My grammar books: Roy Hunt
Here is a piece I wrote recently for the writers Union I am a member of; the Irish Writers Union on grammar and writing style for fledgling authors like myself.
Apart from the obvious dictionary and Oxford thesaurus I’ve got a small set of grammar books I’m quite proud of (so why don’t you use them, I hear you ask). I do dip into them from time to time and I felt like sharing them with the readers of Final Draft.
Here they are, in order of preference.
Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots @ Leaves has to go first. I love this book. If you’re scared of grammar, or remember the mind-numbing, tedious lessons of school, then you must start here. It’s actually funny. Imagine that, a grammar book being funny? One brief example, ‘Fan’s fury at stadium inquiry’. Only when you read the article, Truss writes, do you realise there are many fans, ‘not just the lone hoping-mad fan so promisingly indicated by the punctuation’.
New Hart’s Rules. First published in 1893; I know, incredible, but upgraded to cover ‘authors, including self-publishers, copy-editors, proofreaders, designers, typesetters, ebooks, websites and other digital products.’ I love the section on numbers and dates, which in earlier stages of the draft of my first novel, Mutation, had me trying to pull off an ear lobe and chew it. I also love the design of my copy, produced by OUP in A 5 hardback.
Third on my list because it is modern and straightforward, and covers an area I struggled with. Caroline Taggart’s The Acciden’tal Apostrophe deals with proper punctuation. When to use a hyphen for instance and how punctuation can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Like Trusss’s book, this is also delivered with humour as in ‘Hang glider pilots in training’. Is this a warning to beware of low flying craft or a call to hang glider pilots who haven’t qualified? A hyphen, as in hang-glider helps here, Taggart argues.
William Cobbett’s A Grammar of the English Language. If you take the time (which I do from time to time), to dip into this book, it will delight you. It takes you through every conceivable pitfall in the English language. It’s written in the form of letters to his fourteen year old nephew. Don’t be put off by the age of this book, it was first printed in 1819. It takes you by the hand and gently explains everything from articles, verbs, prepositions and so on but in an entertaining way that I can understand. It makes me go ‘Wow, right, now I get it!’ Believe me, if I can understand it, so can you.
Another lovely gem is Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage (praised in Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves). I have the penguin edition. I love the design and cover. It alerts you to using the wrong word, or abusing it with overuse as in the following example of the word ‘case’: ‘There was a greater scarcity of crabs than in the case of herrings’. (p67).
Struck @ White’s The Elements of Style. No question, this book hits the mark. You want an explanation quick? (which is why my next selection is last). Struck and White will oblige. It’s a bit like that exercise book Younger Next Year, where they tell you ‘quit eating crap’. This book tells you quit writing crap. ‘Omit needless words’ is one example. It got me off to a great new beginning on the very first page of the very first chapter explaining how to ‘Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s’. Even if I don’t understand it all, at least now I’m aware of it. It’s progress. There is a great list in Part V; 21 points of advice including 4:‘write with nouns and verbs’, 13: ‘Make sure the reader knows who is speaking’ (Point of view; (POV) ) and so on.
The last book on my list is Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. When I started trying to write, all the books recommended this one; I don’t. Leave it until last, especially if you are struggling to begin. I don’t doubt it’s a masterpiece and I wouldn’t part with my copy for anything. But it is an acquired taste, you need experience first. My problem with Modern English Usage is the explanations go on so long that I forget which is the correct example and which is the wrong one. There is a great piece on words ending in ise or ize. But by the time he was finished arguing his point, I still didn’t know which one to use. I think its ise, but seemingly ize is okay to, depending on what authority you decide to follow. Read it and you’ll see for yourself.
I hope you found this small list interesting and of some help. Please email Lissa with any grammar books you love or have found helpful.
Cobbett, William; A grammer of the English Language (OUP 2002).
Fowler, H.W., A dictionary of Modern English usage, (OUP 2002)
Hart, Horace, New Hart’s Rules (OUP, 2014)
Partridge, Eric, Usage and Abusage (first ed 1947) Bucks, 1985.
Struck, William, @ White, E.B., The Elements of Style (New York, 1962).
Taggart, Caroline, The Acciden’tal Apostrophe, (London, 2017)
Truss, Lynne, Eats, shoots @ Leaves, (London 2009)