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Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,102 ratings  ·  224 reviews
Today’s writers need more spunk than Strunk: whether it's the Great American e-mail, Madison Avenue advertising, or Grammy Award-winning rap lyrics, memorable writing must jump off the page. Copy veteran Constance Hale is on a mission to make creative communication, both the lyrical and the unlawful, an option for everyone.

With its crisp, witty tone, Sin and Syntax covers
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 20th 2001 by Three Rivers Press (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  2,102 ratings  ·  224 reviews

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Mar 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Much better than The Transitive Vampire, I think. I'd give it more stars, but to do so with a grammar book would be to offer my inner dork far more exposure than I'm comfortable with.

I'm sorry; I mean, "far more than that with which I am comfortable."
Jennifer Sommersby
Feb 24, 2011 rated it liked it
~Reprint from March 2006~

© Jenn Sommersby Young ~ 2006-2011

SIN AND SYNTAX: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
by Constance Hale
Pub. Broadway
ISBN 0767903099 / 978-0767903097
2011 update: available for Kindle

There are three absolutes for the reading writer upon his/her decision to ingest Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax:

(1) Buy your own copy. Do not borrow the library’s edition, my friend, because you will not be able to resist the urge to dog-ear, highlight, scribble, or u
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Initial reaction: This was definitely well worth the purchase. Considering this takes apart prose piece by piece for function, it's definitely well worth using to see trouble spots in one's edits, as well as how to enhance the prose while breaking a few rules.

Full review:

I'm really glad I picked up Constance Hale's "Sin and Syntax" because I think its a wonderful examination into how the parts of a sentence contribute to the strengths in one's writing, and not only shows the rules for what you c
Jan 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
This isn't your traditional how-to book for writers. Rather, it's a meditation on the role of grammar and diction in all prose--and it's a really good one. These sorts of books are only as good as the example passages selected, and here we get some very obscure, very spot on stuff (as opposed to a lot of how-tos, which copy the last page of Sun Also Rises and basically say, "This is how to write--now go do it!") Sin & Syntax really changes the way you think about stringing words together, whethe ...more
Roni Loren
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
Even if you feel you have a good handle on grammar, this book is worth a read. If for nothing else, read it for the chapters on Voice, Lyricism, Rhythm, and Melody and for the fantastic examples of beautiful writing given throughout the book. This book will inspire you to work harder on your writing, to choose words with more thought, and to pay attention to the music of your prose. I plan to keep this one on my shelf.
Emma Sea
Quit at page 69.

The self conscious "hippest grammar guide ever" tone pissed me right off.

The examples of poor writing were taken from politicians and academics. Talk about going for the low-hanging fruit.

The examples of good writing I didn't like all that much. The habit of embolding words all through the examples irritated me.

Might have got better: can't be bothered waiting to see.
Ginger Bensman
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
Sin and Syntax is a perfect book for writers pondering the mechanics and structure of grammar and how best to employ "the rules" (or not) to get to the voice, clarity, flow in their prose. It's a rare book on grammar--written with wit and elegance. ...more
Marissa van Uden
"Capturing the zing of conversation requires attentive listening and painstaking revision. It comes from connection,
from the narrator subtly reaching out to the reader and saying, 'We’re in this together.'”

Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose, by Constance Hale, is one of those rare grammar guides you can take pleasure in reading front to back because it’s so engaging, witty, and illuminating.

I own plenty of grammar manuals, but this is a far more inspiring creature that goes beyond ju
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Dangling modifiers. Loose pronouns. Mixed metaphors. Sentence fragments . . . aw crap.

Whatever your sin, Sin and Syntax is an all-purpose grammar guide that helps not only to improve your grammar but also to polish your prose.

Constance Hale divides her book into three sections: words, sentences, and music. In words, she defines the fundamental building blocks of grammar (nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc.). In sentences, she teaches sentence mechanics and variation. In music, she explains how to a
Tracie Hall
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up at a used book sale because I recently finished a MOOC class on grammar and, although I passed with flying colors—oh, I think Constance (author) would suggest I rethink that too oft used phrase…hmm, I passed with aplomb, I didn’t feel like I could by any means teach the subject…so thought this title sounded like a fun way to keep going. I was write! Errr, “Right”! (Now you’re wondering how I passed at all?) This book has it all, and if you didn’t think a book on grammar could be ...more
May 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I consider myself to be a reasonably knowledgeable grammarian; however, my philosophy on the subject is you can never brush up too much. So, with the disclaimer that I happen to find this subject matter interesting most of the time, I will move on to specifics of this book. I'd like to think even those less interested in grammar would find this work at least somewhat enjoyable. If you're looking for technical answers, you'll find them. Hale breaks the topic down into words (the parts of speech), ...more
Laura (Book Scrounger)
3.5 stars

