I've been reading through James D Macdonald's posts over at Absolute Write Water Cooler. He has a lot of great tips and information on how to get your ass into the chair and write. In the following post he talks about how grammar and that reminded me of how weak I am in that department. I read a lot, so any good grammar I come up with is probably my brain just putting things where they seem familiar. More out of habit than actual grammar skills. I really do think I skipped these classes. I remember the teacher writing sentences on the board and students going up and fixing them. I remember verbs, and nouns. That's about it. I think I was 'left behind' in this department.
I took Spanish in High School. I originally tried French since I already spoke Spanish, but I didn't like it, plus Spanish was supposed to be an easy A for me. The teacher started talking about conjugating verbs and blah blah blah. I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. The only reason I did good on the worksheets was because I knew what it was supposed to sound like. I knew the rules of the language but I didn't know the mechanics.
When I got to college, I had a high enough SAT score to skip English 101, so maybe that was a mistake. But then again, I got an A in English 102 and 239 (world lit 1600 - present, i think), so I can't be that bad off. Either way I should invest in a good book, it couldn't hurt.
English is a frightfully difficult language. The grammar consists of exceptions papered over with idioms, the pronunciation makes you wish we'd just stuck to ideograms instead of pretending that we're in a phonetic system (The tough coughed as he ploughed the dough ... I ask you!), and depending on how you look at it English either has just two tenses, or thirty-three. The line between nouns and verbs is porous. English is graced with a vocabulary larger than that of the next two languages combined: As James Nichols put it, "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary."
Speaking English badly is easy. Speaking it well ... brother, you have a lifetime's work cut out for you.
If you slept through high school English, now's the time to make up those classes. Get a study book, work through the exercises. At the same time, read lots of novels by acknowledged master stylists. Some of it will rub off.
Oh, yes, and Fowler's Modern English Usage Dictionary (get the 2nd edition -- do not get any of the abominable recent editions) is a wonder and a delight. Read it, learn it, love it, live it.