Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.
Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure.
Seventeen chapters and a few worksheets later, I was a total fan. From “Why We Need Grammar” to “Usage and Style Tips,” Lisa has organized this book in a logical, sensible flow. Everything I looked for specifically, I was able to find without much trouble. (I blame myself for the stutters. I’m not always the best at figuring out how concepts will be categorized.) She brings up the differences between written and spoken language, something I haven’t necessarily seen elsewhere but that should be in every grammar text, for my money. The way we speak and the way we write follow different conventions and rules and guidelines. For me, that’s related to “register” (which I’ve written about here, in “Registering register”). But enough about me.
My first laugh-aloud moment was the opening of chapter 4, “Spelling and Style”: “As you know by this point in your life, English spelling is, to put it bluntly, a hot mess.”
That chapter ends with one of my personal mantras: “When in doubt, look it up.” My version’s slightly different, but the gist remains.
How wrong can you go with examples drawn from the STAR WARS universe? I mean, seriously?
The language of grammar education has changed significantly since I learned it (and got hooked on it!) in my elementary school years. (Let’s just say that I remember when JFK was shot, and leave it at that.) As I was reading and working through (you didn’t think I skipped the quizzes and work sheets, did you?), every so often I’d stop and nod and mumble something along the lines of “if they’d taught it this way when I was in school…” I’ve loved grammar (and diagramming! I LOVE DIAGRAMMING!) for decades, but man, I’m telling you — it’s a lot clearer when Lisa explains it.
You betcha there’s a section on “singular they.” I applauded its clarity. I’ve been a proponent of the epicene they for decades, and I’ve made the same comment: Don’t like it? Don’t use it. Recast your sentence(s) in the plural to avoid the issue, whenever possible. However, if the register’s suitable for using it, there’s really no reason not to, these days. (Caveat: As long as the gender is actually unknown/unknowable/immaterial, that is. Using “they” when you’re talking about a girl is odd, unless it’s been made clear that this girl prefers “they” as their pronoun. I could go on, but I won’t.)
I also enjoyed the section on “dummy subjects,” which I learned as “expletive constructions” (and have also written about, here). Rewriting Austen or Dickens to remove them? Unthinkable!
Had I had this book when I was teaching middle-school language arts, I think I’d have succeeded with the unit on prepositions. As it was, I abandoned it for a short study of Greek comedies and let the kids make masks. Ah, well.
Then there are the grammar myths (which I’ve also seen called “tombstones”). About the only one I’d not heard before is “Cakes are done; people are finished.” Wha?
So, in summary, I’ll say that editors will want this book. Teachers will want this book. Writers will want this book. If you work with words in any capacity, you’ll benefit from having this book on your reference shelf.
Here in her own words is how Lisa summarizes her work’s purpose.
“A poster in my office reads, ‘Grammar is not a secret code.’ It is a code, sort of, but it’s certainly not a secret. Grammar is for everyone, and everyone deserves to feel confident using it. The bigger point is that I wrote this book not to scold, but to support. It’s for writers who want to learn more about language and how to use it according to current professional standards. Grammar doesn’t have to be confusing and it doesn’t have to be technical. It does take some practice — that’s what this book offers — and with practice, you’ll be perfect.”
You can get your own copy here.