Eliza Doolittle didn't want to talk grammar in Pygmalion - she wanted "to talk like a lady".

But as poor grammar threatens to become a "universal" problem a university lecturer has created three new soap opera characters to help combat it.

Dr Christine Sinclair, of Strathclyde University, has based her new book Grammar: a friendly approach, on the lives, romantic entanglements and misunderstandings of Barbara, Kim and Abel as a different way of helping students to improve their language, grammar and punctuation.

The book offers a new take on appropriate usage but pulls no punches when considering the potentially damaging effects of getting it wrong.

Dr Sinclair said: "For a long time students got no grammar lessons at school and many now have real difficulties in understanding how to put a sentence together. When they get to university or college these kinds of problems can be an unnecessary source of stress.

"We don't need to go back to the dreary classroom approach of parsing, but it's a mistake not to tell young people how their language works at all. A human approach to language has been long overdue."

The stories move from the disastrous results of replacing words with synonyms from a thesaurus through to sentence structure and clauses.

The book also includes a full glossary of useful terms as well as invaluable tips and examples to keep students on track. Dr Sinclair added: "Students often don't have the appropriate vocabulary to talk about their own grammar and don't understand the feedback they are getting.

"If we are to resolve these universal problems students need to understand the way they are expected to speak and write. But there's no need for the advice to be too po-faced."

Grammar: a friendly approach, published by Open University Press, £9.99 (paperback), is out now.