Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation

Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation

Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation

Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation


How does good writing stand out?

If its purpose is to convey facts, findings, or instructions, it need be read only once for its content to be clear. If its purpose is to entertain or to provoke thought, it makes readers want to come back for more.

Revised and updated, this guide covers four essential aspects of good writing:

  • Individual words -spelling variations, hyphenation, frequently confused homonyms, frequently misused words and phrases, irregular plurals and negatives, and uses of capitalization and type style to add special meanings
  • Punctuation -the role of each mark in achieving clarity and affecting tone, and demonstration of how misuses can lead to ambiguity
  • Syntax and structure -agreement of subject and verb, parallel construction, modifiers, tenses, pronouns, active versus passive voice, and more
  • Style -advice on the less hard-and-fast areas of clarity and tone, including sentence length and order, conciseness, simplification, reading level, jargon and clichés, and subtlety
Filled with self-test exercises and whimsical literary quotations, Grammatically Correct steers clear of academic stuffiness, focusing instead on practical strategies and intuitive explanations.

Discussions are designed to get to the heart of a concept and provide a sufficient sense of when and how to use it, along with examples that show what ambiguities or misinterpretations might result if the rules are not followed. In cases where there is more than one acceptable way to do something, the approach is not to prescribe one over another but simply to describe the options.

Readers of this book will never break the rules of language again#151;unintentionally.


In the years since I wrote the first edition of this book, the English language has not changed a great deal, but much else has. Back in the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web was just poising to take off and “Google” was not yet a verb. If you needed an answer to something, your options were to haul out the family encyclopedia—which if you were lucky was no more than a decade out of date—or head to the library. Got a question today, on grammar or anything else? Type in a key word, click on “Search,” and choose from the ocean of hits that come up.

Reference books today, therefore, must compete against an instant, no-cost, and unimaginably vast resource when it comes to providing information. and yet, their very limitation can be a plus as well. While online searches are unmatched when it comes to looking up quick facts, they are not always the ideal route when there is a need to process, assimilate, and apply what is retrieved. Apart from the fact that the volume of information can be overwhelming, searches often yield fragments of answers that must be pieced together to gain a proper understanding; and the Web’s egalitarianism, in so many ways a strength, means caveat emptor when it comes to accuracy.

In the first edition, my strategy for squeezing yet another writer’s reference book into an admittedly already crowded field was to try to steer a middle course between too little and too much: providing enough detail to give a sufficient understanding of an idea while avoiding scholarly explanations. That approach continues to hold here. Obviously no single book on this subject can meet everyone’s needs, but many lie too close to either end of the spectrum to be fully helpful. At the low end are those that are outright superficial, stating flat do’s and don’ts without providing a sense of proportion, and leaving readers confused or unsatisfied. Those at the high end, however, may cover topics with such thoroughness as . . .

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