LawProse Lesson #181: Grammar and usage resources.

LawProse Lesson #181: Grammar and usage resources.

Grammar and usage resources. Which grammar books are most useful? People frequently ask this question. Perhaps the most compendious treatment can be found in my own chapter five of The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed. 2010). That chapter, which first appeared (in a shorter form) in the 15th edition, is essentially a restatement of the principles of English grammar, together with a usage glossary. The Manual also contains a terrific chapter on punctuation. If you’re looking for other highly usable grammars, you might try these: George O. Curme, English Grammar (1953). George Lyman Kittredge & Frank Edgar Farley, A Concise English Grammar (1918). George Philip Krapp, The Elements of English Grammar (1908). Raymond Woodbury Pence & Donald W. Emery, A Grammar of Present-Day English (2d ed. 1963). Often, people who ask about English grammar don’t actually want a grammar book at all. Instead, they want a book on English usage. Here are some very readable ones: Kingsley Amis, The King’s English (1997). Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer (2d ed. 1995). R.W. Burchfield, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3d ed. 1996). H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Ernest Gowers ed., 2d ed. 1965). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (3d ed. 2011). Garner’s Modern American Usage (3d ed. 2009). Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage (1942). Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2004). These books are alphabetical treatments of thousands of anomalies, curiosities, and nuances that exist in the English language. You’ll find entries discussing “between you and me,” “can’t hardly,” “etc.” (how to use it, when not to use it, and how to pronounce it), “gauntlet” versus “gantlet,” “home in” versus “hone in,” “incident” versus “incidence,” “precipitate” (as an adjective) versus “precipitous,” and much more. There will also be guidance on parts of speech (their use and misuse), and thousands of other points. Many otherwise literate people are unaware of these books, but they are fascinating. If you’re thinking about reading up on your grammar, consider a usage guide. You’ll probably find yourself checking it almost every day. (Or should that be “everyday”? Are you 100% sure? Better look it up.)

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