It’s time to accept the fact that despite our schools’ best efforts to short-change us, you can’t escape grammar. But this doesn’t mean you need to be a grammar expert to survive in the writing world.
That’s where a style guide comes into play, and many businesses—especially media—design their own: the New York Times and Associated Press guides are some of the best known.
A style guide sets policy per country or publication as to spelling, punctuation, phraseology, and myriad other permissions when putting words out for a readership. For the non-corporate writer though, it becomes a question of end-user and geographical preference.
So grab a copy of “Garner’s Modern American Usage 3rd Edition” or “The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage 2nd Edition”. Both are excellent.
Strunk’s “Elements of Style 4th Edition” (US) is small, a classic, and useful. But I feel its curtness can be confusing if you don’t really know the whys or wherefores first.
Some very cool books like “Sin and Syntax” (US) and “Eats Shoots & Leaves” (UK/Australia) are well worth the reading experience and make grasping grammar fundamentals fun. But don’t expect a comprehensive repertoire within. That said, don’t discount them either if a meaty style guide is beyond your tastes.
Style guides help when it comes to excavating grammatical sink-holes like commas (can you use the serial comma in Australia, for example?) and choosing the correct version of a word to apply: Is it affect or effect? That or which? I or me? Hummus or Hoummos? Irrelevance or irrelevancy?
As I mentioned with dictionaries you’ll occasionally find disagreement between them. That’s why Cambridge especially proves itself a must, going out of the way as it does to explore out-of-market norms, summarizing numerous other guides like the “Chicago Manual of Style” and further grammars. Garner’s offers copious and fascinating real world examples in its discovery.
By the way, there’s nothing wrong with buying a true grammar as an alternative or supplement to a style guide to fill those gaps our educational systems left behind. And obviating many of their silly rules, like never beginning a sentence with “and”.
© 2016 Adam Parker.