Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan Garner

I recently finished micro-reading this mammoth reference book:

Bryan A. Garner. The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. xxvii + 583 pp.

You can survey the contents using Amazon’s “look inside” feature.

Here are three thoughts I had while reading the book:

1. English is complicated!

As I read the section on how to make a singular noun plural, I thought, “How does anyone learn this language who is not a native speaker?” I speak it intuitively. I am not sure I could articulate all the rules clearly. I don’t know if I can even remember all of them! Sometimes it is easier to type in Microsoft Word and then see if it underlines what you type in a squiggly red or green line.

2. Learning other languages—especially learning Greek well—has helped me learn English better.

I have read a lot of grammars of other languages—mostly Greek grammars but also several for Hebrew, German, French, and Spanish. I haven’t read a comprehensive English grammar for over twenty years (not counting short sections on grammar within books on style and books on how to write better).

I don’t think I really understood how English works until I started to learn Greek my freshman year of college about twenty years ago. Reading this grammar was so good for me. I feel like I know English far better now, and I also have a better perspective on grammars. I have spent thousands of hours reading grammars of other languages, so reading a grammar of my native language is fascinating. And it is humbling because I can read a grammar of another language and think I understand that language. But that is not really how it works. The way to really understand another language is to immerse yourself in it for a very long time. (I attempt to survey Greek grammar in a short chapter in this book.)

3. This reference book helps me communicate more accurately, clearly, and concisely.

I know reference books are for us to refer to—not to read straight through like a novel. But I couldn’t help myself with this one. Bryan Garner is an authority on English grammar and style. He wrote the “Grammar and Usage” chapter for The Chicago Manual of Style!

So when this book released, I purchased it in hardcover, sliced off the binding, scanned it as a 600-page PDF, and OCRed it so that I could meticulously mark it up on my iPad. I’ve been chipping away at it for months, and I learned more about the English language at every point along the way.

My wife asked me why I would read straight through a reference book. My answer: so I can communicate more accurately, clearly, and concisely. My vocation has four main components: research, write, teach, and shepherd. Each component requires me to use words. Words are my craft. The better I can use words, the better I can serve others in my vocation.


  1. 10 Issues I Frequently Mark When Grading Theology Papers
  2. Zombie Nouns and Verbs: Why Nominalizations and Passives May Be Killing Your Writing
  3. MacArthur: “It’s very easy to be hard to understand”
  4. Six Useful Books on Writing

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