Grammar: a necessary evil in the writing process. It’s all fun and games while you are composing. You can get lost in your ideas during a free write — your imagery and figurative language transporting you to another world. But, at some point in the development of your piece, you have to float down to earth and begin the painstaking process of checking your grammar. Unless you are one of those people who read up on grammar for fun, you might need some help with those sticky grammar situations. Here are some great grammar sites that give you complete, clear information and maybe even some laughs.
This fun, quirky site was developed by Mignon Fogarty, the Grammar Girl. Like her popular book, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, the site covers many of our most common grammar problems: capitalization, tense issues, usage confusion, and commas. The site also demystifies key writing tools: onomatopoeia, hyperbole, and problem usage.
You’ll find much of the site’s information in podcast or video formats. Fogarty has won several awards for this site, starting in 2006, including “101 Best Websites for Writers — Writer’s Digest 2014” and “Top 50 Writing Blogs — PositiveWriter.com.” Warning: You can get lost in this site for several hours, even if you were just looking for the correct usage of “lay” and “lie”!
Also see Grammar Girl on her own YouTube channel.
Grammarly is a free app that claims to be the world’s most accurate grammar checker. Sign up for free, and then upload text or compose right in the Grammarly window. The grammar checker looks for over 250 problem grammar situations. Grammarly flags the error in your writing and gives you options for the correct fix, but it also defines the problem for you. It will tell you if you have a vague “pronoun reference” or an “incorrect comparative,” something that the grammar checker in Microsoft Word doesn’t do. Grammarly’s spell checker looks for errors in context, so it finds problems with “lose and loose” or “affect and effect,” something else Microsoft Word doesn’t do.
You’ll have to pay to get the power tools that come with a premium upgrade, but the free version seems to catch the errors that get noticed by your English teacher’s red pen.
The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is the grandmother of all online writing labs. You’ll see high schools, universities, and writing web sites all over the web linking to this one mammoth site. The OWL contains pages on the most common grammar problems: subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, use of prepositions and pronouns. But, it also details college-level academic writing issues: academic argument, logic and reasoning, paragraphing — even email etiquette. The OWL even has a complete explanation of both APA and MLA citation requirements — including example references.
If you love audio/video explanations, check out the OWL’s vidcasts and podcasts. They clearly explain lots of sticky writing areas.
Being a Cheesehead, born and raised, I rely on the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s online writing center. It has a lot of good information for the academic writer, but the grammar and punctuation pages are especially good. Each problem punctuation — such as dashes, hyphens, and semicolons — has its own page for explanation and examples. One of the most useful pages is an editing checklist of 12 common problems, such as sentence fragments, sentence “sprawl,” unclear pronoun reference, and misplaced modifiers. It’s a good editing reminder page. Just go down the list when editing and look for errors in your paper. Follow the easy examples to rewrite your problem sentences.
Sites with Interactive Grammar Exercises
Ever had a grammar test where you had to identify whether a group of words was a prepositional phrase, gerund phrase, participial phrase, or an infinitive phrase? These are tough tests, and to do well, you’ll need more than the explanation of grammar terms and examples of correct usage most sites supply. You are going to need practice exercises. The following sites give you interactive, self-correcting activities that will give you the practice and feedback you need to ace grammar tests.
This fun site might look like it is for kids, but the grammar instruction is leveled for middle school, high school, and college students. Pages for problematic terms such as auxiliary verb, participial phrase, and correlative conjunction provide explanation and examples that are more entertaining than anything your English teacher can dream up. YouTube videos and PowerPoint presentations can be found for many of the most stubborn concepts. These are useful for when you are assigned to make a class presentation to teach one of these terms to your class. The best parts of this site are the pages of interactive exercises that help you reinforce your understanding of a grammar term. Click into one of the activities, and Grammar Bytes will give you quizzes on the concept, correct you when you go wrong, and explain the problem.
The Tongue Untied is a composition and grammar instruction site produced by the University of Oregon’s School of Communication and Journalism as a way to help their pre-college majors reinforce basic writing concepts. The site has an interesting mix of blog posts about common writing problems and basic information about common grammar topics. You can get sidetracked easily by the featured posts about using “which” and “that” or “The Grammar War Address.” I spent an hour on The Grammar Vandal, whose blog links to the site.
But if you keep on task, you’ll find several interactive practice quizzes for grammar concepts you might be working on. The activities are self-correcting, so you’ll know what concepts are causing you trouble. Look those concepts up in The Tongue Untied’s explanation pages, or keep a list to ask your teacher about before the test.
Sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation in Harford, CT, this site is another wealth of information about grammar and writing issues. One of its best features is a clickable index of hundreds of grammar terms. Don’t know what a “zero article” is? Click on this site’s index and be transported to the definition and several examples. Click into the “Quizzes” page and find 174 self-correcting quizzes on topics from “Basic Sentence Parts” to “College-Level Vocabulary.” Check out a personal favorite: “Grammatic Esoterica.” Bet you can’t get an A on that one!