How to use a grammar handbook

How to use a grammar handbook

Struggling with a homework assignment or a business report, you realize that you don’t know whether to use “who” or “whom.” You look up both words in a dictionary, only to find that it doesn’t quite explain usage so you can grasp it. Now what?

Get a grammar handbook for those hard-to-understand concepts that good writers and speakers should use in their academic and professional work. From subject-verb agreement to capitalization and spelling, grammar texts offer a plethora of useful rules, examples, and exercises that can help you hone language skills to become a more effective communicator.

Shop for the latest editions of grammar books at the Web sites of academic publishers, like Longman and Prentice-Hall. Or visit any local bookstore, visit the reference or language section, and browse the latest selections of grammar resources. When you find one that you like, here are some tips for using it:

  1. Check the table of contents at the beginning of the book, and the index at the end. Become familiar with chapter or section headings throughout the text. That way you’ll soon have an idea of the topics that are covered and where to find them. The index outlines specific grammar, punctuation, and spelling headings with their corresponding page numbers. You may have to check subheadings under larger topics, like “commas,” for example, to find the answer to your quest for information about using commas with “items in a series.” Possible subject headings include numbers (whether to use numerals or spell them out), parts of speech, sentence structure (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex), and diction (informal versus formal). Of course, there are many more, as well, but these give you an idea of what you can expect to find.
  2. Leaf through several pages to get a feel for the book’s format and layout. Some texts may include several hundred pages and dozens of chapters to provide helpful information. The style may use bold-face or color print to highlight rules or point out exceptions. Other books offer special areas of concentration or application, such as English as a Second Language for non-native speakers of English compared to those who grew up speaking the language. You may be able to find distinctions between American and British English as well.
  3. Look for practice exercises or activities. These are often found at the end of each chapter or section. After studying a few rules, try the exercises to see how well you understand and can use them. If you are able to answer the exercises correctly, use the sample sentences as models for writing your own if you have trouble applying the correct punctuation. For example, you may know what dashes are, but are unsure of how to use them in your writing. Follow the model sentence structure to practice them in your style of writing.

A grammar book does not have to be boring or difficult. Shop for one that appears readable, and open it whenever you face a problem with using correct English. Your readers and you will be glad you did.

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