What are the best grammar books?
If you want to become a better writer a good grammar book can help a lot. There are many grammar books on the market, and not all are created equal. How can you spend your money wisely and find the right book for grammar to meet your needs?
First, consider what you’re looking for. Do you want a style guide you can reference on occasion, or are you looking for a fun, witty overview of grammar? You can find something for all needs if you know where to look.
To make your search easier, here is a run-down of the top 9 books for grammar. From academic to lighthearted and fun, you’ll find something that fits your goals here.
- 1. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- 2. Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Trusse
- 3. Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner
- 4. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Kinkenborg
- 5. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
- 6. Write Right! by Jan Venolia
- 7. Practical English Usage by Michael Swan
- 8. An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage by Leech, Conrad, Cruickshank, and Ivanic
- 9. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- What’s the Best Advanced English Grammar Book?
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1. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Often called the “Holy Grail” of grammar by college professors, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is an English writing style guide. This book on grammar takes the English language and breaks it down into rules of use, principles of composition, and matters of form. This book often becomes required reading for college grammar classes or a needed reference for academic papers. It’s great for both new writers and experts.
It also explores commonly misused expresses and misspelled words in American English. In 2011, Time called this book one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923, so it is definitely one of the best grammar books around.
“The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up.”
2. Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Trusse
There’s no denying that grammar books can be a bit dry. Even the biggest grammar nerd may struggle to get through one from cover to cover in a single sitting. Not so with this one.
Written by a former editor who understands grammar, Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Trusse talks about all things punctuation. This English grammar book is quite witty and uses funny examples to explore what makes commas and semicolons so important to proper writing.
It looks at everything from signs in neighborhoods to historic mistakes in literature to discuss the importance of punctuation. It also has some interesting history woven into the instruction. If you’ve ever wondered when the question mark or semicolon entered the scene, this grammar guide will tell you.
“The rule is: the word ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) stands for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. If the word does not stand for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ then what you require is ‘its’. This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best’, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”
3. Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner
Another former editor, Patricia T. O’Conner gives us Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, a national bestseller book. This one explores the grammar problems that plague even great writers. Since it’s written by an editor, who has seen these errors made time and time again, this book gives keep insight into the tools writers need to polish their craft.
Woe Is I doesn’t just list rules, though it does have plenty of rules for readers to explore. It does so in a welcoming tone without judgment, then follows the rules with fun examples.
It strives to write in plain English, so anyone can comprehend what they need to to do become a better writer. This book also gives explanations for commonly confused words in the English language, like compliment/complement, and when they should and shouldn’t enter your writing.
“With grammar, it’s always something.”
4. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Kinkenborg
Several Short Sentences About Writing is an interesting look at communicating by writing strong sentences. This grammar guide focuses on helping creative writers write more creatively, and it starts with the most basic component of the written language: the sentence. Klinkenborg’s philosophy is that if a writer can write a strong, solid sentence, then the writer can write strong paragraphs, chapters, and books.
Some readers find this book a little off-putting at first because of its focus on concentrating on sentence construction entirely. However, the writer weaves these pieces together, the writing becomes stronger and more accurate. That’s the focus of this book. By teaching writers how to write strong, meaningful, and delightful sentences, Klinkenborg teaches them how to write well.
“Writing isn’t a conveyer belt bearing the reader to “the point” at the end of the piece, where the meaning will be revealed. Good writing is significant everywhere, Delightful everywhere.”
5. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
Can bad writing be fatal? Steven Pinker believes it can, and that’s a subject of discussion in his book The Sense of Style.
According to Pinker, the wording of common warning notices can actually cause fatal mistakes. By not warning directly about lethal dangers, these appliances can turn normal, everyday activities into deadly ones.
After making that point, Pinker discusses how manipulating the English language can trick readers. By teaching his readers about style and the structure of sentences, he tries to teach them how to avoid scams due to tricky writing. He also strives to help writers write more clearly and ethically using proper grammar and style.
The book also explores the changes to modern writing that have occurred because of texting and social media platforms.
“We can remind ourselves of the reasons to strive for good style: to enhance the spread of ideas, to exemplify attention to detail, and to add to the beauty of the world.”
6. Write Right! by Jan Venolia
Write Right! by Jan Venolia explores why good grammar is important. It’s through good grammar that other people can understand what we’re saying. This is the driving focus of this grammar guide.
This guide is less an entertaining read and more a well-organized guide for writing. It uses clear explanations and illustrations to help people understand the importance of the language rules it teaches. However, Venolia does throw some humor into the mix when possible.
What makes this book great is the fact that Venolia updates it regularly. The rise of the Internet has caused rules to change quickly, and writers will appreciate the fact that they can pick up the latest edition of this book to keep up with the changes.
“If you decide that semicolons are a pleasure rather than pretentious, here’s how to use them.”
7. Practical English Usage by Michael Swan
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan addresses both English speaking and English written grammar. This book’s simple language makes it easy for even new writers to comprehend well.
One of the main focuses of this book is vocabulary. Vocabulary can be quite confusing, especially since written and spoken vocabularies often don’t match. With the help of Swan and his guide, writers can get things straight.
In addition, this book covers idioms and common style. It also addresses spelling issues that can plague even the best writers.
Practical English Usage is also heavy on examples. Examples help the reader comprehend what the author is teaching in a practical way.
“Grammatical correctness, after all, has a powerful symbolic value: getting your language right implies that you can obey rules and respect authority.”
8. An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage by Leech, Conrad, Cruickshank, and Ivanic
Written with both teachers and students in mind, An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage is a reference guide to grammar. It uses a dictionary-like format to make it easy for the reader to find what they want. It’s known for being easier for English as a second language readers and writers to help guide their writing.
When students have a question, they can use this book to look it up. They simply look up the word or topic alphabetically to find the answer.
This guide focuses on the words and phrases of the English language, not its rules. However, grammar rules are definitely worked into its pages. It has many practical chapters on common grammar and writing issues.
“Regard to, regards to: Several versions of this phrase are in common use, for example, with regard(s) to, in regard(s) of, in regard(s) with. The general consensus is that with regard to is the more accurate, but when possible, you should preferably use a simpler word such as concerning, about, regarding or in relation to.”
9. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty isn’t just for the ladies. This New York Times bestseller takes a lighthearted approach to the serious topic of grammar. The author often speaks on major talk shows dishing out grammar advice.
Grammar Girl Fogarty turned a weekly grammar podcast into an easy-to-read book. It is witty and fun, but also informational. It also has fun ways to help readers remember tricky grammar guidelines.
Grammar Girl may be fun, but it is also helpful. The style and writing tips will improve your writing and learn when it’s OK to break common grammar rules.
“…passive voice is better than writing out a humongous number and taking the risk that your readers’ brains will be numb by the time they get to the verb.”
What’s the Best Advanced English Grammar Book?
These grammar guides all hold merit. In some way, they can all earn the title of the best books in grammar. However, if you’re looking for an ultimate English grammar guide for the advanced writer, you may want to add another to the list. Advanced English Grammar with Answers by Hewings is a single-volume book that has both grammar lessons and practice exercises to teach an advanced look at grammar.
Whether you’re looking for a reference guide to grab as you write or need an advanced English grammar guide, stocking your bookshelf with some of these books on grammar will equip you to better master the written language.
Remember, even the best writers need an occasional check of their grammar from time to time. With these guides, you can hone your craft and become a powerful, persuasive writer.
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