Reviewed: Books on grammar and punctuation

At Sookio we have a love of language and like to keep on our toes when it comes to grammar and punctuation. Not to be pedants about it and start wagging our fingers at people who get their apostrophes in the wrong place, but to make sure that we instil clarity into everything that we do.

We've been reading through some books on the subject, by way of a refresher. If you're keen to brush up on your grammar skills and are looking for a book to help, you may find our thoughts helpful. 

Oh, and we haven't included any links to Amazon; please support your local bookshop and buy them from there instead!

My Grammar and I (Or Should That Be 'Me'?): Old-School Ways To Sharpen Your English 

Author: Caroline Taggart and J. A, Wines

Reviewer: Jake, our editorial assistant and poet in residence

Who will enjoy this book? If you're an adult looking to brush up on your grammar, My Grammar and I is the right choice for you. The book is separated into topical sections which are further broken down into chapters regarding particular queries. This means it's easy to flick through to the information relevant to your needs.

What did Jake think of it? Before opening the book I was worried it would be a boring and obnoxious read. After attempting Eats, Shoots and Leaves (see below) I'd been left with a slight fear of books on language. This wasn't helped by The Times' suggestion that it 'would do for grammar what Eats, Shoots and Leaves did for punctuation' being splashed across the blurb.

Thankfully, it didn't.

My Grammar and I is humorous and enjoyable from the outset but always well detailed. Here Taggart and Wines have found a balance between interesting and informative that rarely falters. They sacrifice neither chattiness nor jargon and break the book up with anecdotes to keep the page fresh and friendly.

However, as the book is so concise in its delivery I wouldn't suggest reading it through in one go. That may pose too much information for you to handle! Keep it by your desk or in the bedside table for those occasions when you're being niggled at by a grammar-related problem and want quick relief.

Write Every Time (Or Is That 'Right'?) Cool Ways To Improve Your English

Author: Lottie Stride

Reviewer: Alex, our brand strategist and copywriter

Who will enjoy this book? If you want to relearn the core fundamentals of the English language then this book is right for you. It would also be of great merit to someone learning English, or as a school or university aid.

What did Alex think of it? Unfortunately for me this book missed the grammar (or should that be punctuation?) mark. Designed as more of a language dictionary than a guide I found it quite studious. The chapters are clear, concise and easy to read, but the content is very academic and focused on learning the English language.

It was delightful to relearn my nouns, pronouns and adverbs, the theory behind which you take for granted when speaking and writing English everyday.

Each section gives you clear definitions and examples that are effective and accessible. Stride has also added fun facts and extras along the way, the latter of which I found most interesting; a small note on cutting back on unnecessary words was helpful, as well as plurals in hyphenated words. 

My favourite section of this book by far was the punctuation chapter. A simple, easy refresher of the rules that was useful to someone who already has a good grasp of the English language in general.

It was refreshing to be reminded of the rules in a way that wasn't snobby or over intellectualised. Over all it is a great book, just not quite right for this reader unfortunately.

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

Author: Mark Forsyth

Reviewer: Sue Keogh, director

Who will enjoy this book? This is for people delight in language and are fascinated by style rather than those looking for a strict rule book. Broken into short chapters, each one focusing on an 'element of eloquence' with which most people will be unfamiliar - anadiplosis, chasmus or adynaton, anyone? - it's an easy, charming read.

What did Sue think of it? What I really enjoyed about this intelligent and witty book was the breadth of examples woven into every paragraph to back up the author's points, spanning Milton, Shakespeare and Orwell to Katy Perry, Queen Victoria and Star Wars.

So you have an story about seven-year-old Tolkien being told off by his mum for writing about a 'green great dragon' which leads into an explanation of word order - the sort of thing we all understand without ever having been taught.

And I never realised that when you repeat a word with a different vowel the order is always IAO: the pitter patter of tiny feet; hip hop music; flip flops. The book is full of neat little examples like that which make you go 'oooh, of course!'

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Author: Lynne Truss

Reviewers: Jake and Sue

Who will enjoy this book? People who already have great grammar skills who get wound up by other people getting it wrong.

What we thought of it: Sue tried reading this book when it came out in 2009, but couldn't get past the first chapter. The author was complaining about things which, to be honest, don't seem worth getting worked up about.

Fast forward to 2014 and Jake had a similar problem; the book feels more about the author's irritation with people not knowing the rules than an effort to help them improve.

So, for example, Truss gets annoyed in a petrol station at people selling CD's and recalls being appalled as a teenager at the carefree spelling errors in her pen-pal's letter.

The problem is that there is some really useful stuff here that will help you get to grips with apostrophes, commas, dashes and more, but to get to it you have to get past all these moments where she is throwing up her hands in horror.

For Who the Bell Tolls: One man’s quest for grammatical perfection

Author: David Marsh

Reviewer: Christine, web copy specialist at Crocstar and friend of the company

Who will enjoy this book? Those who want to understand grammar better, without it getting all complicated. Also people who think grammar is there to help you not trip you up.

What did Christine think of it? I really liked this book - it’s warm, funny and easy to follow. David doesn’t tell you off for not knowing things, rather he tells you not to worry too much so you feel reassured. He’s extremely knowledgeable and helps you remember the important bits with the help of song lyrics and amusing anecdotes.

One of the things I really like is that David is the production editor of The Guardian and edits the style guide. You get the feeling he really knows his stuff and that you can trust what he says.

For example, did you know you can split an infinitive? He tells you that lots of ‘rules’ have been applied to English from Latin, which is why they aren’t logical. His relaxed and progressive approach encourages you to think about how grammar can help your writing become more clear, rather than fussing over archaic rules. 

I'd encourage language lovers and grammarphobes alike to take a look at this book. It's a fun read and seriously helpful, too. 

Tell us about your favourite grammar and punctuation books

Do you have a book to recommend? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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