Grammar & Style
From short engaging podcasts to interactive tutorials to helpful examples and clear descriptions, you'll find a wealth of resources here to help you improve your grammar and elevate your style.
Also see: Multilingual Writers if you're looking for grammar and style help related to second-language issues.
Electronic diagnostic tests (Hacker's A Writer's Reference Companion Website) "The four diagnostic tests featured on this Web site are designed to be used with Diana Hacker handbooks and electronic resources. They can be used as diagnostic tools at the beginning of a semester or as competency checks later on. Two of the four tests (the AA and BB versions) include ESL (English as a second language) items. Reports of test results can be tailored to diagnose problem areas for individual students or to diagnose the needs of a class as a whole. Students may take the tests on their own or in a networked classroom or computer lab."
Grammar Girl’s "Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" (Grammar Girl) A weekly podcast on grammar questions and tips. You can subscribe to this free podcast of "Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" at the iTunes store or you can read and/or listen to Grammar Girl’s expanded episodes from the Grammar Girl web site. One nice thing about reading the episodes is that you can also read all the comments posted after each episode, which offer some real, some funny, and some wacky examples of the episode's main topic.
Writing Exercises (Hacker's A Writer's Reference Companion Website)
- Academic Writing (Ex A3-1 to A4-1)
- Basic Grammar (Ex B1-1 to B4-1)
- Composing and Revising (Ex C1-1 to C4-3)
- ESL Challenges (Ex E1-1 to E3-1)
- Grammatical Sentences (Ex G1-1 to G6-3)
- Mechanics (Ex M1-1 to M6-1)
- Punctuation (Ex P1-1 to P7-1)
- Sentence Style (Ex S1-1 to S7-1)
- Word Choice (Ex W2-1 to W5-5)
Attending to Grammar (Institute for Writing & Rhetoric, Dartmouth)
This web page argues the importance of having a good command of English grammar and then goes through some of the most common grammatical errors.
Commas vs. Semicolons (Purdue OWL)
An exercise to help understand the difference between commas and semicolons. Answers provided at the end.
Grammar Exercises (Companion website for Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference)
A collection of 200 well-designed and recently updated interactive exercises on grammar and punctuation.
Site Access: To access these exercises, you need to register with the site. Registration is fast and simple.
Guide to Grammar and Writing (Capital Community College Foundation)
This website offers an extensive overview of tips for writing at the word/sentence level, paragraph level, and essay/research paper level. The index is extremely thorough and includes all facets of grammar. The site also has interactive quizzes that provide the students with instant feedback and explanations of their performance. (Summary and recommendation courtesy of Katie Sudol, Montclair State Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Literacy Education)
Punctuation Made Simple: Guide to the Semicolon (Illinois State University)
Like it says--simple, basic, easy to understand.
The Semicolon (Capital Community College Foundation)
The basics about semicolon usage.
Semicolons - Quick and Dirty Tips (Grammar Girl)
Engaging commentary and instruction on the use of semicolons.
Writing Capstone: Grammar (IU Southeast Senior Lecturer in Communication Studies Michael Abernethy)
Last modified: June 8, 2009 | length 3:14
A mini lecture in the form of a video podcast done in a goofy but informative style that begins with a look at why one needs to understand grammar and then discusses two common errors: the confusion of there, their and they’re and comma usage. This is one podcast in a 16-part course series. Other topics covered include outlining, citation formats, finding good sources, incorporating sources, and proofreading. You can view the entire topic list for podcasts here.
SPECIFIC PROBLEM AREAS
Grammar and Mechanics (Purdue OWL)
The highly regarded OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Purdue University offers a writer’s reference on grammar, punctuation, and other writing mechanics issues.
