I’m a big fan of books, and I love, love, love my library. That’s where I go first when I have language questions. But maybe you’re on the road, or you just love to surf the Web. Here are some online resources that I have found to be both credible and helpful when it comes to grammar questions.
Barbara Wallraff reigns at Word Court. I’ve always admired Barbara’s approach to grammar and usage, which is impeccably informed, never opaque, and quietly witty. Barbara is also the author of Word Court: Wherein Verbal Virtue Is Rewarded, Crimes Against the Language Are Punished, and Poetic Justice Is Done, Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words, and Your Own Words.
Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty, promises “quick and dirty tips for better writing.” Her site is part of a gimmicky branding scheme—other “Quick and Dirty” sites give you advice on parenting (“Kids and Naps”), pets (“What to Do About Your Humping Dog”) and protecting your capital (“How to Short Sell a Stock”). But the Grammar Girl podcasts are serious stuff. Each podcast deals with one grammar dilemma, often spawned by an email. The typical podcast lasts only a few minutes, and is friendly but credible. (It usually includes multiple citations.) The transcripts are posted on the Web site, so you can read along as Fogarty breezes past “between” and settles on “how to use semicolons.”
Long before there was Grammar Girl there was The Slot, which began in August 1995 as the Crusty Old Slot Man’s Copy-Editing Peeve Page. Its creator is Bill Walsh, a copy editor at The Washington Post. Walsh’s day job shapes the issues he covers on his two sites—The Slot and Blogslot—and his two books, Lapsing into a Comma and The Elephants of Style.
Common Errors in English by Paul Brians isn’t much to look at, but the no-frills, alphabetical listings allows you to go straight to whatever word is vexing you. An emeritus English professor at Washington State University, Brians gives simple pronouncements on everything from “a/an” to “zoology” and he denounces the falsehoods that Miss Thistlebottoms and Old Curmudgeons brainlessly insist upon.
The lively blog at Language Hat is maintained by a former student of historical linguistics who was born in Tokyo, grew up in various hemispheres, and ended up an editor in Manhattan. (He prefers to remain anonymous and gives tidbits of his bio under the clever “my hats” link, which is literally about his collection of hats.) This is really a site about language more than grammar or writing, and includes links to the Boston Globe column called “The Word,” the sci.lang FAQ, the Dictionary of the Scots Language, and The Kanji Site.
The tagline of Motivated Grammar—Prescriptivism Must Die!—gives you an idea of its slant. The creation of Gabe Doyle, a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, it’s a bit geeky—more linguistics jousting than guide to good writing. Doyle describes himself as a computational psycholinguist, which means that he uses computers to model how people think about language. He says his purpose is to “set the record straight”—to explain the motivations behind the real grammar of English and to debunk ill-founded claims about what is grammatical and what isn’t.