REVIEW: Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer
We all write, all the time: books, blogs, emails. Lots and lots of emails. And we all want to write better. Benjamin Dreyer is here to help.
As Random House’s copy chief, Dreyer has upheld the standards of the legendary publisher for more than two decades. He is beloved by authors and editors alike—not to mention his followers on social media—for deconstructing the English language with playful erudition. Now he distills everything he has learned from the myriad books he has copyedited and overseen into a useful guide not just for writers but for everyone who wants to put their best prose foot forward.
As authoritative as it is amusing, Dreyer’s English offers lessons on punctuation, from the underloved semicolon to the enigmatic en dash; the rules and nonrules of grammar, including why it’s OK to begin a sentence with “And” or “But” and to confidently split an infinitive; and why it’s best to avoid the doldrums of the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers, including “very,” “rather,” “of course,” and the dreaded “actually.” Dreyer will let you know whether “alright” is all right (sometimes) and even help you brush up on your spelling—though, as he notes, “The problem with mnemonic devices is that I can never remember them.”
And yes: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.”
Chockful of advice, insider wisdom, and fun facts, this book will prove to be invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills, mandatory for people who spend their time editing and shaping other people’s prose, and—perhaps best of all—an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.
Dear Mr. Dreyer,
At this point I’ve been writing reviews here for almost 13 years (gulp, the time has flown) and am set in my terrible, wicked, feckless ways. Yet, I’m always willing to try and brush up on my word-smithing and eliminate as many howlers and mistakes as I can. Yeah, I have my doubts too but what the hell, why not give it a shot.
This isn’t a Be All End All guide to anything. Dipping its toe into grammar, punctuation, spelling, and tips on how not to trip up on similars, it’s more a quick and dirty “here are ways to write a better” book. Oh yeah, and it’s fun too.
I freely admit that who/whom still trips me up. I despise the recent abundance of artisanal. Gift as a verb and invite as a noun make me ill. I’ve always liked hopefully and am thrilled I can keep using it. Hopefully that won’t bring out a mob of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches.
The advice to seek help from big, fat style-books is wise because the, as you say, Department of There’s an Exception to Everything is always open for business. I love the English language but it’s a wild, feral beast at times, ready to bite the hand that writes it and draw a gallon or so of blood. And note (I love starting sentences with “and” or “but”), I’ve made it through the review without using any of the dreaded Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers. Go me. B+