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The Grammar Crammer

The Grammar Crammer is a concise, sensible grammar handbook that explains lucidly how to remember correct word forms and sentence structures. Useful as a reference tool for high school and beyond, it packs an entire grammar encyclopedia into just over a hundred pages.

What the reviewers said:

"A grammar handbook with an emphasis on formal written usage. The book discusses word forms, sentence structure, and style in a lucid, down-to-earth manner. Although this is not primarily an exercise book, there are check-up quizzes at the end of each chapter."
—Dissemination Network for Adult Educators, ACSA,
Foundation for Educational Administration

"All of the necessary grammar basics are in the voice of a concerned good-natured friend who wants to help people write for academic success.  In appropriate places, explanations of the history of an interesting rule of grammar are included, and strategies for avoiding confusion are liberally provided.  Several prominent mentions are made of the changing nature of grammar and how to cope when a particular paper grader has not adopted a widely accepted change."
Marc A. Kaplan, English Department Writing Center, Marygrove College in the NACADA Journal, Fall, 2004

Find out what our readers said

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An excerpt from The Grammar Crammer:


In speaking the English language, we use voice levels (loud and soft, as well as high and low pitch) and pauses to help show what our words mean. Punctuation in writing does the same job as those voice levels and pauses. If you say your sentences in your head when you write, you should get your punctuation correct nearly all the time. For guidance—or reassurance—here is a list of the major punctuation marks and how they compare to spoken equivalents. Although the period and question mark are rarely misused, let's begin with them for comparison.


Period: The voice pitch and volume fall, then stop on a conclusive note to signal that a complete thought or series of related ideas has ended.

Question mark: The voice pitch and volume rise, then stop as long as for a period.

Comma: The voice pauses without its pitch or volume falling noticeably, to signal that one idea segment within a sentence has ended and another one is beginning. If your meaning is unquestionably clear without a pause—or comma— then the comma probably is not required.

At any rate (,) almost immediately (,) the bottom fell out of both her world and his.

Colon: The voice stops abruptly, but with emphasis that shows that an elaboration of the just-completed idea will continue immediately.

In most cases, the co-worker is not malignant in intent but just someone who wants something you have and really doesn't give a damn how you feel: a conflict where most learners have no difficulty in refusing to give reasons to justify or explain their behavior to the other person.

Dashes: The voice pauses at the first dash, emphasizes slightly the material set between dashes, and resumes its former tone after the second dash, showing that another thought is interrupting the sentence's normal flow of thoughts. When the emphasized material ends the sentence, only the first dash is needed; a period ends both the emphasized portion and the entire sentence. As with all other forms of emphasis, when it's overused the dash loses its impact.

Years ago dashes were little used, and parentheses preferred to commas. (That's why asides put between commas are still referred to in many grammars as parenthetical phrases.) Our modern system is a refinement in reader signals. Set between dashes, the interrupting idea is flagged by the author as important. Set between commas, it is shown to be neither more nor less important than its neighbors. Parentheses are for relatively unimportant asides.

Another mistake novices make is to use the dash where a colon is the better choice. Keep in mind that the dash signals an emphasized aside, whereas a colon signals a to-the-point elaboration.

I sat on the metal cot—there was no chair—and stared around my cell.

Some writers use a great many dashes in their writing. This usually signals to the reader either that the writer has not organized his thoughts into logical units, or that he has not taken the time to decide what should or should not be emphasized. If lots of dashes creep into your writing, it's a signal to stop and decide whether all the asides are really important and, if so, whether they ought to be elaborated on separately.

Parentheses: The voice pauses, then de-emphasizes the information set between parentheses. This punctuation device is supposed to clarify a thought without shifting the reader's attention to the clarification. It isn't as effective as most of our punctuation marks because it slows down the eye, often creating the emphasis it's trying to avoid. That's why it's a good idea to resist parentheses unless they're indispensable.