Good reference. I read it through from beginning to end because that's how I roll, but it will be good to look back on for reminders about specific rules of syntax. Many examples from media and literature are included for the correct and incorrect ways to use parts of speech and other aspects of writing. I think the last few chapters, on more nebulous ideas such as "music" and "voice" were especially helpful and more fun to read.
Paula DeBoard
Wickedly funny.
You may not even have to love grammar to love this book.
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books, writing
Good stuff.
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I think this book would be incredibly helpful for someone who's just getting into writing or even for old pros who just don't know why some things sound right and others don't. The foundational information about grammar was kind of re-hashing for me because I've studied grammar for years, but it's good information, and it's presented in a way that builds logically and is relatively easy to stay engaged. With helpful examples and especially helpful writing prompts, this book walks writers through ...more
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
For a grammar book, this was actually entertaining! I know, hard to believe but true. A good portion of the book discusses various parts of speech and their correct grammatical use; however, there is also a lot of information on how to improve the clarity and quality of your prose. Trim down those sentences bloated with adverbs and adjectives and trade out those flabby verbs for stronger ones - your writing will be the better for it!
Skylar Primm
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Constance Hale is an engaging author, and her irreverent take on grammar is a delight to read. I felt a little bored in the middle (sentences, phrases, etc.), but it starts and ends strong. Hale's advice has already helped to improve my own prose, and I'm sure it will help that of my students, as well. ...more
Jen Doucette
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: teacher-books
Delightful grammar text? Not an oxymoron.

Constance Hale's overview and insight into the basic elements of language will long impact my writing and the way I read my students' writing.

Simply delightful.
May 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers who are serious about improving their skills
Recommended to Madeleine by: College professor
A book on being a better writer written by a woman who clearly has way too much fun with her craft. Excellent for anyone looking to fine tune his or her writerly wit and ways.
Rhiannon Root
Jul 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
Content warning: Racial slurs, anti-gay slur, domestic abuse

The third season of “The Golden Girls” features an episode called “Dorothy’s New Friend” and in it, Blanche remarks about Barbara (the new friend) that “she cares more about words than she does people.”

That’s how reading “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale read, the book doesn’t care about people and it only cares about words. I don’t know the author, I know little about her beyond the author blurb at the back and the contents of the
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
An exceptional highly readable book about clarity and grammar. Hale is the former WIRED magazine editor. the book touches on clarity, and has an underlying theme of how clear concise writing is spiked to death by committee, or overzealous editors. The writing examples are not only from WIRED, but from poetry and literature from Shakespeare and Walt Whitman to the present day (or at least 1999 as the modern day). The sections about adverbs, the subject/predicate, and writing rhythm are exceptiona ...more
May 12, 2018 rated it liked it
A nice refresher of grammar. I don't remember much of what grammar I was taught in grade school. This book took me through the basics in an entertaining way. ...more
Cameron Quinn
May 03, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: writingcraft
Initially engaging, but ultimately not a useful read.

Hale's ridicule of the singular "they" stung, but I was willing to give some leniency on behalf of the 20+ since publication (not great then; inexcusable TERF rhetoric today). However, the frequent, casual inclusion of racial slurs in passages analyzed for unrelated reasons? I can't fathom a justification - then or now - with billions of other published words to choose from.

(I initially gave it a second star, and then I realized I was listeni
If I hadn't taken a grammar class within the last year, I think this would have been more engaging and helpful, but, as I have, it was a big of a slog because most of its topics were fresh in my head. The structure of this book is intriguing but didn't really work for me. It's also very clearly of its time (1999), as evidenced by some of the examples used, which I found a bit distracting. ...more
Sep 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
Megan H
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I learned more grammar from this book than I did through all of school, I think. A helpful guide for writers to help learn not only how to craft a world but pay attention to language itself.
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
Writing well, both grammatically and with flair, is an on-going process and can always be improved. I have a degree in English and aced a grammar diagramming class (both decades ago), but I find that I forget quite a bit and need to continue to renew my knowledge. Also, trends in what is grammatically in and out tend to change over time. I tend to read and reread writing books every few years and have just started this cycle.

Some points of grammar tend to be highly personal (I wonder if there h
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I always remember a piece of advice in Stephen King's ON WRITING, which I read a good few years ago: King recommends that writers get themselves a "writer's toolbox" of skillsets, reference books etc. that they can fall back on and use to enhance their trade.

Ever since, I've been keeping an eye out for really good guides to the nitty-gritties of writing: namely, spelling, punctuation and grammar. SIN AND SYNTAX may well be one of the best of those guides.

The first and foremost thing about this b
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
While this book has plenty to offer, I had two complaints. #1 - I was turned off (pun intended) by the repeated legalese examples. I think it is obvious to everyone that writing fiction and writing briefs are two different things! Constance Hale continually tells the writer (reader) that one should be aware of their audience. I think Miss Hale should take her own advice and focus on the topic at hand. #2 - Perhaps the editor thought that the sex theme would make this book stand out among the num ...more
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Read this as an undergrad, and it was just as fresh and inspiring the second time around (despite being published in 1999). The only thing that reads as outdated is Hale's disparagement of the gender neutral singular "their/them," but, again, it was 1999 (I would have said the same thing even five years ago.). Language evolves.

This book cured me of the dull prose and terrible writing habits I developed during my law degree. Hale's advice lifted the legalese burden from my pen and replaced it wi
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