Proper English Grammar

style and grammarProper English grammar is the first thing expected of an article, Yes, good writing is more than style and grammar, and the engaging literary personality is a gift honed by long practice. But on the mundane level of correct usage, English is a minefield, and a cogent way of putting something can be hard to find.

Whatever you write is probably going to be altered — by a proofreader, the editor, a thoughtful colleague or the need to keep within style and space considerations. But you can do yourself a favour by getting as much right as possible in the first submission because:

Proof reading is a skilled trade that charges high fees based on the time spent sorting out your muddles.

Editors want something needing the minimum of alteration.

Unless you continually check you will never see the need to improve.

There is no magic formula, just self-evaluation and hard work. First-time authors are generally thrilled to have their novel accepted, but often come to hate the work later, finding it gauche, derivative, pretentious and good deal else. Below are some resources you may find useful.


Most writers get things wrong from time to time, and if good writing is inspiration, it is also a craft where tools are important. You'll not want to read the following in their entirety, but you should check whenever uncertain about a passage or particular usage, and set aside an hour or two each week to systematically cover the field.


Guide to Grammar and Style. Jack Lynch's personal listing.

Library Spot. Brief but useful listing of sites. Correct usage for American readers.

Refdesk. Dictionary and language resources.

Writers Write Online Journal. Much useful information for authors and booklovers generally.

Writers Free Reference. Sites useful to writers.

Toolkits for Poets. Anthologies, bookstores, advice, thesauri, etc.

Technical Writing. MIT articles on the technical aspects of writing.

18 Writing Tools for Grammar, Style, Content. Practical Ecommerce.


Reader's Digest: The Right Word at the Right Time: A Guide to the English Language and How to Use It: straightforward and sensible.

Henry Fowler: A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: a classic: a little dated and more for British English, but still useful.

University of Chicago Press Staff: The Chicago Manual of Style: excellent: covers bookmaking, style and production, and printing.

Thomas S. Kane. The New Oxford Guide to Writing: popular and well-recommended guide to finer points.

Patricia T. O'Connor: Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English: funny and informative.

Style: Approaches

Style is a complex matter, but here are a few approaches, that go beyond proper English grammar:

Style is the man: Style by F. L. Lucas: an old book that remains one of the best.

Fiction: Language in Popular Fiction by Walter Nash: also considers serious fiction.

General: Seeing Through Language by Ronald Carter and Walter Nash: practical student's introduction to most areas.

Literary criticism: The Functions of Style by David Birch and Michael O'Toole: essays at an advanced level.

Sociology: Language and Power by Norman Fairclough: how language mediates structures of social and political power.

Linguistics: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose by Geoffrey N. Leech and Mick Short: a good starting point.

Analysis: Investigating English Style by David Crystal and Derek Davy: a classic textbook analyzing examples.

Terminology: A Dictionary of Stylistics by Katie Wales: clear explanations of the key terms.

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