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Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose Kindle Edition

29 customer reviews

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Length: 322 pages

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Editorial Reviews


“Probably the hippest grammar guide ever written, this book shows how to write for results, wholesome or subversive.” —American Way
“This new grammar book is light-years ahead of what you’d read in eighth-grade English: With vivid, contemporary examples of what to do and what not to do, it’s fun to read.” —Charlotte Observer
“In ‘Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose,’ Constance Hale provides a plugged-in, cutting-edge alternative to the must prescriptions of Strunk and White. Here you will find an open-minded, exuberant approach to style that is intelligent and refreshing.” —Charles Harrington Elster, in The San Diego Union-Tribune
 “Hale has put together a writing/grammar manual that is fresh and fun. The basic rules are here, and they are well explained. The ‘sin’ from the title is partly advice on when and how to break these rules. The other sins are examples of oft-repeated mistakes…..this guide will help [readers] use effective and artful language. The examples range from Dr. Seuss books to John F. Kennedy's speeches to commercials…. Easy to understand and appealing to a broad range of readers, this book is highly recommend for all libraries.” —Alisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI, in Library Journal
“This is a wonderful how-to-book about writing stuff people want to read. Those who have studied the subject might think of Hale as a peacemaker between the Strunk and White tribe devoted to precision and the more entertaining descendants of Henry Mencken, full of energy and inventions. Nonwriters who just want advice that won’t put them to sleep will find sentences they can dance to.” —Make Maza in The Dallas Morning News
 “Constance Hale, in ‘Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose,’ is the first grammarian I’ve seen in a long time brave enough to revive diagramming.” —Ed Gray, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
 “Hale’s analyses of texts, from Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! To the jargon-laden prose of government and corporate documents, are full of insight because she lets the reader in on how language has the power to move us or confuse us.”  —Charles K. Bultman, in California Lawyer
 “Hale [is] good at explaining rules, and she provides a lot of examples of writing that really is sinfully good. Osmosis alone should help you here.” —Gary Kaufman, in Salon
"Move over, grumpy schoolmarms everywhere. Your time has come.  For the writer or wannabe, Sin and Syntax  is an urgently needed, updated, and hip guide to modern language and writing. Nobody but Connie Hale could make the elements of 21st-century style so much fun." --Jon Katz, media critic and author of Running to the Mountain and Virtuous Reality

"Sin and Syntax is one of the rare books that recognizes--and even celebrates--the fact that good writing has little to do with 'rules' and much to do with a true understanding of effective prose. Connie Hale provides us an invaluable service by showing us what works and what doesn't in the real world, regardless of what the pedants say."--Jesse Sheidlower, Senior Editor, Random House Dictionaries, and author of "Jesse's Word of the Day" column

About the Author

Constance Hale ( is the author of Wired Style, the one-of-a-kind guide to online English usage and geekspeak that was hailed by Newsweek as "The Chicago Manual of Style for the Millennium." A former editor at Wired, Hale has written for numerous publications including the San Francisco Examiner and The Microsoft Network. She has created maverick writing courses for people of all ages, including a popular seminar called "Grammar for Grownups," and currently teaches at U.C. Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, California.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1811 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385346891
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Rev Upd edition (August 13, 2013)
  • Publication Date: August 13, 2013
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,473 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

I am a writer and critic based in San Francisco. I grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, where I spoke "proper" English at home and Hawaiian creole (or "Pidgin English") at school and with friends. I'm sure that this "bilingual upbringing" gave me my obsession with language. I travel to Hawaii often for both personal and professional reasons, and to stay connected to that culture I study the hula here in California. (My husband says I will dance at the drop of a hat, but actually it's Hawaiian music that makes me want to move.)

I left the islands to get a B.A. from Princeton, then spent a number of years writing fiction and drama, performing solo pieces in San Francisco coffeehouses and getting rejection letters. I loved journalism, so got a master's degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, then worked as a reporter and editor at several California newspapers before joining Wired magazine. There I began seriously dabbling in the idiosyncrasies of the mother tongue and wrote "Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age" in 1996, and then "Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose," in 1999. The books got me dubbed "Marion the Librarian on a Harley or E.B. White on acid."

"Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch" completes the trilogy. I was still curious about the history of English--and indeed the evolution of language itself--and wanted to explore some of my ideas about how and why the verb is the linchpin of great writing. It's intended to be useful to professional writers and students, but also just fun and weird and interesting. I also wrote a series on the sentence for "Draft," in the New York Times Opinionator, and through my Web site I offer tips, techniques, and teaching materials to writers and teachers across the country and the world.

