You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

What you need to know about grammar and usage

The Baltimore Sun

You were never taught formal English grammar, or you discover that some of much of the grammar and usage you were taught is nonsense. You feel a need to learn more, but where and how? Garner’s Modern English Usage is a formidable 1,056 pages, his Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation 583 pages. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage is nearly a thousand.

When my undergraduate students get that baffled, desperate look, I suggest that they consult Grammar Girl, because Mignon Fogarty’s explanations are lucid and accessible.

Now they have a new choice. Lisa McLendon, linguist, longtime newspaper copy editor, and stalwart of the American Copy Editors Society who runs the Bremner Editing Center at the journalism school of the University of Kansas, has brought out The Perfect English Grammar Workbook (Zephyros Press, 212 pages, $13.99).

She is at pains to explain that the “perfect grammar” we aim to achieve in the dialect called standard English is a moving target, and her advice is accordingly flexible and sensible. And she has arranged this workbook in a way to make achieving a more perfect grammar an approachable task.

The sections—the parts of speech, spelling, punctuation, usage—each present a straightforward explanation, with appropriate examples, followed by a short quiz on which you can score yourself. The technical terms are not forbidding, and she explains choices when you have them. (Yes, she also explodes some of the major usage superstitions. You are in safe hands here.)

If you are a student, or a former student looking to review or secure your grasp of basic grammar and usage, you can hardly go wrong by consulting this useful, clear, reliable, well-organized book. Get yourself on a firm footing.

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