When you’re a grammarian, people react to you in interesting — and sometimes downright strange — ways. When the first edition of English Grammar For Dummies came out in 2001, an elderly man asked me about something that had puzzled him for eight decades: Why did his church, St. Paul’s, include an apostrophe in its name? (For the answer, turn to Chapter 11.) My nephew called to inquire whether his company’s sign in Times Square should include a semicolon. I said no, though the notion of a two-story-tall neon semicolon was tempting. Lots of people became tongue- tied, sure that I was judging their choice of who or whom. They worried needlessly, because I consider myself off-duty when I’m not teaching or writing.
In this second edition of English Grammar For Dummies, I explain modern, up- to-the-minute usage. Grammar does change, though usually an elderly snail moves faster than a grammarian pondering whether to drop a comma. As the world is now texting, tweeting, and PowerPointing all over the place, this edition of English Grammar For Dummies shows you how to handle all sorts of electronic communications, with special attention to business situations. In the current fragile economy, you need every possible edge, and proper grammar is always an advantage. Besides, you don’t want to sit around deciding how to create a grammatically correct bullet point when you could be lobbying the boss for a raise.
If you’re at a desk and not getting paid, you still need good grammar. No matter what subject you’re studying, teachers favor proper English. Also, the SAT — that loveable exam facing college applicants — added a writing section recently. It’s heavy on grammar and, ironically, light on writing. This book covers all the material likely to be tested on the SAT and the ACT (another fun hurdle of the college-admissions process) and alerts you to exam favorites with a special new icon. If you’re aiming for higher education, English Grammar For Dummies, 2nd Edition, will raise your standardized-test scores.
As in the first edition, in this book, I tell you the tricks of the grammar trade, the strategies that help you make the right decision when you’re facing such grammatical dilemmas as the choice between I and me, had gone and went, and so forth. I explain what you’re supposed to do, but I also tell you why a particular word is correct or incorrect. You won’t have to memorize a list of meaningless rules (well, maybe a couple from the punctuation chapter!) because when you understand the reason for a particular choice, you’ll pick the correct word automatically.
How This Book Is Organized
The first two parts of this book cover the basics, the minimum for reasonably correct English. Part III addresses what English teachers call mechanics — not the people in overalls who aim grease guns at your car, but the nuts and bolts of writing: punctuation and capital letters. A number of punctuation and capitalization rules have changed in recent year, but rest assured. English Grammar For Dummies, 2nd Edition contains all the new-and-improved standards. Parts IV and V — considerably longer in the second edition than the first — hit the points of grammar that separate regular people from Official Grammarians. In those parts, you find the stuff that appears in a starring role on standardized tests or in executive memos. If you understand the information in Parts IV and V, you’ll have a fine time finding mistakes in the daily paper, score big on the SAT and ACT, and impress the authority figures in your life — your boss, English teacher, badminton coach, whatever.
Here’s a more specific guide to navigating English Grammar For Dummies.
Part I: Getting Down to Basics: The Parts of the Sentence
This part explains how to distinguish between the three Englishes — the breezy slang of friend-to-friend chat, the slightly more proper conversational language, and the I’m-on-my-best-behavior English. I pay special attention to the intersection between these “languages” and the technology transmitting them — texting, for example. I explain the building blocks of a sentence, subjects and verbs, and show you how to put them together properly. In this part, I also provide a guide to the complete sentence, telling you what’s grammatically legal and what’s not (a favorite topic on standardized tests). I also define objects and linking-verb complements and show you how to use each effectively.
Part II: Avoiding Common Errors
In this part, I describe other members of Team Grammar — the two types of descriptive words (adjectives and adverbs) and prepositions — the bane of many speakers of English as a second language. Of course, I give tips for correct usage and explain how to avoid tiny missteps that wreck your writing.
In this part I tell you how to avoid mismatches between singular and plural words, by far the most common mistake in ordinary speech and writing. Part II also contains an explanation of pronoun gender. Reading this section will help you avoid sexist pronoun usage.
Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics
If you’ve ever asked yourself whether you need a capital letter or if you’ve sometimes gotten lost in quotation marks and semicolons, Part III is for you.
I explain all the rules that govern the use of the worst invention in the history of human communication: the apostrophe. I also show you how to quote speech or written material and where to place the most common (and the most commonly misused) punctuation mark, the comma. I outline the ins and outs of capital letters: when you need them, when you don’t, and when they’re optional. I also devote an entire section to the newest punctuation mark — the bullet point — and show you how to create proper presentation slides. Lastly, I tackle texting and e-mail, especially as they’re used in the business world.
Part IV: Polishing Without Wax — The Finer Points of Grammar
Part IV inches up on the pickiness scale — not all the way to Grammar Heaven, but at least as far as the gate. In this part, I tell you the difference between subject and object pronouns and pronouns of possession. (You need an exorcist.) I also go into detail on verb tenses, explaining which words to use for all sorts of situations. I show you how to distinguish between active and passive verbs and how to use each type properly. I illustrate some common errors of sentence structure and tackle comparisons — both how to form them and how to ensure that your comparisons are logical and complete. Finally, I explain parallelism, an English teacher’s term for balance and order in the sentence.
Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Aunt’s Grammar Teacher Didn’t Know
Anyone who masters the material in Part V has the right to wear a bun and tsk-tsk a lot. This part covers the moods of verbs (ranging from grouchy to just plain irritable) and explains how to avoid double-negative errors. Part V also gives you the last word on pronouns, those little parts of speech that make everyone’s life miserable. The dreaded who/whom section is in this part, as well as the explanation for all sorts of errors of pronoun reference. I explain subordinate clauses and verbals, which aren’t exactly a hot stock tip, but a way to bring more variety and interest to your writing. (The SAT and ACT are big fans of these topics.) I also give you some other pointers on writing with style, even in a 140-character tweet.
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Part VI is the Part of Tens, which offers some quick tips for better grammar. Here I show you ten methods for fine-tuning your proofreading skills. I also suggest ways (apart from English Grammar For Dummies) to improve your ear for proper English.
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