Marsha Sramek, author of The Great Grammar Book: Mastering Grammar Usage and the Essentials of Composition agreed to answer some questions for me. With her permission, I share her answers with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
You succeeded in writing a grammar book that entertains as it teaches. When did you realize that you needed to write this grammar book?
As a young teacher in the 1970s I had an ‘aha’ moment. I was teaching academically low- performing students who were considered functionally illiterate. When I asked these students to read short stories that were written in non-standard English they were suddenly able to read! The students were as amazed as I was. I then realized that learning grammar was far more important than just being a socially acceptable accomplishment.
When you went to school, were you taught the simplicity of grammar the way you explain it in your book?
It seemed to me that I was taught grammar by the humiliation method. All too often I heard, “You made that mistake?” As a student I was awful at grammar and I hated it.
Actually, grammar instruction today is much more technical than it was for previous generations. In the 1970s, when computers were a new, exciting technical innovation, grammarians began to play with the idea of analyzing language using computers.
They quickly realized that the basic grammar terminology in use was insufficient for their needs and they began to invent new grammar terms.
Many terms they invented such as ‘modal auxiliaries’ and ‘transitive verbs’ and ‘intransitive verbs’ made their way into today’s teaching methodology. This has added complicated linguistic instruction to the teaching of grammar. Many teachers understandably resent the time it takes to teach these terms to students who have no idea where to put commas or apostrophes, how to write complete sentences, or which verb or pronoun to use.
I made a real effort in my book to include only those grammatical terms which are necessary to avoid mistakes or improve writing skills.
Did you plan out everything that you would include in this book before you began writing? Or did you just sit down and write as it came to you?
While I knew what grammar problems the book needed to address, most of the time I just sat down and wrote as the inspiration came to me.
How long did it take you to complete this book?
I took a year off from teaching in the late 1970’s to write a grammar book, but I ended up with a rough draft one-third finished. Over the years I’d work on the book for weeks or months, but the scope of the project seemed overwhelming, and I’d put the project back on the shelf—literally. In 2004 I finally decided I would teach part-time and finish the book. I had a chance to classroom test the book for two years, which made the book far more effective than it would have been otherwise. In other words, the book took more than 30 years to write.
How much research, if any, did you have to do for this book?
I spent almost two years researching bizarre facts, trivia, historical oddities, and even unique insults in order to make the practice sentences interesting.