Here are direct links to some of the most common issues:
- active and passive voice
- adjective or adverb
- articles: a versus an
- capital letters
- conquering the comma
- count and noncount nouns
- dangling modifiers
- grammar and ESL exercises
- higher order concerns (hocs) and lower order concerns (locs)
- how to use adjectives and adverbs
- how to use articles (a/an/the)
- independent and dependent clauses
- irregular verbs
- parallel structure
- quotation marks
- relative pronouns
- sentence clarity
- sentence clarity presentation
- sentence fragments
- sentence punctuation patterns
- subject/verb agreement
- transitions and transitional devices
- verb tenses
Grammar and Style Helpsheets (Hacker's A Writer's Reference Companion Website) (all PDF files)
- Balancing Parallel Ideas
- Choosing Between Pronouns Such as "I" and "me"
- Choosing Between "who" and "whom"
- Combining Choppy Sentences
- Eliminating Distracting Shifts
- Making Subjects and Verbs Agree
- Making Pronouns and Antecedents Agree
- Making Pronoun References Clear
- Recognizing and Repairing Dangling Modifiers
- Recognizing and Repairing Sentence Fragments
- Recognizing and Revising Run-On Sentences
- Using the Active Voice
- Using the Appropriate Mood
- Using the Appropriate Verb Tense
Punctuation Helpsheets (Hacker's A Writer's Reference Companion Website) (all PDF files)
- Removing unnecessary commas
- Using apostrophes to show possession
- Using commas before "and" or "but"
- Using commas with introductory elements
- Using commas with nonrestrictive elements
- Using punctuation with quotation marks
- Using semicolons
Adding Emphasis in Writing (Purdue OWL)
"This handout provides information on visual and textual devices for adding emphasis to your writing including textual formatting, punctuation, sentence structure, and the arrangement of words."
Conciseness (Purdue OWL)
"This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences."
The Elements of Style (William Strunk, Jr.)
Online version of William Strunk, Jr.'s classic text (first published in 1918) on writing clear and concise prose. The contents are hyperlinked, making it easy to find a specific topic or section.
Language Debates (Hacker A Writer's Reference companion website) "In the language debates on this site, Diana explores the reasoning that lies behind some of our controversial rules of grammar and usage."
- Absolute concepts such as unique
- bad versus badly
- Comma splices
- Commas with items in a series
- Dangling modifiers
- however at the beginning of a sentence
- lie versus lay
- one of those who (or that)
- Passive voice
- Possessive before a gerund
- Possessives as antecedents
- Pronoun-antecedent agreement
- -'s for singular nouns ending in -s or an s sound
- Sexist language
- Split infinitives
- that versus which
- who versus which or that
- who versus whom
Quick Guide to Troubleshooting Your Writing (Andrea Lunsford, The St. Martin's Handbook) "To help you in producing writing that is conventionally correct, you should become familiar with the twenty most common error patterns among U.S. college students today, listed on the next page in order of frequency. These twenty errors are the ones most likely to result in negative responses from your instructors and other readers. A brief explanation and examples of each error are provided in the following sections, and each error pattern is cross-referenced to other places in this book where you can find more detailed information and additional examples."
Sentence Variety (Purdue OWL)
"This resource presents methods for adding sentence variety and complexity to writing that may sound repetitive or boring. Sections are divided into general tips for varying structure, a discussion of sentence types, and specific parts of speech which can aid in sentence variety."
Style (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
"Have you ever wondered what your instructors mean when they write "wordy" or "passive voice" or "awk" in the margins of your paper? Do you sometimes sense that your sentences could be stronger, clearer, shorter, or more effective? Do you often feel that you know what you mean but do not know how to say it? If you often get feedback from your instructors that you need to "tighten your prose" or "look at your word choice," you may need to work on your writing style. This handout will help you recognize potential problems in your writing style and learn to correct them."
Word Choice (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
"This handout can help you revise your papers for word-level clarity, eliminate wordiness and avoid clichés, find the words that best express your ideas, and choose words that suit an academic audience. "
Paragraph Development (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
"This handout will help you understand how paragraphs are formed, how to develop stronger paragraphs, and how to completely and clearly express your ideas."
Paragraphs & Paragraphing (Purdue OWL)
"The purpose of this handout is to give some basic instruction and advice regarding the creation of understandable and coherent paragraphs."
Topic Sentences and Signposting (Harvard College Writing Center)
This guide discusses how "topic sentences and signposts make an essay's claims clear to a reader" and that "good essays contain both."
Transitional Devices (Purdue OWL) This source provides "a list of some common transitional devices that can be used to cue readers in a given way."
Transitioning: Beware of Velcro (Harvard College Writing Center)
This guide discusses the importance of strong transitions in essay writing and offers tips for transitioning.
Transitions (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
"In this crazy, mixed-up, topsy-turvy world of ours, transitions glue our ideas and our essays together. This handout enlists you in the cause."
Writing Transitions (Purdue OWL) This source explains the importance of transitioning between paragraphs and provides examples to show you what ineffective and effective transitions between paragraphs look like.