Ah, grammar. I love it because it gives language a set of rules that prevents it from going into total anarchy. But on the other hand I hate it. There are times where I just truly despise it (I’m looking at you, Mr. Comma). Because of the complexities of grammar it’s as if public schools are afraid to touch on it. I remember sitting in AP English and the teacher just so happened to assume we knew something about gerunds and the proper usage of commas and what ellipses are. And we told him the truth: We’ve never had a proper grammar lesson because everyone just assumed the teacher before them taught it to us. But hey, our science teachers taught us about elliptical orbits. (The poor teacher looked like he was going to hang himself after we mentioned elliptical orbits.)Truth be told the only teachers who even made some sort of an attempt to teach my class grammar was my seventh grade English teacher and my eighth grade History teacher (she had an English teaching license and it was her first love). Seriously, because of those two I was able to recite 60 prepositions and I still can. I knew how to break down a sentence into a diagram and I sort of knew how to use a comma. Past tense versus present tense can be a bit tricky (was or were? is or are? had or have?) and we watched the entire English portion of Schoolhouse Rock. So I knew a little something more than some of the other students in my AP English class. Despite the schools trying to pound the proper use of a noun into my head, there’s still a huge deficiency in regards to grammar. It was after high school that I learned the proper use of the em dash — a wonderful little punctuation that they fail to teach in schools (at least my district). They make sure to tell you that placing a comma in the wrong place can dramatically transform your sentence and yet so little is talked about the semicolon. And what about the interrobang?! We see it in books, but why doesn’t anyone ever mention its existence?!
While I was busy teaching myself the ins and outs of writing, I realized that I needed a sound understanding of grammar — far more than what I’ve been taught. So I sought books. The best grammar books out there? Hands down I found that Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss is not only highly entertaining, but it’ll teach you everything you need to know about punctuation. I think every writer should also keep a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White on hand. Hey, if E.B. White can make an arachnophobe like me to care about a spider, then he can make me care about grammar. Keeping a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage on hand is also essential. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had to refer to it.