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Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, 3rd Edition Hardcover – September 17, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; Enlarged 3rd edition (September 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488908
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488900
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Former New York Times Book Review editor and linguistic expert O'Conner (Words Fail Me, You Send Me) updates her bestselling guide to grammar, an invigorating and entertaining dissection of our ever-evolving language. In this third edition, O'Conner guides readers through conversational conundrums with aplomb, filling in not only the logic behind the appropriate choice for, say, possessives, but also explaining such oddities as the spelling of restaurateur (instead of a "restauranteur"), the proper pronunciation of prix fix ("pree feeks") and a slew of mnemonic devices to help amateur grammarians keep ifs, ands and buts in check. It's these small digressions that make the book so readable, even for those with a deep-seated hatred for grammatical do-goodery. O'Conner gleefully eviscerates poor sentence construction and dangling participles, soothes verb tension and debunks the frequently intimidating semicolon with finesse. Tempered with a heavy dose of wit (reaching its nadir in her chapter on clichés), O'Conner's lively treatise is as vital as a dictionary for those who wish to be taken seriously in speech, in print or on Facebook.

About the Author

Patricia T. O'Conner, a former editor at the New York Times Book Review, has written for many magazines and newspapers. She is the author of two other books on language and writing, Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing and You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online.


More About the Author

Patricia T. O'Conner, a former editor at The New York Times Book Review, has written five books about the English language--the bestselling Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English; Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language (with Stewart Kellerman); Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing; Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English; and You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online (with Stewart Kellerman).

Customer Reviews

Well written and engaging, unlike most reference books you can read this cover to cover.
Gloria Kaasch
Ms. O'Conner's knowledge of grammar is made useful by her incisive wit and thoroughly entertaining presentation of what is usually a parched dry subject matter.
Michael Judge
Hard as it may be to believe, this is one -- probably the only -- grammar book that is a pleasure to read.
YA writer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Arsen Azizyan on October 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an essential handbook for any grammar Nazi. Prepare to have many persistent doubts dispelled and nagging questions settled - not only about grammar and spelling, but also pronunciation (including that of the word "pronunciation"). This book will help you feel even more annoyingly superior to the uneducated unfortunates around you.

What's more, the sample sentences in the book are almost worth the price by themselves. "A gradual crescendo in the percussion section reached a climax that woke the audience." "When he's not fighting crime, Bruce dresses like a normal adult."

These days, as our entire nation has forgotten the use of the apostrophe, everyone could use at least one grammar book on their shelves, and I can't think of a clearer and friendlier one than this.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By k8inut on October 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a very user-friendly guide to many common grammar issues that is easy to read and doesn't take itself too seriously. As the chapter titles (listed below) show, the author is trying to make a fairly dry subject area more interesting.

The chapters are as follows:

Therapy for Pronoun Anxiety
Blunders with Numbers
The Possessives and the Possessed
Putting Verbs in Their Place
Words on the Endangered List
How to Be Letter Perfect
Talking Points on Pronunciation
The Joy of Punctuation
The Complete Dangler - A Fish out of Water
Do Cliches Deserve to Die?
Let Bygone Rules Be Gone
How to Write What You Mean

The author uses a lot of examples to show how to properly remedy the issues that are addressed in the book, and the examples are good illustrations of the issue. It makes a good reference to review common grammar issues. It would also make a great guide for anyone who wants to learn to be more gramatically correct.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By M. Autry on May 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is hard to believe that a college professor would choose, for a text book, a book that is this much fun to read. I am taking a ministry of writing class in divinity school and we are using this book as a grammar review. I have already learned some "rules" that I don't remember learning in my Engilish classes years ago. O'Conner makes the "rules" easy to remember.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Selby on August 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I teach writing at a local college. And this is just the most wonderful "grammar book" I have ever experienced. I tell my students--shhhh, don't tell--that they should not purchase the college textbook but instead buy this one.
Many of my students have learned English as a second language through a series of truly awful workbooks that quite clearly were not compiled by people who know anything about how our language really works. They spend weeks on punctuation whereas Patrica O'Conner makes it all so much easier and clearer. And more fun. Come on, what's better than a chapter titled "Comma Sutra"? My students gave me a Comma Sutra tee-shirt a few semesters ago.
It is also so much fun to read. O'Conner deals with all the stupid things that grammar books and many instructors drill into students. She begins sentences with "and." Wow! And "but." Oh no! How shameful.
She is a retired editor at The New York Times and quite clearly knows a lot more about how our language works than people who churn out these overburdensome grammar books.
Great book.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful By David Nickell on May 7, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As part of a plan to start an online copy-editing service, I've been acquiring books like this one to complement the titles I already own. As O'Conner herself says, none of us are immune from grammar's snares.

From everything I read about the author's wit and wisdom, I was hoping to like her book very much and to find it extremely useful as well. In the latter regard, I have been disappointed. Much of what she covers is very basic, not the finer points I was expecting.

Even in explaining her whimsical title, she suggests that some might argue that "Woe is I" or even "Woe is unto me" is more technically correct than Shakespeare's original line of "Woe is me." That's pointing the finger at the pronoun when the real culprit is the verb. If you flip the statement around, it becomes "I is woe" or "Me is woe." The real sense is "I AM woe," meaning that I am so full of woe -- i.e., "woeful" -- that I am woe itself.

She says in the introduction that she has recommendations in her bibliography for a reputable dictionary. She doesn't. She has a list devoid of comment or advice, naming titles that compete against each other. It would be nice to know what she thinks is the most authoritative of the lot.

On page 4 she has "a little memory aid" to help determine when to use "that" or "which." It is thoroughly baffling. Presented as a rhyme, it goes like this: "Commas, WHICH cut out the fat,// Go with WHICH, never with THAT." Well, the truth is that commas, which resemble the bottom half of a semi-colon, ADD to the fat and almost never cut it out, as in the previous clause in this sentence. It's the parenthetical expression -- "which cut out the fat" -- that makes nonsense of the whole little ditty.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By tomkitten on December 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the book I turn to time and time again. It is packed with information and very fun to read. I read it the first time through in very little time, then I went through again with a highlighter. I have little tabs sticking out so I can reference different topics with ease. This book is on the shelf right next to my dictionary and "Gregg Reference Manual," but I turn most to "Woe is I." GET THIS BOOK!!!
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