Helpful Grammar Resources

By Karl Anderson


Is this sentence in passive or active voice?
Is “because” being used as a subordinating conjunction or a compound preposition?
Why is Microsoft Word displaying the green squiggles?
“I can has cheezburger”?

If grammar puzzlers are tripping you up, don’t worry—you’re far from alone! When you have a question about the technically correct way to phrase an expression, you might think, I feel like I should know this from the English classes I took in grade school. But chances are you’ve grown accustomed to patterns of what “sounds right,” and you haven’t been in the mindset of identifying nonrestrictive clauses or the nominative case (And if you’re like most people, you’re probably thankful for that!)

But despite its reputation for being difficult and pedantic, grammar can be fascinating. It’s what gives our language a basic, consistent structure, but as a whole these rules are nearly infinitely complex, rife with exceptions, subject to constant changes over time, and open to disagreements and multiple interpretations. Even if you study the mechanics of English for your entire life, you’ll still run into puzzling questions about grammar from time to time.

Arguably, being “grammatically correct” is a biased concept to some degree, but in a professional writing context, adhering to the established conventions of sentence construction will help you communicate your message as accurately and clearly as possible, and to the widest audience. That’s why anyone who works with text can benefit from having a style guide on hand to refer to when grammar questions inevitably arise. There are several different styles to choose from, and while they share a generally consistent and official blueprint for language structure, some formatting choices differ depending on the prevailing preferences of individual industries:

  • Associated Press (AP) Style (particularly for journalism):
  • Chicago Style (for book publishing):
  • American Psychological Association (APA) Style (for scholarly and scientific journals):
  • Modern Language Association (MLA) Style (for student and academic writing):

In addition to publishing traditional printed stylebooks, these organizations share useful grammar-related content online at their websites listed above, in most cases including searchable access to electronic versions of the manuals. That level of access typically requires a subscription fee, but website visitors can enjoy plenty of useful free features as well, in the form of regularly updated blogs, Q&As, and tutorials.

But let’s say you’re looking for something a little more fun. Here are some excellent online resources that explore and answer some common (and sometimes not so common) grammar questions:

Grammar Girl:
More formally known as Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, this popular and award-winning website—created by writer and entrepreneur Mignon Fogarty—excels at providing straightforward and easy-to-follow advice. It’s a good first place to go if you’ve got a grammar question, because there’s a strong chance that Fogarty has already explained the solution in a way that makes perfect sense.

Ask the Editor (Merriam-Webster):
This video series from the venerable dictionary publisher features charming videos of their editorial staff explaining how and why words function the way they do, including not only the usage but also the historical context of words and phrases. For example, here, Associate Editor Kory Stamper discusses the longstanding debate about “that” and “which”:

This blog, written and maintained by esteemed journalists Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, tackles many grammar and word-usage questions, with the goal of dispelling grammatical anxiety. O’Conner is also the author of the witty and insightful popular book Woe Is I, which makes the topic of grammar rules and their many odd exceptions remarkably accessible.

Daily Writing Tips:
As its name suggests, Daily Writing Tips presents a new post every day (or at least every day Monday through Saturday) to help writers improve their craft. Many of these tips are about grammar, but advice for using correct punctuation, spelling, and vocabulary are also featured. If you’re an active writer, you might find checking the latest random tip to be a mentally invigorating way to start your day.

Never feel ashamed about being uncertain when it comes to grammar, even if you feel like you “should” know the rule that would apply. Trust in your curiosity, and see where it leads. At least one of the resources above will likely have the answer, and in the process you might find answers to other questions you hadn’t even considered before.