helps.
Thank you for the references and the reminders! I Love : Who’s/Whose grammar book is this anyway?
I’ll have to take a look at that one. I have heard of it but haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the recommendation!
Thank you so much for this. I’m a professional writer. I’m basically great with grammar, and mistakes drive me nuts. Which is why I’m so glad to see this post. There are two or three things I constantly struggle to remember, and I’ve been meaning to look them up, make myself a cheat sheet and post it next to my computer.
I have a couple of cheat sheets–one posted on my computer monitor and a few others tucked into my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, marking the passages I need to reference frequently. They’re quite helpful!
Hello Melissa, I was somewhat surprised by your first sentence under “10 Good Grammar Resources.” It read, “There’s good grammar and bad grammar, proper grammar and poor grammar.”
In your sentence….”poor grammar” and “bad grammar” are identical. If you wanted to make the proper contradistinction here you might say, “There’s good grammar and bad grammar, FORMAL grammar and INFORMAL grammar.
Hi Tommy. While I appreciate your willingness to jump in and provide your perspective, I would caution against attempts to publicly correct other people’s grammar and language usage — something even professional editors don’t do without an invitation.
I would encourage you to look up both of these words in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, where you’ll find that one definition of bad is “incorrect, faulty,” and actually uses “bad grammar” as an example. Meanwhile, one of the entries for poor is “less than adequate.”
I would point out that “incorrect” and “less than adequate” are not the same thing. Bad grammar is wrong. Poor grammar is inadequate (but could be technically correct).