• Henry Holt and Co.
Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - Mignon FogartySee larger image
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Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing




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Q&A with Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl

1) You've started a grammar revolution. How does it feel?

It feels great! My approach to grammar is different from a lot of the other books because I believe it's more important to make grammar fun and to make the rules easy to remember than it is to point out errors and get all worked up about how bad and annoying people are who don't get every little thing right. So I feel like I'm helping people to improve themselves rather than making them feel bad or making fun of them.

Also, I'm surprised and encouraged by how many people simply find a grammar podcast interesting enough to download it every week and rave on their blogs or tell their friends. I'm still amazed every time I look at the traffic reports and see how many people listen to the podcast. And although the vast majority of the listeners are in the U.S., it's fun to know that there are people listening all over the world. Last time I checked, we had people listening in all but about four countries.

2) Do you have a grammatical pet peeve? Something that always annoys you when you see it misused? 

Ironically, I don't get annoyed by grammatical errors anymore. I used to edit corporate documents, and I would get annoyed when clients would change good grammar to bad grammar—for example, changing a correct "that" to a "which"—but the more time I spend researching usage topics the more I realize that many seemingly hard-and-fast rules are actually just suggestions or consensus opinions, so I've become much more forgiving. 

3) Are there any grammar rules that trip you up? Ones that you have to stop and think about or even need to look up to double-check?

I always have to look up the proper conjugation for "lay" and "lie." You'd think I'd know it by now, but it just doesn't seem to stick. I'm working on making a mnemonic for it, but so far I haven't come up with anything great. There's a lay-lie conjugation chart in the book because I figure if I have problems with it, other people probably do too.

4) What is your most frequently asked grammar question?

There isn't a single standout, but one of the common questions is how to remember the difference between "affect" and "effect." I have lots of memory tricks for that one! My favorite trick to remember that "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun is to think of a raven flying down the avenue. The first letters of affect-verb-effect-noun are AVEN and "raven" and "avenue" both have "AVEN" in them. Other people like the trick that "affect" stands for an action, and both "affect" and "action" start with the letter "a." There are even more tricks in the book.

5) Do you listen to audiobooks? What are some of your favorites?

I travel a lot by car, and I always listen to audiobooks on road trips. I imagine that people expect me to listen to highbrow literature or the classics, and I do like to read those kinds of books, but when I'm listening instead of reading I prefer educational books and page-turner fiction. Some of my favorites are A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, and all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. I think Johanna Parker, who narrates the Sookie Stackhouse audiobooks I've listened to, is a particularly good reader.