Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Grammar Book for Writers and Everyone Else!

by Lynn H. Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

Not everyone who writes is a grammar nerd.

While I fully embrace the term “nerd” when applied to me, I don’t consider myself to be a grammar nerd. My grasp of the English language comes more from the thousands of hours I’ve spent reading, and my ability to form a coherent sentence has more to do with an innate sense of what sounds right than from being able to explain what is grammatically correct.

In fact, until I’d been on the receiving end of an intense copy edit, I thought I knew what I was doing. 

Clearly not.

There's a lot I don't know about the English language, so when Dreyer’s English released and started popping up in my Instagram feed with some regularity, I thought it was worth checking out. Benjamin Dreyer is the Copy Chief of Random House, so clearly, he does know what he’s doing. 

I didn’t expect to laugh out loud while learning, but that’s what happened. This book is not a dry text on grammar and word usage. It's interspersed with commentary and hilarity, which made it a book I gladly threw into my pool bag, and I bet none of us have ever said that about a style manual!

However, before I go further, I need to provide three caveats:

1. There are a handful of expletives and a few rather coarse descriptions. If this is a deal breaker for you, you should pass on this one.
2. There are more than a few references to politics, which serve to make the author’s opinions on that subject clear. While it wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the book, it became tiresome and overdone and could put this book into the category of “glad I got it from the library and didn’t spend money on it” for some writers. 
3. There is rarely a page without a footnote and you have to read them to get the full scope of the book. If you don’t like footnotes, you aren’t going to enjoy this book. Also keep this in mind if you’re reading on an e-reader. I’ve heard a few rumbles that the footnote situation doesn’t translate well to that format.

What I liked:

1. I already have a list of redundancies that I look for in my manuscripts but Chapter 12 - Trimmablestook my list to an entirely new level. Example: falldown. What are you doing to do, fall up? (p. 245)

2. Chapter 10 - The Confusablesis one I’ll be turning to on a regular basis because I cannot remember the correct usage of farther/further no many how many times I look it up.

3. While I don’t consider myself to be a grammar nerd, I am as many writers are, a bit of a word nerd. I like everything about words—how they sound, how they came to be used, etc., and this book is filled with random bits of word trivia that I found delightful. 

4. If you’ve ever stressed about where to put the punctuation when using parentheses or quotation marks, or if you’ve ever pondered the usage of the en-dash, you’ll find your answers in Chapter 3 - 67 Assorted Things to Do (and Not to Do) With Punctuation. (Fun tip: Look at #38). And yes, I do mean the en-dash, not the em-dash, although you’ll find all you ever needed to know about that one, too.

5. Chapter 5 - Foreign Affairs had excellent advice on how to write words in a foreign language (to italicize or not), with special attention paid to the differences between American and British English. 

I could go on chapter-by-chapter, but I think you get the idea. 

Now, what made me laugh:

1. The footnotes. Oh.My.Word. The footnotes were hilarious. Don’t skip them. Please.
2. I’m certain I’ve never read a snarkier book about the English language. And I personally enjoy a healthy dose of snark. He’s not shy about expressing his opinions on serial commas or beginning sentences with “and” or “but.” (He’s in favor, and it’s fine). But also “lesser” things like the correct formatting of time in manuscripts and the classiness (or lack) of the word “classy.” 
3. At least half of Chapter 13 - The Miscellany. The examples, and his snide remarks, will make most word nerds happy at a deep-seated level. (See p. 263).

The Bottom Line:

Will Dreyer’s English replace your style manuals? No. 
Will it replace the iconic volume The Elements of Style? Unlikely.
Will it make you snort in laughter when you check to see how to properly hyphenate a word? Possibly. 

And when you’re bleary-eyed from editing your manuscript, a good snort of laughter might be just what you need. 

Have you read Dreyer’s English? Do you have a favorite grammar book? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Grace and peace,

A Grammar Book for Writers and Everyone Else! @LynnHBlackburn on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

A book recommendation for writers - @LynnHBlackburn on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lynn H. Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children. Her new Dive Team Investigations series kicked off in March of 2018 with Beneath the Surface. The second book in the series, In Too Deep, releases in November of 2018 with the third book to follow in 2019. She is also the author of Hidden Legacy and Covert Justice which won the 2016 Selah Award for Mystery and Suspense and the 2016 Carol Award for Short Novel. You can follow her real life happily ever after at WWW.LYNNHBLACKBURN.COM and on FACEBOOKTWITTERPINTEREST, and INSTAGRAM.


  1. Thanks for this post, Lynn. Have a bone to pick with you...your posts always make me buy a book. Lol. Just teasing you. I appreciate all your helpful suggestions. Going to go now and buy the book! I want to be a grammar nerd!!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation Ms. Lynn. This is one I'm going to order. I've used "The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation" (Jane Straus)for many years, but I'm guilty of not using it enough sometimes. Perhaps if grammar was a little more fun. God's blessings ma'am...

  3. I love words, and like you have a fairly good handle on their usage. That said, the CMS makes me cross-eyed and grumpy. Using it is like trying to find a word in the dictionary when you don't know how to spell the word. So I have a feeling this is a book I'd like. Maybe even love. Thanks for the good tip!

    1. LOL! I love this ... "CMS makes me cross-eyed and grumpy." That's a fabulous description. :)

  4. Replies
    1. Have fun! :) (Things you never expect to say about a grammar book...)

  5. Thanks for the recommendation Lynn. I will check it out .