Good grammar helps with almost every job and every endeavor. Why the Bad Grammar?, an interesting article in The Washington Times, points out that grammatical errors have become more common, even in published work. So give yourself a pat on the back for wanting to improve; with all the bad writers out there, you’ll stand out even more!
Note: this guide is aimed at native English speakers and advanced ESL learners. There are many helpful websites for those just starting to learn English, like English as a Second Language, EnglishClub.com, and BBC Learning English, just to name a few.
Step 1: Know the Rules
I wrote a number of posts reviewing the basics of English grammar. Here they are in order:
Online Style Manuals
I can’t cover every minor detail of the English language. So, here’s a list of free references:
- The BBC News Styleguide (PDF)
Step 2: Immerse Yourself in the Grammar Community
Aside from all the free reference materials, the internet offers one invaluable tool: community. Yes, there’s even a community based on English grammar. Take advantage of it! You’ll find many helpful people out there who will happily answer your questions. And remember: you can learn a lot just by reading other people’s questions and trying to answer them.
English forums and groups:
- Pain in the English - an excellent blog that explores the "gray areas of the English language" and promotes discussion.
- Celebrity English - Grammar Examples - makes grammar lessons fun by using examples from celebrity news.
- "Language Rules!" - "directed at the preservation of the correct use of the English language through brief lessons, random thoughts, and occasional rants."
- Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - covers many grammatical issues, with podcasts for every post.
- Better at English - "free English lessons for busy people", including podcasts.
- Grammar Hell - all about grammatical errors.
- Literally, a Web Log - dedicated to "tracking abuse of the word 'literally'".
You might also like to join me (and about 70 other people) on the Improve My Grammar goal on 43 Things, where you can write about your progress, ask questions, and discuss grammar with other learners.
Step 3: Practice
The rules of grammar are fairly simple, but you need practice and patience to get a feel for all the minor quirks and nuances of the language. The communities and blogs listed above offer great practice, but you should also work on your own:
Get in the habit. Try to use correct grammar in your emails, instant messages, and wherever else you usually slack off. If you use bad grammar in your everyday writing, how can you expect to improve?
Read consciously. Read (a lot!) and pay attention to how others use grammar. Read online articles, blogs, challenging books, magazines – anything with words.
Write. This is why you’re improving your grammar in the first place: to communicate better! So, write more often and your grammar will surely improve over time.
Diagram sentences. Many grammarians believe that sentence diagramming helps students better understand the structure of a sentence. I’ve never really studied this, but I found these examples interesting to glance at:
- Sentence Diagramming Guide - explains how to diagram sentences.
- Diagramming Sentences - 50 basic sentence diagrams.
- Diagramming Sentences - sentence diagrams for more complex sentences.
Step 4: Study Another Language
As a buddy from 43 Things pointed out here, learning a new language forces you to think about grammar in a new way, which will help you better understand English grammar, as well. Studying linguistics will also help; I mean, have you ever met a linguist who uses incorrect grammar? I didn’t think so.