[slow reads logo]


    at betty's


    the comforter

    fear the turtle


    hymn 236

    letting go

    unless and until

    william at forty


    curling (lekshe)

    footnotes (dale)

    hotel (patry)

    leturn (shai)

    morning drive (tom)

    st. luke's (steve)

    thank you (sage)



    they move


    amazon, amazon!



    my kite


    the story of my birth

    wings, boats, asses


rss feed


intimidation-free grammar

[reviews]You took driver's ed to learn how do drive a car; you didn't have to take a course in automobile mechanics to get your license. Am I right?

So how about English grammar? They tried to teach me about adverb clauses, past participles, and indefinite pronouns. Just so I could write, I guess. But I never got the connection, and I graduated high school without a clear notion of what any of these grammatical terms mean.

Now I'm teaching ninth grade English, and I've just read Patricia T. O'Conner's little book, Woe Is I: the Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English. Its humor and logic are a bit beyond most of my students, but its approach is right. Why not just explain the whole thing? Why not give an overview to demonstrate that this grammar thing is manageable, and to demonstrate grammar's connection with writing and talking? We can always go back and learn about the subjunctive when we're in that mood.

Ms. O'Connor's material is organized well. She gives a general rule and follows it up with examples-- humorous examples, often involving sitcom and cartoon heroes from years past. The index works. She stuffs the grammatical terms into the glossary where you can find them if you want to. The chapter headings make sense, and the book is well cross-referenced. She repeats herself when necessary to carry a chapter off, and there is no harm in that.

She dedicates a chapter debunking grammar myths (e.g., don't end a sentence with a preposition; don't split an infinitive). The myths either were never true or were true only long ago. Her relativistic leanings seem to match those at Merriam-Webster, whose Dictionary of English Usage takes an historical approach to debunk similar myths. For instance, and happily for the preceding sentence, the Dictionary of English Usage traces the rule, "Don't use whose to refer to an inanimate object" to a footnote in a seventeenth-century grammar book. In short order, the footnote became gospel and overturned at least three centuries of precedent, including lines by Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope. Ms. O'Conner also takes issue with this whose rule.

[book cover]The most fun chapter is titled, "Verbal Abuse: Words on the Endangered List." This past Christmas, my family and I made a game of the specific words in this chapter that Ms. O'Conner says people either misuse or confuse with other words frequently. (E.g., "When would you use anxious in writing, and when would you use eager?" "What are the differences among eminent, imminent, and immanent?")

Ms. O'Conner also has a helpful chapter on common stylistic writing errors and a chapter on email, which won't tell you much new, but will at least give you written ammunition in your arguments for better-written email.

Now, if Ms. O'Conner would write a book like this for ninth graders, I will beg my school to purchase them.




short & slow



Box Elder
The Cassandra Pages
Clumps and Voids
Coyote Mercury
Crack Skull Bob
Creature of the Shade
Couch Trip
Dialogues with Silence
Dick Jones's Patteran Pages
Every Day and Every Night

Everything Feeds Process

Feathers of Hope
Fifty-Two: Weekly Poems
Finding Time for God
Fragments from Floyd
Fr. Scott & Co. Ask Some New Qs
Heraclitean Fire

Hoarded Ordinaries
Idiot Dreams
In a Dark Time
Inner Light, Radiant Life
Iron Monkey
Ivy Is Here
Listening After Dark
Marcia Bonta
The Middlewesterner
My Gorgeous Somewhere
Not Native Fruit
On the Slow Train
Open Reading
Paula's House of Toast
(p) (b)
Planting Words
The Rain in My Purse
Sage Said So
Shadow Cabinet
Shadows and Symbols
Simply Wait
Spring in the Road
Stony Moss
Tasting Rhubarb
3rd House Journal
The Truth about Lies
Two Dishes but to One Table
Velveteen Rabbi
Verbal Privilege
Very Like a Whale
Via Negativa
Voice Alpha
Walking with Celebi
Whale Sound
WMC Is Now Here