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Home » Books & writing

Book Review & Giveaway: THE GLAMOUR OF GRAMMAR

Submitted by on August 31, 2010 – 1:58 am 30 Comments

How much of a nerd am I? I spent last Saturday night at home reading a book on grammar and considered it a good time. That’s because Roy Peter Clark makes it fun in The Glamour of Grammar, a book of writing guidelines. As introduction, Clark says “this book invites you to embrace grammar in a special way, not as a set of rules but as a box of tools…It doesn’t shout at you, ‘No, no, no,’ but gives you a little push and says, ‘Go, go, go.'”

And that it does. It helps that I’ve always loved grammar and language in general. I don’t like the term “grammar snob” because I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I simply want to put my best foot forward when speaking and writing and avoid sounding like an idiot. If my blog were full of mistakes, I imagine you wouldn’t be reading this.

So yes, I have an interest in this book’s subject matter but wouldn’t have necessarily enjoyed it if it weren’t for Clark’s breezy, witty, friendly voice. There’s no stuffy preachy tone here. Unlike William Strunk and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, which has great advice but is bare bones in delivery, Clark offers anecdotes along with his tips on how to write more effectively. Even if you never dangle modifiers, split your infinitives or confuse “lie” and “lay,” this book can help you take a more conscious approach to language. Haven’t we all said or written something then later claimed, “That’s not what I meant!”?

I like how Clark encourages us to break rules whenever necessary to avoid “hypergrammar,” syntax that’s correct but calls too much attention to itself, e.g. “for whom are you looking?” instead of the more common “who are you looking for?” I heartily agree when he writes:

As writers, we should never be satisfied with the words we inherit, the ones that already appear in our dictionaries. Learning to use them correctly is the license we need to bend them, stretch them, and blend them with others, as context, meaning, and audience allow.

If you’re thinking, “OK, you’ve convinced me I need a copy of this book even though I’m already brilliant,” you’re in luck. Hachette Book Group is allowing me to give away two copies. To enter:

  • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which; new subscribers/followers get 1 entry and current ones get 2)
  • leave a comment about what grammatical issues trip you up the most
  • live in U.S. or Canada, no P.O. Box, per HBG’s request

Giveaway ends Tuesday, September 7, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be chosen via Random.org and only announced here and on Twitter. I will not contact you personally so please check back to see if you win. Winners have 48 hours to claim the prize before alternate names are chosen.

30 Comments »

  • Jen Forbus says:

    Wow, what trips me up? What doesn’t? I think I second guess myself a lot…oooh, there’s a good one. I’m sure I frequently use the self pronouns incorrectly. Even though I use to teach grammar, I’m far from perfect. I do pay more attention to splitting infinitives. I try not to use pronouns without antecedents, but sometimes I’m just too lazy to rework the sentences. And sometimes when I’m rushing, I make stupid mistakes, mistakes that I know are wrong after I make them, but for some reason my subconscious mind types it incorrectly. Wonder why that is? I try to make sure my pronoun numbers always match. The use of “their” as a singular pronoun seems to have taken over.

    But, I find language fascinating. How it develops, grows, changes, evolves. I also find it fascinating how children learning to speak, catch on, and the mistakes they make that are natural progressions, but since our language is so full of anomalies they don’t get it right.

    I think my nerd is showing. 🙂

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Clark covers “their” as singular pronoun in his book, saying he prefers that to writing “his/her” and I agree with that.

      I love languages because how else do we communicate? When I first came to this country, it was so frustrating not being able to speak/write English. Now, before I travel to another country, I borrow tapes from the library and make sure I know at least a tourist’s version of that country’s language.

      • Poncho says:

        When I go to another country, I make sure I know three sentences:

        “How much?”
        “Thank you”
        and, of course…

        “Where’s the bathroom?”

        By the way, what does “splitting infinitives” mean?

        • Pop Culture Nerd says:

          I know how to say that in your country:

          “Cuanto cuesta/cuestan?”

          “Gracias”

          “Donde está el bano?”

          También,

          “Cuatro mas cervezas, por favor,” though I don’t drink. I just order for my friends.

  • “Which” and “that” make me crazy. Why can’t there just be one of those words to use in all situations? And I find that if I wait long enough before publishing a post or story, I’ll find at least one instance where the subject and verb do not agree.

