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What I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of the sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the subject photographed. Many people know camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences.

Joan Didion

Reviewing Grammatical Terms and Concepts

The term “grammar” can be applied to the description of language behavior as well as to prescriptions for correct language use. For the purposes of this guide, we will use the second meaning as the operative one. Links to both reference information as well as explanations and exercises that can be given to students are included.

As a comparison of grammar textbooks and workbooks will show, there can be some disagreement about basic terms. Writing “its” where sense requires “it’s” may be treated as an error in diction, error in usage, or an error in spelling. Like other reference tools, websites are most helpful to those who take the time to learn their individual ways of presenting things. Much of the best online help with grammar is found on sites that cover the whole field of English composition and research; for the sake of consistency and convenience, a teacher may want to recommend just one of these sites to students.

University of Chicago – Grammar Resources
This portal was created by the University of Chicago Writing Program. It covers shorter and longer grammar guides, ESL resources, scientific and technical writing, usage, and so on in an entertaining way.

UIUC – Grammar Handbook
This no-frills handbook from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, explains and illustrates parts of speech, phrases, clauses, sentences and sentence elements, and common problems of usage.

Guide to Grammar and Style
This is an A-Z listing of grammatical terms and individual words and phrases (“irregardless,” “try and,” and many more) which may cause trouble.

Guide to Grammar and Writing
An excellent site created by Professor Charles Darling at Capital Community College. Among other resources there are exhaustive explanations of grammatical concepts, abundant help with writing and research, and dozens of quizzes to check comprehension of grammar and usage.

Purdue University Online Writing Lab
This site provides extensive coverage of grammar and writing topics. The handouts (also available in printer-friendly versions) cover writing strategies and genres, research steps, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, parts of speech, and more. There are interactive exercises as well as rules and examples.

The Basic Elements of English
Sponsored by the English Department at the University of Calgary, this site offers tutorials on parts of speech, sentence elements, punctuation, and word use. Each brief tutorial ends with a quiz. There is also a marking guide.

Focus On Common Errors

One of the challenges in teaching grammar is the fact that students have received different types of and different amounts of training. A presentation on the punctuation of compound sentences may be familiar to some students and a revelation to others. The good news is that a relatively short list of errors in usage, grammar, punctuation, and spelling accounts for almost all the mechanical faults seen in student papers. You may find it helpful to browse sites that feature the 10 or 20 most common mistakes in student writing.

The UVic Writer’s Guide: A Summary of Common Errors
These pages profile and rehabilitate many of the usual suspects: the comma splice, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, wordiness, overuse of the passive voice, faulty parallelism, faulty agreement, insufficient variation, misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, squinting modifiers, and mixed metaphor.

Preliminary Quizzes
This site at Acadia University provides help with the 10 errors the English Department faculty members find most often in their students’ written work.

Authored by

  • Morrow Jones
    New Hartford, Connecticut