I'm looking for a book to help improve my English. I know the basics but want to be able to write more eloquently, better my understanding of punctuation, grammar and correct sentence structure. I've no idea what I was up to in English class as a child but I don't really know the difference between nouns, pronouns or how to use a colon properly or how to use possessive apostrophes. These are just words and concepts that I know I've heard at some point in the past. My husband is brilliant at writing, very pedantic and has made me very aware of my inferiority in this area (just by virtue of being, not by being critical). I'm actually very embarrassed by this realisation! I'm thinking about returning to Higher Education to study for an MA and considering a career change beyond that. Before embarking on this new path I feel I need to brush up on these skills. Any book recommendations would be great. Thanks!
I think there are two aspects to this- reading instructive books; and looking at writing you consider to be good or bad, and analysing it to see why.
One of the earliest and best books I read about the use of the English Language was "Usage and Abusage" by Eric Partridge. Probably a bit out of date now, but if it channels you into thinking about the choice of words and sentence construction, that's all it needs to do. And as a more up-to-date choice I would of course suggest Lynne Truss's excellent "Eats Shoots and Leaves".
But where this really pays off is when you read with a mind to style. I recently read a book by a friend of mine which I am now going to plug shamelessly- "It's All a Kind of Magic" by Rick Dodgson- and realised how well it was written, when after about 100 pages I thought, "he really ought to have put a comma in there". Until then, the flow of the narrative was so good that my inner pedant had failed to spot even the tiniest improvement that could have been made. Not that I spend all my time trying to mark my friends' homework, but after a few chapters you definitely know whether you're having to work hard to follow what the writer is trying to tell you. So, having decided whether something was a joy to read, see if you can work out why- that will tell you as much about style as any book on the subject might.
Thanks very much, Prism.
I've just finished reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Great read and very, very funny too.
I've got Plain English Words to read next; I'm going to check out the others that you have mentioned too.
I read a lot of different books, so I'm taking note of the grammar and punctuation as I go along. It's amazing how much more meaning you can take from a book when you do this. It hadn't really occurred to me before <head-desk emoticon>
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