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on August 14, 2013
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.

Hidden in such prefab prose is a fear of going to the edge. But it's romping on the fringes of language that gives writing its frisson. The right word might be snagged off the street, snatched from another language, or hatched in the sand tray of the imagination. Dive into the polyglot English tongue, taking a cue from Walt Whitman, that high priest of the rambunctious..."

Amen, amen! Sin and Syntax is worth the price of entry. Enjoy.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 15, 2013
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. But again, this goes back to the lustful sounding title giving me false expectations.

While I did appreciate the book's organization, the heavily structured chapters drained the organic voice of the author. This was painfully apparent when the chapter on interjections followed the same outline as the chapter on verbs. If it's not there, it's not there--why force it? On the other hand, I'm tired of seeing other grammar books that read like the author hit "view all entries" on their blog, hit print, and then bound the random blog entries in a book. Sin and Syntax is very organized, almost to a fault.

There is also some confusion about the updates contained in this book. Beside the one bolded line at the top, Amazon's description for this book and the older version are identical. I bought the printed version of the updated book and read it side-by-side with the Kindle version of the original. The new book follows the same hardened structure, but has been vastly updated. The author has done a LOT of work to update this book. I don't recall seeing this many outside samplings in any other writing book. The author has also added exercises at the end of each chapter. What I didn't find is a lot of references. The author does a great job explaining why certain rules are in place, but doesn't always tell us who defined these rules.

For those looking for warm and inspiring writing advice, you may be better served elsewhere. The final chapters have some of that, but mostly this book is a study on the particulars of the craft. Those willing to take the time and study the samples and practice the exercises will be plentifully rewarded. Those looking for a quick read and instant improvement may be disappointed.

On an enjoyment level, I can't offer this book many stars. However, if I put in the time to re-read the chapters and practice the exercises, I have no doubt this book will improve the strength of my writing (but maybe taking away some of the creativity?).
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on September 13, 2013
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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on March 9, 2014
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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on September 7, 2013
I only purchased this book because Stanford University recommended it for their edX Medical Writing course. At first, I was turned off with the overt effort to turn this book into something salacious, which I thought was a desperate attempt to sell something - like a book.

I still think that, but after reading this book, she somehow pulled it off and gave some effective tips. Do I remember the tips? No. But I will make an effort to re-read the book and this time, be a more respectful reader, knowing she actually has something to say.
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on July 12, 2015
It's wonderful to have a book worthy of five starsto comment on. Constance Hale lives and breathes language, it is evident in this book and on her website. She makes it her business to inform people making use of the English language in writing, to correctly articulate what they are putting across, and by using the correct grammar and punctuation. It is amazing to find, as a second-language English speaker, reading first-language English speakers' written word how wrong they sometimes get things like apostrophes, plurals, wrong context, incomplete syntax, linguistic errors, to name but a few. This book is on my highly recommended list.
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on October 5, 2013
As you can gather from the title, this book has fun with the dry subject of grammar. It is obvious that Constance Hale enjoys her subject and knows what she is talking about. Each chapter begins with a section on the rules of grammar, but then she gives plenty of examples of bad writing and great writing. This is not a textbook. Sin and Syntax is a lively examination of the parts of speech and how they fit together to make good writing.
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on January 28, 2016
This book is a handy guide for anyone wanting to brush up on their personal writing skills, whether for writing emails, resumes, or any other writing activity. Of course it's an excellent writer's guide but not limited to only writers. I'm more inclined to call it a manual with a twist. Many other reviewers are comparing it to Strunk and White's book with a modern approach and some added humour.
I highly recommend purchasing this book in paperback for handy referencing, A great desktop companion for writers.
This book covers grammar errors and corrections from cliches to fragmented sentences, to proper usage of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc. The author uses some great examples taken from published articles to demonstrate the differences between good syntax and carving out unnecessary words.
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on January 2, 2015
I have used this book in grammar and sentences classes now for a couple of years and students find it engaging and challenging--it engages them with good, relevant examples and easy to read explanations; it challenges what they think they know--or don't know--about how grammar and style operate. A good book for writers and those teaching writers.
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on February 16, 2014
This book is extremely helpful in understanding and applying proper grammar to ones writing. It is fun to read, easy to understand, and satisfying to utilize!
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