The Grammar Devotional: Learn Something New Today

by Erin Brenner on April 1, 2010

I’ve been listening to the Grammar Girl podcast for years. It offers grammar lessons in plain English. The Grammar Girl widget sits to the right of this column (scroll down and take the quiz!). I guess you could say I’m a fan. I haven’t read Fogarty’s first GG book, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, so I wondered if her new book, The Grammar Devotional, would live up to what I’ve come to expect from “Grammar Girl.”

How to Use This Book

The Grammar Devotional is organized into 52 weeks/chapters with 7 days/sections. The weeks aren’t dated, so you can start at any point of the year if you choose to read a lesson a day. Most Mondays have a punctuation lesson, Wednesdays offer “Language Rock Stars” (more on that below), Fridays hold quizzes, and Sundays often have cartoons.

Each lesson is very short and concise. Take five minutes a day, reading one lesson, and you’ll improve your grammar over time.

Of course, you don’t have to read just one lesson a day over the course of a year. You can read several entries at once or go to the index for specific issues. If you get stuck on something, you can dig deeper into the topic online or in another reference book (check out my Language Reference page for some ideas). It’s a compact book, so it’s easy to keep it nearby or carry with you.

The Information Within

Grammar is tricky stuff, and it’s easy to get it wrong. Or sort of right but not the whole story. Fogarty takes a risk by writing with such brevity; it’s easy to miss a small but important point in a lesson. But Fogarty succeeds in accuracy with grace.

I don’t know why, but I expected the quizzes to reflect the previous week’s lessons. They don’t. They’re individual grammar lessons. They allow you to test your knowledge by not reviewing anything first. All the answers are in the back, along with explanations, so if you didn’t understand the quiz or the answers, you will.

Sometimes I just wanted more. The ampersand (&) entry (p. 7) says that the use of the ampersand is governed by style guides. But which allow it in company names? What kind of writing might it be OK in? You are going to have to take that next step on your own. Check out your own style guide, or if you don’t have one, do some research on whether it’s reasonable to use the ampersand in your type of writing.

“Language Rock Star” is a departure from most grammar books I’ve seen. If you’re not familiar with the heavyweights or the history of American English (and many people are not), this is a great way to get to know both better. This can be key if you’re looking for more authorities to dig deeper into any topic. Fowler is included, as are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook. Bryan Garner even gets a swoon (yeah, I swoon for him too). These entries also help you answer such important questions as, Why are they “malpropisms”? What’s up with all these Webster’s dictionaries? What did Ben Franklin have to do with language?

What else will you learn in this book? How about:

  • Restrictive clauses
  • Semicolon
  • Begs the question (one of my hobby horses)
  • Well vs. good
  • Less vs. fewer
  • Action vs. linking verbs
  • Abbreviations
  • Coordinating conjunctions

Do I Like It? Will You?

This book deserves to be in your collection. For a quick question or a quick review, The Grammar Devotional is great. If you’re totally at sea with some of the entries or with the finer points of grammar, you’ll need something more in-depth, however. It’s not that the information is faulty. It’s not; it’s spot on. It’s just that it’s brief. If you’re new to the writing game, you’ll need more explanation, not to mention practice. Still, this is a great place to start.

And if you’ve ever wondered what goes into making a grammar book, Fogarty did a great video podcast on how she organized The Grammar Devotional. I found it really interesting how she put it all together. Check it out:

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