I don't only write about language; I've covered Latino culture, Berkeley politics, ethnic-folk music, and Hawaiian sovereignty in publications as diverse as The Atlantic Monthly, Honolulu, National Geographic Adventure, and Smithsonian. My travel pieces and personal essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous anthologies.

The secret to the writing I like: an unusual combo of classy and sassy. The secret to the teaching I like: smart lessons and hilarious fun. The secret to the life I seek: giving of yourself to others.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By M. Munoz on August 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I can't stop gobbling down the pages of this book, even as I force myself to stop, re-read and savor.
I have a theoretical linguistics degree and the title made me smile. I thought it would be like The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, sort of another satirical reference book for (the seemingly millions of) eager new writers.

I decided if it wasn't a satire, then I wasn't going to read it, since I'm not a fan of handbooks on writing. I'm a bit jaded. Out of the 50 or so I own, I think only a few are written so well I can read them just for the pure pleasure of the words. And this is one. (Another is 'Your First Novel' by Laura Whitcomb, in case anyone is curious.)
This book is a thing of beauty. Just as she quotes Sam Tanenhaus describing Updike's prose as 'lathe-turned' so has every word and phrase in this book been carefully, lovingly chosen. Imminently quotable, unendingly encouraging, I found beauty and truth on every page so far.
The linguist in me is thrilled that she draws a distinction between grammarians and linguists (the former see eight parts of speech and the latter see four 'major word classes') and the writer in me is reveling in her pitch-perfect prose.
My favorite lines at this moment, which are now scribbled on a slip of paper and taped to my monitor:

"After having suffered the hyperactive red pens of the schoolmarms and the hypercorrect rules of the inflexible pedagogues, too many of us have retreated to the realm of the safe, the standard, the unimaginative. We stick to common words- or, worse, pull out a hackneyed phrase. We yield to the conventions of a profession, rather than pushing ourselves to be unconventional. We use jargon rather than coming up with original language.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ryan J. Dejonghe TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
When the Packers needed help reversing their seasonal losing record, they brought in the now Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. As the story goes, Vince began his tenure by holding up a football and saying, "Let's start at the beginning. This is a football." In Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale is standing in the proverbial locker room, saying, "This is a noun."

I've read or flipped through about ten grammar books this year and this is the first book that starts with the basics. I have a high school grammar textbook on my nightstand that doesn't even talk about parts of speech until page 150 or so. Each book I've read begins with lessons about being concise, word choice, or commonly misplaced words. Sin and Syntax is the first book I've read this year that starts out with Chapter 1: Nouns.

If I had to change anything about this book, it would be the cleverly worded title. As another reviewer stated, I thought this book would be salacious, but the author misses such easy innuendo set-ups like copulative and transitive verbs. (Side note: I'm still confused on the author's perturbation about the misuse of the word `like'. I'm sure I just misused it, but I'll daringly roll with it.) I would have liked more antidotal asides to help ease the starchy grammar lessons, but alas, no gun-wielding pandas or road-crossing aardvarks were to be found.

The sin in this book's syntax was the formulaic setup of each chapter. To some readers, this may be quite helpful. To me, this moves the book from being an interesting read-through to being a shelf-puller. Meaning, instead of keeping this on the back of the toilet for a quick jab at the expense of some pop star, this book will be kept on the shelf for future reference--and that's a good thing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steve R. Yeager on September 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was not the traditional Strunk and White style book. Instead, it offered concrete examples for different parts of speech and sentence structure. While a lot of the information is basic, it does offer a good refresher course in grammar and structure, but not only that, it offers advice that most grammar teachers would not dare tell you. Trust your voice. Revel in the joy of language.

And all that I appreciated. I subtracted one star because the examples given in the text I found to be odd and I couldn't quite put what was stated in the instructional parts of the book with the quality of the examples. So many came from political speech, some from odd sources, and others from books I have no desire to ever read (Hemingway, being a noted exception). So it is hard to blame the author here as the material was subjective and some people may love it. I did not.

The other star I sadly had to deduct due to the price of the book. Yes, I know it is usually not in the author's control, and I might be unfairly judging based on price, but still, the e-book was over $10 (when I purchased) for material that is perhaps worth about $5. At $5, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

But, being that this is Amazon, and I wrote the original review on Goodreads, I gave this book four stars here.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 9, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Old-timer as in writing for over a decade, not actual age! I could tell from reading the first couple of pages of this book that it was going to be a good kick-in-the pants to get inspired and rev back up. I'd been on a hiatus from writing for a while and needed something to put me back that "eager to tell a story" mode. This book did that and more. So whether you're just starting out or have been writing for a while, check out this title for an abundance of examples on how to keep your work lean and fresh. Recommended.
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