Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Grammar Shack

Are you looking for answers to your grammar-related inquiries? No? Well, I'll pretend you are:

Q: I would like a good, thorough overview of English grammar and style, but my attention span isn't all that...hey, isn't Lost on tonight?...wait, what were we talking about?

A. The champion is still Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. It is short. It is concise. I don't think anyone has ever written a better guide. Best of all, it's online everywhere for free - snatch it up now before congress extends copyright law retroactively. If a 60 page book is too much for your attention span, go to BBC Skillwise to play grammar computer games. If you are just looking for short, basic pointers on how to write better academic papers, check out these guidelines from Jack Lynch at Rutgers University: Getting an A on an English Paper and Guide to Grammar and Style. Two other useful sites are these Economist guidelines originally prepared for their journalists and these 11 rules of writing. Finally, How to Write More Clearly, Think More Clearly is a power point presentation that can help you organize your thoughts in order to write more clearly.

Q: I mainly often have questions on specific grammar errors. Who can I axe 'bout these?

A: The Columbia Journalism Review's Language Corner has great summaries on various usage topics. Two other detailed archives are Grammar Slammar and Dr. Grammar. To check fine distinctions between similar words in English (such as affect/effect), go to Common Errors in English. To practice these skills with some short exercises, check out the CCC Guide to Grammar and Writing.

Q: I just want to suck up to my English teacher. Can't you give me some cool sites to show my teacher so she thinks I care?

A: Try some of these. 50 Writing Tools is a good list of basic writing tools that you can incorporate to become a better writer. You can suggest that your teacher print one tool each day to share with the class. You will be very popular with your peers. The Word Detective contains an archive explaining the origins of many English words and expressions. Try also the Online Etymology Dictionary. Finally, here is a good starting point for many English-teaching resources.

Q: ...I think you misunderstood. I don't have one of the old, cranky English teachers. She's more like one of those directionless, recent liberal arts graduates who thinks she is "making a difference" by teaching me English.

A: Try some of these sites instead. Urban Dictionary will help her feel "hip" and you can laugh as she uses "street slang" to connect with the class. Pain in the English is a site that discusses some of the gray areas in English usage, particularly in regional dialects. Also on this topic, Wikipedia has an interesting list of words that mean different things in American and British English. Onelook Reverse is an interesting dictionary that lets you enter the concept to find the word. Onelook Reverse search results aren't always perfect. For example, if I enter "something that makes your job more difficult", I get "handicap," but I also get "oral hypoglycemic agents". Want some blogs? Literally, a Web Log tracks misuse of the word literally. and Eek, A Typo! tracks typos. Language Log is a hardcore language observer blog, with an incredible list of links to other language site.

Q: I 4m 1337, ph34r my skillz. I taught myself C at the age of 5. I mastered Ruby in 2.5 hours. Aren't there any programs that can do all this grammar stuff for me?

A: Why yes there are! Here are two open source grammar-checker programs: JLanguageTool and QueeQueg. Check out the Passivator, a javascript bookmarklet that flags passive verbs. This script is based off the ly detector, which flags verbs ending in "ly". Also see the forbidden word flagger. You might also enjoy playing around with Gramster.

Q: Why is this post called Grammar Shack?

A: I had Love Shack stuck in my head this morning. Don't judge me.

Special thanks to Stephen Notley for letting me use his comic "Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiot". Visit Bob, the Angry Flower for more fun and anger.


Anonymous said...

Oh my! What a great list of valuable sites. Thanks so much!

Wynn Williamson said...

By email request re: the programs:
you n00bs.

Becky said...

Wonderful idea for a blog, many thanks.

('s *Strunk* and White lol).

Wynn Williamson said...

Thanks, Becky! You'll notice I was posting grammar sites, and not spelling sites. Good reason for that.

Becky said...


Speaking of spelling, and I don't know how useful this is for the college level (I'm a hs'ing mother of three kids 8 under), there's a wealth of information, including some free lists, over at and (both websites are from the same organization).

I'm adding Stingy to my blogroll and spreading the word : )

Wynn Williamson said...

Thanks, Becky! Good links and is excellent! Thank you for the nice post. I would love to do a post on resources for homeschooling. I'll have to take a good look at your site later.

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