  • Jann says:

    Refering to people as things: The family “that” came to visit instead of the family “who” came to visit. Or am I wrong? I can’t always remember the rules, but it sure seems that living objects are who rather than that. Of course, we all now know to use bring or brought instead of take or took, don’t we?

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Naomi and Jann—The book says “that” is used when the clause that follows it is essential to the sentence and “which” for when the clause can be omitted without hurting the meaning of the sentence. “Which” is enclosed by commas and “that” isn’t. Example: “The book that you lent me is on the table” vs. “The book, which I loved, is on the table.”

      As for “who” vs. “that,” I think you’ve got it right, Jann.

  • I’m a Twitter follower and, apparently, a splitter of infinitives. A copy editor recently told me that I have pretty clean copy except for the occasional split infinitive.

    I said, “What’s an infinitive?” and he just laughed, as if I was joking.

    Well, I sort of get it, but I also know that not all split infinitives are incorrect. What’s the rule?

    I could also use a definitive pronouncement of when to use an adverb: before or after the verb? (Quickly run, run quickly, to quickly run — had to split an infinitive there).

    Cheers.

    Jodie Jackson Jr.
    Reporter / Blogger
    Columbia Daily Tribune
    Columbia, MO
    T H I N K I N I N K
    jejackson@columbiatribune.com
    573-815-1713

    • Jodie, just keep Raymond Chandler’s declaration in mind: “When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it stays split.”

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Some adverbs cue you in to their placement. For example, “rarely” usually goes before the verb, as in “I rarely do that” and “fast” usually goes after, as in “I drive fast.”

      I think adverb placement also depends on where you want to place the emphasis in your sentence because the last word usually receives the most weight. “I passionately loved her” is a little different from “I loved her passionately.”

      You can also use sentence rhythm as a guide. I often write and read aloud so if my words don’t flow or sound awkward, I’ll rework them. Sometimes I find that transposing two words is all it takes to make the sentence better.

      As for split infinitives, I agree that they’re sometimes acceptable. Clark says if we never split infinitives, Dolly Parton’s famous song would have to be retitled “I Always Will Love You.” Talk about awkward rhythm!

  • Reader#9 says:

    I not only trip, I fall flat on my face frequently when it comes to “lie” vs “lay”. “Could of” when it should be “Could have” has never messed me up, but so many writers screw it up on a daily basis, I am beginning to wonder if the so called editors listed in a book are in fact the author’s uneducated and drunk cousin who needed a job. Okay, I think I just cracked myself up!

  • Poncho says:

    You are such a nerd that even the word itself cannot describe your nerdiness. But then, we should make a club. The book looks great! I think I might invest in Amazon to get it.

    Since English is not my native language, I trip (and fall, and roll, and get covered in grammatic mud) it could be quite useful for me. Also, I have the worst time with idioms. Like ever.

  • I’m sure I muddle things regularly without realising I’ve done so. This book looks like a fine way to put myself back on the rails. And I’m pleased you mentioned “their”. For some time, I’ve been stuck on “their” versus “his/her” {or alternating “her/his” so I’m not discriminating!}. It’s great to know using “their” for singular is considered acceptable. Thanks as always, PCN!

  • Paulette says:

    further and farther make me crazy!

    A good reference–Grammar Slammer:
    http://englishplus.com/grammar/

    I am a subscriber…

  • le0pard13 says:

    I’m afraid I need this book in the worst way! But, at least it’ll be enjoyable to see how badly I’ve mangled the English language (we won’t get into what I’ve done to my grandmother’s native tongue). Thanks, Elyse.

  • Amy says:

    I can completely relate to your enjoyment of this book, even on a Saturday night! I think grammar is pretty fascinating albeit frustrating at times. I love words, how they’re put together to form sentences etc. I was an english major but that was years ago. Lately I have felt the need to brush up on my grammar usage and rules and I think this book is preferable to The Elements of Style with which I’m familiar. I often run into problems with the grammar issues regarding how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions; usage of “I” or “Me”; and using “that” and “which” drive me bonkers

    Please enter me in your giveaway and thank you for hosting this contest!

    ~ Amy
    Aimala127 AT gmail DOT com

  • Amy says:

    +2
    I’m a current follower and email subscriber (Aimala02@yahoo.com for blogs)

    Aimala127 AT gmail DOT com

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