Great grammar gives your writing power. The author Joan Didion once said ‘Grammar is a piano I play by ear… All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.’ Develop your own ear and writing skill using these 7 resources:
1: Oxford Dictionaries’ A-Z of Grammar
This grammar guide from Oxford Online gives concise definitions and examples of everything from types of noun to verb tenses. Bookmark this page and read through any topics you’re rusty on.
You can read about the different moods of the verb and their correct use here, for example.
2: Grammarly’s grammar-checking browser extension and blog
Grammarly is another helpful grammar resource. Ideally, work on weak areas in your grammar and learn rules by heart. This way you won’t be completely reliant on an online grammar checker. Even so, this helpful tool will spot errors such as missing commas at the end of introductory phrases when you write online.
Grammarly’s blog is where you can find posts on popular grammar topics such as the differences between similar-sounding words (e.g. This post on the difference between ‘effective’ and ‘affective’).
3: Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style
For great grammar tips written with style, Jack Lynch’s guide gives a more in-depth A-Z of grammar. Some entries are more subjective but each is insightful. Here, for example, are Lynch’s views on the overuse of ‘absolutely’:
‘One of the most overused clichés of our age: the pleasant little monosyllable yes seems to be disappearing in favor of the tetrasyllabic absolutely […] When I asked a waiter, “May I have some more water?,” the answer was “Absolutely,” as if the question admitted various degrees of assent. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the word itself, and when you really mean that something is true without qualification, go nuts. Still, how ’bout some variety? certainly, yep, aye, just so, damn straight, sho’ ’nuff, sans doute, you bet your bippy — almost anything else would be an improvement.’
4: Purdue Online Writing Lab’s great grammar handouts
Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab offers several useful handouts on grammar. When you’re looking for reliable grammar tips, university .edu resources are an excellent choice. This is because universities tend to have especially rigorous editorial processes. See the Purdue OWL’s guide to subject/verb agreement here.
5: The Grammar section of About.com
Richard Nordquist, the resident ‘Grammar & Composition Expert’ at about.com, dishes out helpful grammar advice. About’s guides are useful because there are always clear examples illustrating grammatical devices. Here is a helpful post identifying the parts of prepositional phrases. It includes concrete examples showing how to use these to add specificity and detail to otherwise vague sentences.
6: Great grammar tips from Mignon Fogarty AKA Grammar Girl
Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) shares brief and helpful blog posts on an eclectic variety of grammar topics. Some posts are highly specific (e.g. the difference between ‘siteseeing’ and ‘sightseeing’), while others are broader (such as this post on using subjunctive verbs).
7: The British Council’s guide to English grammar
This is a particularly useful grammar resource for writers who write fiction in English but have another first language. The guide explains terms clearly, and there are helpful ‘fill-in-the-blank’ exercises on individual pages (such as this guide to personal pronouns) for revising grammar rules learned.
Additional resources on grammar
Here are a few extra grammar guides worth mentioning:
- Houston Community College’s simple guide to parts of speech provides a useful refresher on the grammatical components of a sentence.
- Perfect English Grammar is a very helpful resource for practicing different tenses and more. Try this exercise for writing past perfect continuous tense, for example.
- Spelling checkers don’t always pick up on common errors, for example accidentally using a homophone for a word (a word that sounds the same). Katherine Torgersen’s guide here has several fun visualizations of homophones that are easy to substitute for each other when you write phonetically by mistake.
What elements of grammar trip you up the most? Join Now Novel and get feedback on your writing from other eagle-eyed writers who will spot and point out any grammar slips.