Grammar, in doorstoppers & handbooks

Having trouble remembering when to use who and whom? Confused by which and that? Want to bone up on the parts of a sentence? Well, hie thee to a bookstore and buy Sin and Syntax, which will also tell you how deploy these grammatical fine points to write “wicked good prose.” If you hunger for more, here are my favorite grammar guides—from the geeky to the goofy.

A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, edited by Randolph Quirk. (Essex: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1985). The dean of British grammarians, led the team that produced this behemoth, which will tell you everything—I mean everything—about grammar. Let the buyer beware: this book is expensive, but worth it.

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. This masterpiece of Gothic humor and racy sentences might be called “grammar for grownups,” or, as Gordon suggests, for “the innocent, the eager, and the doomed.”

When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, by Ben Yagoda. (New York: Broadway, 2007). Yagoda’s tweak on Mark Twain’s famous admonition gives a hint to his treatment of grammar: witty. His table of contents shows what he focuses on: the parts of speech, period.

Woe Is I, by Patricia T. O’Conner. (New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1996) Less comprehensive than the books listed above, O’Conner nevertheless takes the reader on a clear-headed stroll through the labyrinth that is English. She manages to amuse, too, in chapters with names like “Comma Sutra: The Joy of Punctuation” and “The Compleat Dangler: A Fish out of Water.”


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  1. Books to Inspire | Sin and Syntax - August 21, 2015

    […] related categories. Books specifically about grammar, are listed in a separate essay titled “Grammar in doorstoppers and handbooks.” And books about when words are wrong and right you will find under “Books on usage and […]

  2. Copy Editing Resources | Sin and Syntax - November 10, 2017

    […] use who and whom, and they may tell you how deploy these grammatical fine points in your writing. Here are my […]

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