Thursday, January 12, 2012

Self Improvement: 1

I have started the year with a little self-improvement. The 'equipment' has, of course, been a book. Today I finished the first: My Grammar and I by J.A. Wines and Caroline Taggart.

This is wittily written, and I learnt a lot. Since I read it on a Kindle this had advantages and disadvantages.

One of the main advantages was the bookmarking and note-taking facility. Those things I didn't know I could highlight and refer to them easily when I wish to refer to them in future.

The disadvantage was that the page references weren't linked, but referred to by page number (which there aren't on my Kindle, well not without accessing another menu, which is tedious). The publishers have missed a trick there: the ability to link is one of the main advantages of the ebook format.

Another, more minor, gripe is that there were quite a few (deliberate!) examples of bad grammar, and sometimes the correct version was not given alongside. I would have preferred it without these altogether since there is always a danger that bad practice will stick in the mind.

Apart from these little niggles I found it a useful book, and it clarified a lot for me. One of the most interesting was the differences in grammar between American English and British English: we say 'which' while Americans tend to favour the less formal 'that'; we tend to omit the full stop (period) after contractions such as 'Mr.' while Americans are keeping theirs; and the Americans use the em-dash with no spaces, while we have an en-dash with a space each side.

There were sections on spelling and confusables, parts of speech, sentence structure and punctuation. It started with an interesting section on the history of grammar which provided me with an explanation of why I have always felt inadequate in this. I was educated in an era when the teaching of grammar was deemed to be unnecessary; the philosophy was that it was possible to learn through experience. This is fine most of the time, but there are odd occasions when I wonder, for instance, whether to use 'who' or 'whom'. All I had to go on until now was how it sounded, which wasn't always foolproof. Now I know that one is the subject and the other is the object. This helps me not only choose the right one, but know why I've made that choice. For me, it was a moment of great insight; one I was only able to have through reading this book.

I bought this Kindle book for £0.99 in the Amazon post-Christmas sale.

Next on my self-improvement list is Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (which has been in my TBR book pile for years) and the newly published Can You Eat , Shoot and Leave by Clare Dignall.


Blogger Maxine said...

Sounds like a fascinating book, and a very good point about the lack of linked page numbers. It does seem a bit strange that there isn't a good example to counteract the bad, sometimes.
Of course people argue all the time about grammar, eg Jane Austen split infinitives and Fowler allows it even though many modern house style guides ban it.
What you say about that and which is interesting, as we use both in English but many people use them interchangeably, which is not correct (you see, I could not write "that is not correct" in that sentence!).

Thu Jan 12, 06:30:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Maxine, you've reminded me of another good point about this book - the authors remark about the research on grammar they've done, and time and again they highlight variations in advice. Their conclusion seems to be exactly what you say: establish your own style and stick to that!

I have been using a few 'that's in my writing (thanks to Word) but I shan't any longer.

Thu Jan 12, 07:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the trends in teaching to be fascinating. You didn't get proper instruction in grammar. I think I got some grammar instruction, but it seemed to be dependent on which teacher a student had. (I couldn't switch 'that' for 'which' in that sentence. :) ) My kids haven't properly learned cursive because at the time they would have had it (3rd grade), schools were moving to keyboarding in order to keep up with technology. My daughter still isn't comfortable with cursive writing because she never has to use it.

Punctuation seems to be a moving target. I was taught a fairly strict version with lots of commas. Now, commas are dropped in places where I expect them to be. It's hard to keep up, but as long as one's writing is clear and the meaning doesn't get mucked up because of grammar or punctuation, I don't worry about the finer points.

Wed Jan 18, 02:28:00 am  
Blogger marly youmans said...

The American-British notes are interesting--I've had a few collisions with those sorts of things when publishing on the other side of the water!

Once again I envy your industry! The good side of the empty nest, I suppose...

Sat Jan 21, 11:12:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

They are, aren't they? Sometimes I like the American way better, sometimes the British.

Not sure it's the empty nest, Marly. I'm just not writing very quickly. I think it's actually improving what I do write - when I eventually do!

Sun Jan 22, 11:19:00 pm  

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