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When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse Paperback – December 26, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0767920780 ISBN-10: 0767920783 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767920783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767920780
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Yagoda (The Sound on the Page) isn't trying to reinvent the style guide, just offering his personal tour of some of the English language's idiosyncrasies. Using the parts of speech as signposts, he charts an amiable path between those critics for whom any alterations to established grammar are hateful and those who believe whatever people use in speech is by default acceptable. Where many writing instructors rail against the use of adverbs, for example, he points out that they can be quite useful for conveying subtle relationships ordinary verbs can't describe. Some of this territory is familiar—Yagoda even boils down the debate over "hopefully" to outline form—but every chapter has gems tucked inside, like the section in pronouns on the "third-person athletic," the voice celebrity ballplayers use to refer to themselves in interviews. And he's definitely in love with his one-liners, such as the quip that the only acceptable use of "really" is "in imitations of Katharine Hepburn, Ed Sullivan and Elmer Fudd." Readers won't toss their copies of Strunk & White off the shelf, but Yagoda's witty grammar will rest comfortably next to the masters. (Feb. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Advance praise for If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It:

“Absolutely required—and utterly fun—reading for anyone who cares about the work-in-progress that is the English language. Marvelous in every way.” —Christopher Buckley

“All hail to Ben Yagoda! Not only has he publicly rescued mother from the ubiquitous debasement of mom, and consigned shall to the schoolmarm’s dead-rules inferno, but—ebulliently—he dresses Fowler, his eminent usage-predecessor, in relaxed American shoes. Yagoda’s invigorating interrogation of our language will excite every syntax-obsessed reader and writer. (And there are more of us than you might think.)”
—Cynthia Ozick

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Customer Reviews

Nope, not this one.
Frank A. Stephenson
Note that every word in the title is capitalized except the article!
Barrie S. Gauthier
Edifying, engaging, and just plain fun to read.
Writer and reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Among writers of English, there is a strong interest in their own language, and a long tradition of manuals by writers who suggest how to use English without error. Ambrose Bierce wrote such a manual, and writers constantly refer (but not necessarily defer) to Fowler, and many can quote Strunk and White from memory. For some reason, contemporary writers on the subject of English are called "language mavens", and they are of two camps, the prescriptivists who would like to tell you how to say something properly according to the rules, and the descriptivists who document how the language is being (rather than should be) used. As usual, there are extremists at both ends of the spectrum, and it would be wise to stick to the middle. That does not mean staying bland. In _When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse_ (Basic Books), Ben Yagoda is happy to enjoy creative use of English that breaks rules. We would all be poorer without, for instance, Fats Waller's "One never knows, do one?" But he is also happy to emphasize (and, one assumes since he is an English teacher, enforce) the rules that work to promote clarity and understanding. His book isn't really a rulebook, but a survey in nine chapters of nine parts of speech, each a useful essay on usage.

"Ultimately, the issue of correctness just isn't very interesting," Yagoda writes. What is interesting are "words, phrases, and sentences that transcend their meaning - because they're smart, funny, well-crafted, pungent, unexpected, or sometimes wrong in just the right way." There are lots and lots of examples of such lively, perhaps grammatically questionable, usage in all the chapters here.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Stewart on March 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Just what is it about the adjective that inspires such violent tendencies in otherwise peaceful people?

As Ben Yagoda writes, "They (adjectives) rank right up there with ... the customer-service policies of cable TV companies."

And the reason for this animosity is that adjectives are often used by lazy writers, "who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun."

Those of you who love words will appreciate the glossary of unusual adjectives. Words such as lambent, nugatory and piacular definitely deserve to be let out more often!

It's not just adjectives that are examined in entertaining detail - every part of speech is covered. F'r instance how much do you know about definite and indefinite articles?

One of the things I've noticed when I edit work for people whose second language is English is that they have real problems using articles, and now I understand why this is so.

As Ben explains, "... by the age of four, native English speakers know in their bones the difference between 'I drank Coke,' 'I drank the Coke,' and 'I drank a Coke,' and the fact that you take a pass but the easy way out."

Can you imagine trying to learn these differences as an adult? It seems the problem is compounded (or alleviated) depending on the learner's native language. "Romanian, Macedonian, Swedish, and Aztec append the definite article to the back of a noun, and Arabic to the front ... Swahili and Latin rarely use articles of any kind. ... Polish, Russian, and Japanese are article-less as well. Arabic, Welsh, and Esperanto have definite articles but no indefinite articles. In French and German, the definite article is applied to proper nouns and the names of abstractions and classes of things ..."

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Stanley H. Nemeth on March 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The author takes readers on an informative and often entertaining walk through Fowler and Follett territory, contemporary usage. Neither a strict prescriptivist nor a lax descriptivist, Yagoda has good things to say about some much maligned current uses of "like," and some delightfully nasty ones about such a locution as "Mom." What distinguishes his presentation, and is evident throughout, is his middle-of-the-road sweet reasonableness. If his book has a limitation, though, I'd say it's the problem of his reiterating the obvious. That adverbs and adjectives can rob verbs of power or tumble into redundancy, that overuse of prepositions or triple and quadruple noun compounds will make prose bureaucratic and opaque, that verbs are the most important words in a language or a good prose style - none of these principles is exactly a revelation at this late date. Nevertheless, if it's true that people more often than not need to be reminded of essentials, Yagoda's book will serve a useful as well as entertaining purpose.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Edward Durney VINE VOICE on October 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It entertains. Ben Yagoda, the author, writes well. (Referring to him as "Ben Yagoda, the author," is a bit of a joke -- that phrasing sometimes means something special, as the book will tell you.) And Yagoda lays out the principles behind the parts of speech with a witty style that goes deep enough, but not too deep. Never a pedant, he still teaches.

But his style was a bit much for me. He reminds me of a friend who makes a joke out of almost everything. He's fun to be around for a while. But stay too long in his presence, and the urge to tell him to shut up becomes almost unbearable. Same with Yagoda for me.

One example Yagoda used -- as a preface to the section on prepositions -- shows why. E.B. White, co-author of the The Elements of Style and author of Charlotte's Web, once wrote in a letter: "The next grammar book I bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions. A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boy says, 'What did you bring the book that I don't want to be read to out of up for?'" (Regrettably, White died before he wrote the book.)

But when Yagoda uses the example, suddenly it is "What did you bring that book about Down Under that I didn't want to be read to out of up for? -- Boy's question to his father, who's just climbed the stairs and walked into the boy's bedroom carrying a boring book about Australia." (I suspect that the version Yagoda intended was this one -- "What did you bring the book that I did not want to be read to about Down Under out of up for?" His version makes little sense -- why add the "about Down Under" in the middle of the sentence?
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