New to this branch of SE if I'm in the wrong corner, let me know.

I've often found creative writing to be a nice way to relax; however, as hobbies go, if I'm going to invest time in something I want it to be done right.

I'm trying to improve my understanding of the English language as a whole, and as a result I need some guidance on first knowing what I need to know. My understanding of the English language is inferred: I understand syntactic structure while writing because it's my native language.

I believe that in order to move past boring technical writing that's devoid of any emotion, I need to better understand the structure of the language as a whole.

I cannot tell you the difference between a noun and a pronoun, other than the obvious character count. I have tried basic searches online; however, much of what I've found is related to people learning the language secondarily, or for children.

I'm hesitant to review the Wikipedia articles on English because of concerns of accuracy. There's also the issue that the definitions provided tend to be scattered across a multitude of pages, making determination of the most expedient path, of learning this, difficult to know.

I'm looking for suggestions for reading material that can help someone build an understanding from the ground up, with the hopeful goal of mastery, without assuming the reader is an idiot. Please answer under the assumption that I know English, but my semantic knowledge-base, with respect to isolating grammatical components, is zero.

closed as primarily opinion-based by MrHen, Matt E. Эллен, RegDwigнt Apr 28 '14 at 14:43

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    You may get better help with questions of this sort at English Language Learners. – Brian Hooper Mar 23 '14 at 9:04
  • I think this would be off-topic at English Language Learners, too, as a request for resources; you would just be pointed to the Resources Meta post there. ... Formal grammar is enormous fun; but as a professional I can assure you that it's not going to make you a better writer. What will help is learning to read critically, learning to recognize slovenly and imprecise expression. I recommend Graves and Hodge, The Reader Over Your Shoulder. The examples of bad writing there are dated, but the principles are sound and you can easily find contemporary examples. – StoneyB Mar 23 '14 at 11:12
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    The humorous point of all this is: my primary hobbyist kick is Computer Language Theory, so the fact that I know so little syntactically about my native language strikes me as ironic. – Alexander Morou Mar 23 '14 at 15:26
  • It's normal, though, if you're a native English speaker educated in Anglophone schools. You can try this handout for some basic syntax. – John Lawler Mar 23 '14 at 19:44
  • That handout is quite detailed and goes in the direction I'm wanting; however, without examples to verify one's potential understanding it leaves a bit to be desired. Without examples, I have to hunt them down to verify the understanding I think is true, is actually so, otherwise you're left thinking 'Did I understand that right...?' That said, if something like that were provided this could easily be the answer I was looking for. I think the italicized regions are good hints, but without anything to verify this... – Alexander Morou Mar 23 '14 at 23:56

You wanna learn grammar, eh?

Well, then, read the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), which is 1800 pages, from cover to cover. That will protect you from grammar pedants who would mess up your prose. Their chapter on Information Packaging will help you when you're editing and restructuring your paragraphs.

The first two chapters of CGEL are free online to read:

Good luck!


To be brutally honest, if you don't know the difference between a noun and a pronoun you are at about a 4th to 6th grade English level (according to modern school standards). Therefore, it will be difficult for you to find materials that don't assume you are either learning English as a second language or are in the 4th to 6th grades. That being said, you can try to improve grammar and SWS here:


  • I think your description of my English level is a bit off. You say that I'm at a 4th to 6th grade level; however, while that may be true with isolation of the constituent elements of a given sentence and their respective syntactic labels: I doubt you could say that my English level is as low at that. – Alexander Morou Mar 26 '14 at 4:59
  • @Alexander You're right. I meant that your understanding of the formal mechanics of grammar is (or, hopefully, was) at a 4th - 6th grade level. Sorry if I insulted you, that wasn't my goal when I put that in there. – KnightOfNi Mar 30 '14 at 3:28

Actually, I would strongly suggest to hang around on ELU, and also on our sister site ELL. It does wonders for your grammatical vocabulary and understanding.

If you are tempted to answer questions, don't be shy to give in to that temptation: often answering teaches you more than asking questions.

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