The Merry Grammarian

Three Essential Grammar Texts For Any Writer

Sometimes, grammar is downright confounding. All those rules. All those exceptions. Most of us are fuzzy on at least some details. So where can you turn if you’re in need of a definitive grammar source?

The answer, my friend, is not Google. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Le Google as much as the next person. But too many times, I’ve seen people rely on Google for a grammar question, and the websites that pop up have supplied the wrong answers or have outdated information (remember, as the English language evolves, so does grammar).

Instead, turn to one of these three excellent, straightforward texts—essential reading for any writer seeking a definitive answer to their grammar query, or who simply wants to improve the mechanical side of their writing.

  1. The Elements of Style, by Shrunk & White. Don’t be fooled by the slenderness of this little book. What it lacks in weight, it makes up for in usefulness. Here, in succinct and simple prose, are the essential rules of writing clear, correct English. You’ll find grammar guidance as well as practical instruction on how to improve the clarity of your writing. There’s a reason this slim guide is on the list of required textbooks in English programs across the nation—it’s just that good.
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style. This one might be the opposite of The Elements of Style. It’s a hefty tome, even bigger than my trusty Webster’s dictionary. And where Shrunk and White are lean and clean, CMS goes into detail … deep, intense detail. But it’s got all the information you could ever possibly need, including a robust section on all the grammar particulars of the English language as well as the publishing industry’s preferred style for everything from time to titles. It’s amazing how often I turn to this book—not just when I’m proofreading, but also when I’m writing or editing other people’s work. Turning to CMS is like getting the “official” take—when other sources disagree, this is the text to which I turn.
  3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss. I love this little book on punctuation so much – the title makes it case completely. Whether you’re looking for a refresher on comma usage or just want some clarity around that controversial semicolon, this book will set you straight. And it’s funny, too (always a bonus when you’re talking about grammar). It’s great not just as a reference book, but also as a way to painlessly brush up on your punctuation rules.