Underline: The voice emphasizes the word or words underlined. Careful writers pick words and sentence constructions that emphasize naturally, and use underlining only as a last resort. Careless writers make it a crutch, attempting with it to impart drama to a particular point that otherwise falls flat.

The underline rarely appears in print; when a typesetter sees it, he substitutes italics.

Exclamation point: The exclamation point is an attempt to instill drama into an entire sentence. But if the sentence itself isn't dramatic, no amount of flashing marquee lights at the end will convince the reader otherwise. In English (unlike Spanish) the exclamation point appears only at the end of the sentence, not at the beginning. Save exclamation points for true exclamations—the short bursts of sentence fragment that share strong feelings with readers.

"Peace!" he cried. "Only peace!"

Quotation marks: Voice inflections, pauses, and mimicry signal that you're speaking somebody else's words. On paper they are conveyed with quotation marks.

Sometimes quotation marks are used by writers to disown words: to show the reader that the writer knows they're slang, or are used unconventionally, or express ideas with which the writer doesn't agree. Readers faced with this use of quotes seldom know why the word or phrase is being disowned, and the device generally ends up looking sophomoric.

The eternal stillness outside my door formed a barrier protecting my soul. I could "hear myself think."

If the reason for your disavowal is important, take the time to discuss it. If not, don't make an issue of your small difference of opinion.


Several forms of punctuation used in writing don't have counterparts in oral communication. The following three add sophistication to the expression of ideas, and are therefore worth including in the writer's arsenal. Keep in mind that punctuation is a convenience to the reader, not the writer (who usually knows already how his sentences should read).

Semicolon: The semicolon is usually used as a weakened period. It joins two sentences, each of which is grammatically complete. But it signals that the ideas are so closely related that, for maximum clarity, the two sentences ought to be read as one.

I have experimented with some mitecides, in desperation over a particular mango tree I simply could not bear to dispose of; however, I have found them ineffective in the long run.

On occasion, writers use the semicolon as a supercomma. In a string of thoughts, commas ordinarily separate the individual thoughts. But if one or more of the thoughts itself has to contain a comma for clear meaning, the reader may become confused about what's coordinate and what's subordinate. In such cases, most writers employ semicolons to signal the wider separations.

They most frequently strike in three areas: where ocean plates are thrusting under land plates, as is happening along the coasts of Alaska and Central Indonesia and the Caribbean; where the plates are grinding past each other, as in California and Turkey; and where continents are running into each other, as in China, Iran, and the countries of the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean, which are slowly crumpling under the pressure exerted by northward-moving India, Arabia and Africa, respectively.

Ellipsis: a series of three dots signals to readers that you've left out some words. At the end of a sentence, where a period is required, a fourth dot should be added.

"This investigation ... on its surface has an over- whelming appearance of a simple, wide-ranging exposure campaign . . . ," stated Supreme Court Justice Brennan.

Brackets: When you want to quote another author's exact words, but don't want to be bound by just those words, brackets provide an effective escape. If, for instance, all you need to quote is one sentence, but the sentence is unclear out of context, you can provide the missing information within brackets.

"It [his bungalow] was on a side street."

In informal writing, authors often omit the word which requires explanation.

"[His bungalow] was on a side street, smothered..."

Avoid brackets wherever possible. Here's an alternative.

His bungalow "was on a side street, smothered ..."

Brackets are also used to insert corrections and author's asides within quoted matter. The word sic, which tells the reader that the author is reproducing an error that was in the original quotation, also goes within brackets or within parentheses. Brackets should be used for parenthetical information that's set within an already parenthesized statement.

Use brackets (or parentheses [see previous section]) around the word sic.

This excerpt is copyrighted. Readers may print one copy for their own use. If you want to print more than one copy of any excerpt, or would like an article on another topic written for publication, email the authors by clicking here.

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 Judi K-Turkel, Franklynn Peterson, P/K Associates, Inc. 
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