Write in Style: A Guide to Good English

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview

18

GRAMMAR PRIMER

'Why care for grammar so long as we are good?'

Artemus Ward

Try this simple game.

Take a piece of paper and write GRAMMAR at the top. Then beneath it write down the first few things that come into your head as you consider that word.

I'd be surprised if your associations do not include something suggestive of boredom, hostility, impatience or dread, or possibly all four! For grammar has a very poor image at present. It conjures up pictures of dusty arid classrooms or of tedious struggles with the mechanics of a foreign language. Grammar seems to be the preserve of dull pedants who delight in taking you to task for a momentary slip or who write crusty letters to The Daily Telegraph and suchlike, bemoaning the illiteracy of contemporary life.

Now this is very sad-mainly because it is unnecessary. There is no reason why grammar need be any of these negative and irritating things. Grammar ought to be fun-not side-splittingly uproarious, perhaps, but quietly satisfying and enjoyable. And the first thing to remember is

Language-including and especially everyday usage-does not serve grammar: it is the other way round.

Mere grammatical competence is less important than quality of response and imagination, creative energy and proper clarity. However, no one should imagine that grammar is the enemy of those things: it is their partner and help-meet. The true value and purpose of grammar has been well defined by S.H. Burton:

'Grammar is not a collection of hard-and-fast rules. It is more flexible (and, therefore, more useful) than that. Grammar gives an account of the way in which a language is used by those who use it well.' *

A good working knowledge of grammar will unquestionably help you to become a better writer and speaker. The more you are aware of how

* Mastering English Language (London: Macmillan, 1982) p. 128.

-231-

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Write in Style: A Guide to Good English
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • From the Reviews: vi
  • Contents vii
  • List of Exercises xi
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • Preface xv
  • Part One - Engage Brain and Ear Before Writing 1
  • 1 - Disasters 3
  • 2 - Triumphs 9
  • Part Two - Foundations 13
  • 3 - Introduction 15
  • 4 - Bone Structure 16
  • 5 - Joints 28
  • Part Three - Style 65
  • 6 - Introduction: Style Versus Fashion 67
  • 7 - Fight the Flab 70
  • 8 - Voice 109
  • Part Four - Tailor-Made 139
  • 9 - Introduction 141
  • 10 - Letters 142
  • 11 - Essays 161
  • 12 - Articles 189
  • 13 - Reviews 192
  • 14 - Reports 194
  • 15 - Minutes 199
  • 16 - Précis and Summary 203
  • 17 - Reportage 225
  • Part Five - Grammar Primer 229
  • 18 - Grammar Primer 231
  • 19 - Inflections 274
  • 20 - Syntax 286
  • 21 - Parts of Speech (Advanced) 294
  • 22 - Punctuation in Speech and Quotation 315
  • 23 - Spelling and Confusibles 327
  • Appendix: Answers to Exercises 343
  • Further Reading 355
  • Authors, Sources and Named References 359
  • Subject Index 361
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