Daily Archives: April 14, 2007

Joseph M Williams Style: Towards Clarity and Grace (U Chicago 1990)


An oldie now, as you may see, and not all readers like it as the Amazon reader reviews under the pic above indicate. I have grown to like it a lot. For a start, it is very sensible on a topic that gets many a pair of knickers in a knot:

Now there is a lively debate about whether action and understanding have anything to do with each other, whether those who want to write clearly ought to study the principles of language at all. You may write well, yet you can’t distinguish a subject from a verb, or you may understand everything from retained subjects to the subjunctive pluperfect progressive, and still write badly. From this apparent contradiction many have concluded that we don’t have to understand principles of grammar to write well. Writing well, they believe, has to do with being sincere, or writing how they speak, or finding authentic voices, or just being born with the knack. Others devoutly believe that they learned to write well only because they studied Latin and diagrammed sentences beyond number.

The truth will disconcert both persuasions. Nostalgic anecdotes aside, the best evidence suggests that students who spend a lot of time studying grammar improve their writing not one bit. In fact, they seem to get worse. On the other hand, there is good evidence that mature writers can change the way they write once they grasp a principled way of thinking about language, but one that is rather different from the kind of grammar some of us may dimly remember mastering — or being mastered by…

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Posted by on April 14, 2007 in English grammar, esl for teachers, for teachers, writing