Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer

Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer

Summary

Grammar books may not be exciting, but copy editor Benjamin Dreyer does a good job enlivening this one with wit and sarcasm.

You may discover how many things you didn't know about the English language. A modern classic reference manual.

If you are looking for one of the best books on fiction, On Writing is a brilliant (and hilarious) best seller. If you want timeless advice on non-fiction writing, the classic On Writing Well is a better bet.

Notes

Introduction

I am a copy editor.  My job is to lay my hands on that piece of writing and make it…better.  Cleaner. Clearer. More efficient. To burnish and polish it and make it the best possible version of itself that it can be - to make it read even more like itself than it did when I got to work on it.

Copyediting also involves shaking loose and rearranging punctuation. Production editor — that’s the person in a publishing house who squires a book through the copyediting and proofreading process.

Now, proofreading, is a basic and mechanical process. Proofreading requires a good deal of attention and concentration, but it’s all very binary, very yes/no: Something is yes or something is no.

There are fewer absolutes in writing than you might think.

Copyediting is a knack. It requires a good ear for how language sounds and a good eye for how it manifests itself on the page; it demands an ability to listen to what writers are attempting to do and, hopefully and helpfully, the means to augment it.

The one thing I know is that most copy editors have in common is that they were all early readers and spent much of their childhoods with their noses pressed into books.

My favorite thing about it is still the pleasure of assisting writers and conversing with them on the page.

PART 1: The Stuff in the Front

Chapter 1: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Prose)

Here’s your first challenge: Go a week without writing

And you can toss in—or, that is, toss out—“just” (in the sense of “merely”) and “so” (in the “extremely” sense).

Chapter 2: Rules and Nonrules

THE BIG THREE

1. Never Begin a Sentence with “And” or “But.” No, do begin a sentence with “And” and “But,” if it strikes your fancy to do so. Great writers  do it all the time.  

2. Never split the infinitive. “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” In the Star Trek example, then, an unsplit infinitive version would be “Boldly to go where no man has gone before” or “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” If either of those sounds better to you, be my guest. To me they sound as if they were translated from the Vulcan.

3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition.Ending a sentence with a preposition (as, at, by, for, from, of, etc.) isn’t always such a hot idea, mostly because a sentence should, when it can, aim for a powerful finale.

THE LESSER SEVEN

1. Contractions Aren’t Allowed in Formal Writing.

2. The Passive Voice it to Be Avoided.

3. Sentence Fragments. They’re bad.

4. A Person Must Be a “Who.”

5. “None” Is Singular and, Damnit, Only Singular

6. “Whether” Must Never Be Accompanied by “Or Not.”

7. Never Introduce a List with “Like.”

Chapter 3: 67 Assorting Things to Do (and Not do Do) with Punctuation

PERIODS

1. Q. Two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence, right?
Wrong.

2. The fashion of punctuating acronyms and initialisms with periods has, well, gone out of fashion, so one is far less likely nowadays to see F.B.I. than FBI.

5. Feel free to end a sentence shaped like a question that isn’t really a question with a period rather than a question mark. It makes a statement, doesn’t it.

COMMAS

The Series Comma

8. Exception to this rule: An ampersand in a series rather than an “and”—negates the necessity of a series comma.

9. You might well, if you’re relatively sparing with your commas, write

11. Sometimes a comma makes no sense at all.

12. A comma splice is the use of a comma to join two sentences when each can stand on its own.

13. The vocative comma is the comma separating a bit of speech from the name (or title or other identifier) of the person (or sometimes the thing) being addressed.

14. We were all indoctrinated in grade school to precede or follow dialogue with a comma in constructions like

15.Will you go to London too? Will you go to London, too?

COLONS

Colons are not merely introductory but presentational. They say: Here comes something!

19. If what follows a colon is a full sentence, begin that full sentence with a capital letter, which signals to your reader: What’s about to commence includes a subject, a verb, the works, and should be read as such.

APOSTROPHES

21. The pluralization of abbreviations, too, requires no apostrophes. More than one CD = CDs.

22. To say nothing of dos and don’ts, yeses and nos, etc.

24. Do use an apostrophe to pluralize a letter. One minds one’s p’s and q’s.

25. The boss’s office, the princess’s tiara, Charles Dickens’s novels, Socrates’s

27. Donald Trump Jr.’s perfidy

28. John and Abigail Adams = The Adamses, The Trumans’ singing daughter

SEMICOLONS

32. The most basic use of semicolons is to divide the items in a list any of whose individual elements mandate a comma - in this case, Venice, Italy.  

QUOTATION MARKS

43. Once upon a time, what I’d call articulated rumination was often found encased in quotation marks:

48. If one finds the need to quote something within quotation marks, one then opts for single quotation marks. As in:

53. Modern style is to merge prefixes and main words seamlessly and hyphenlessly, as in: antiwar, autocorrect,
codependent

56. The age of people’s children trips up a lot of people with children.

66. Sentences beginning with “I wonder” are not questions and do not conclude with question marks. I wonder who’s kissing her now.

Chapter 4: 1, 2, 3, Go: The Treatment of Numbers

Chapter 5: Foreign Affairs: Standard practice is to set foreign-language words and phrases in italics.  

CHAPTER 6: A Little Grammar Is a Dangerous Thing

CHAPTER 7: The Realities of Fiction

A FEW POINTERS ON UNFINISHED SPEECH

Part II: The Stuff in the Back

CHAPTER 8: Notes on, Amid a List of, Frequently and/or Easily Misspelled Words

AD NAUSEAM

CHAISE LONGUE

DACHSHUND

DAMMIT

DIETICIAN, DIETITIAN

DIPHTHERIA

ENMITY

FUCHSIA

MINUSCULE

NON SEQUITUR

PREROGATIVE

RESTAURATEUR

SACRILEGIOUS

TENDINITIS

Y’ALL

CHAPTER 9: Peeves and Crotches

BASED OFF OF

FOR ALL INTENSIVE PURPOSES

LEARNINGS

ON ACCIDENT

PASS AWAY

RESIDE

’TIL

CHAPTER 10: The Confusables

A LOT / ALLOT, ALLOTTED, ALLOTING

ADVERSE / AVERSE

AID / AIDE

AMUSE / BEMUSE / BEMUSED

BAWL / BALL

BORN / BORNE

CARAT / KARAT / CARET / CARROT

CORONET / CORNET

FICTIONAL / FICTITIOUS

FLOUNDER / FOUNDER

LOATH / LOATHE

PEAL / PEEL

RELUCTANT / RETICENT

TORTUOUS / TORTUROUS

WORKOUT / WORK OUT

CHAPTER 11: Notes on Proper Nouns

A Note on Initials

Random House style favors even spacing overall for names featuring two initials, that is:

For names featuring three initials, go with the more compact

CHAPTER 12: The Trimmables

(The bits in italics are the bits you can dispose of.)

CHAPTER 13: The Miscellany

1. Strictly differentiating between “each other,” in reference to something occurring between two people,

8. There is a world of difference between turning into a driveway, which is a natural thing to do with one’s car, and turning into a driveway, which is a Merlyn trick.

10. If you love something passionately and vigorously, you love it no end. To love something “to no end” as one often sees it rendered, would be to love it pointlessly.

12. Title case is the convention of capitalizing, in titles of works (books, book chapters, plays, movies - you get the idea).

20. They’re not Brussel sprouts. They’re Brussels sprouts.

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