Where to Find The Answers to Your Grammar Questions
How the Grammar Girl Team Answers All Those Grammar Questions
Guest post by Ashley Dodge
English is a complex, complicated, and often confusing language. It seems as if everyone, at one time or another, needs help with grammar. As Grammar Girl’s assistant, I’m lucky enough to help people find the answers to their grammar questions sent in by e-mail, whether it’s how to remember “affect” or “effect,” or how to use the semicolon.
We get a lot of the same grammar questions, and we also get tons of tips and podcast ideas straight from the e-mail we receive. Mignon and I work as a team to make sure we provide the right, or best, answers to people’s questions, and whenever I run into a particularly challenging or difficult question, I send it to Mignon.
Sometimes, however, there isn’t an answer. This is frustrating not only for me, but for the person who asked the question. A popular and frustrating question people ask is why we say “the Eiffel Tower,” but we don’t say, “the Buckingham Palace,” or why we say “I’m going to church,” but not “I’m going to museum.”
This is frustrating because we can tell you the answer to your specific question, and we can give you some guidelines about when to use determiners (“a,” “the”), but we can’t answer the question people want, which is “Why? Why do you need a determiner with countable singular nouns but not proper nouns?” Often people want the answer to that “Why?” question, and there isn’t one. It’s just one of the many examples of English’s complexity, complications, and confusion.
To support or find my answers to grammar e-mail, I start with Grammar Girl, of course! I search the Grammar Girl website, newsletters, and books. If I can’t find what I’m looking for in any of those sources, I do a Google search; search the dictionary; look through Garner’s Modern American Usage, the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, grammar blogs, books, or websites such as Grammarly; or search Google Ngram, which shows how often words or phrases are used in published books.
The latter source is fascinating and many people don’t know it exists. Grammar Girl has written about it, and when I use Google Ngram to support or find my answer, this is usually the first time people have heard of it.
You might think responding to grammar questions would be easy, but sometimes it’s difficult to craft a polite response to someone who, let’s say, has had an ongoing debate about a specific grammar issue, and the side the writer has chosen is wrong. People don’t like to hear that they’re wrong or are going to lose a bet. I always try to keep a friendly, conversational tone. Mignon wants to provide a comfortable, supportive, and friendly place where you don’t have to worry about us making a comment if you make a grammar mistake. That’s what I try to create.
What’s the best part about answering grammar e-mail? It’s rewarding to know you’re helping people. I find that I’ve learned more myself about grammar, language, usage, and writing just by answering people’s questions.
About the Author
Ashley Dodge is Grammar Girl’s assistant, and a writer, social media manager, and lifestyle blogger. She lives in Reno, Nevada where she graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She enjoys knitting hats and having her pug model them. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and visit her blog.