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Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing Paperback – September 7, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0156010870 ISBN-10: 0156010879 Edition: Reprint

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Words Fail  Me: What Everyone Who Writes     Should Know about Writing + Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, 3rd Edition + Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156010879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156010870
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Patricia T. O'Conner's Words Fail Me is written in the same lighthearted tone as her snappy grammar guide, Woe Is I. This time out, O'Conner tackles the writer's art. "Good writing," she says, "is writing that works." This book is the perfect text for the novice writer who tends to gravitate toward comedic instructors. "Crummy spelling," says O'Conner, "is more noticeable than crummy anything else." Organizing your material "may be a pain in the butt, but it's thankless, too!" "Write as though you were addressing someone whose opinion you value, even if the reader is ... a stingy insurance company that won't pay for your tummy tuck." O'Conner's material isn't new--like many such books, Words Fail Me advocates the use of small words, fresh verbs, and only well-chosen modifiers--but rarely is a primer so amusing. And the clever titles strewn throughout--"Taking Leave of Your Tenses," "The It Parade"--provide added pleasure, particularly for anyone who knows how hard it can be to put a headline on a piece of writing. --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This book is for beginning writers--those who want to write or need to write but find that the words get in the way. Those words may include misplaced modifiers, passive verbs, and split infinitives, among others. Students writing papers, employees preparing reports, and those who just want to be understood in print may benefit from this fun-to-use answer to Strunk and White. O'Connor uses humor as she takes apart sentences and their parts and shows how each element is used effectively. She does get into the heavy-duty writing tools and even the pitfalls, including point of view, jargon, and rhythm. Marlene Chamberlain --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

4.4 out of 5 stars
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And that's too bad.
Daniel L Edelen
And she writes with warmth and humor, which makes the book so enjoyable as well as useful.
J. Chambers
This is Patricia O'Conner!
Ibrahim

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Wesley L. Janssen VINE VOICE on October 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Patricia O'Conner's Words Fail Me presents so many practical insights into effective writing that I suspect it would be valuable to almost any writer. And there's a bonus: she has a great sense of humor. She debunks the faux pas fallacies that snobbishly tell us how not to write -- don't use contractions, don't start sentences with conjunctions, etc. And she tells us how these supposed `rules' came to be. Wisely, O'Conner's most important rule is this:
"Your first duty to the reader is to make sense. Everything else -- eloquence, beautiful images, catchy phrases, melodic and rhythmic language -- comes later, if at all. I'm all for artistry, but it's better to write something homely and clear than something lovely and unintelligible."
I read quite a lot, mostly nonfiction (philosophy, reference, science, theology, and wilderness travel). Inevitably, reading compels me to write -- I've submitted more than fifty book reviews to this forum. Yet I'm never quite happy with my writing. This is not unusual. "Your favorite novel or history or memoir is just someone's last revision," says O'Conner.
As a student I disliked studying the nuts and bolts of English. Words, their accuracy, economy, and artistry, interest me far more now, and this book is the first "how to write" text I have read. At the risk of belaboring the obvious (because good writing doesn't): it was a good choice.
Highly recommended.
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58 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I disagree with the former reviewer who stated this book might be more suited for novice writers. I am a professional writer and found this book a wonderful reminder of lessons learned. I could not put it down.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I bought a personal copy of this author's last book, WOE IS I. After reading it and realizing how clevely it was written and how useful the content was, I went out and got 5 more for several friends. We have all found it wonderfully helpful for those vexing questions of grammar and usage. Well, Ms. O'Conner has done it again. In her witty, breezy, upbeat style she has written a truly readable book about writing. It seems like literally millions of us are communicating more and more - both instantly and globally - these days thanks to the Internet. Writing clearly and in an interesting manner has become more important than ever. And, since our own written words are often our first introduction to others, it's beneficial to each of us to learn the tricks and tips that make writing flow smoothly and represent accurately what we really mean to say. Ms. O'Conner example's are from all sorts of literature and from her own imagination. I laughed out loud at Kim and Alec in the hot tub. And several quoted passages have inspired me to read the works in which they appear. I hope this book finds a wide audience. It would be useful for anyone who writes and aspires to do it well.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on September 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
It's one of life's little ironies that you find yourself engaging in things as you grow older that you hated when you were younger. Maybe hate is too strong a word. It wasn't that I hated grammar, but that I really didn't give it much thought, and felt that time spent in English class doing so was wasted. Since then, I've become not just a writer who wants to be read, but also a teacher of writing, who has to convince his students that grammar is important.
Having resources like this book by O'Conner certainly helps. Rather than the dry stuff foisted off on middle- and high-school students, O'Conner leads through examples. This is a nice companion to her earlier book, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, which covers some of the wrong-headed beliefs that most students emerge from secondary school with (such as the incorrect idea that it is wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, which I just did). It's a good writing book that gets you to thinking it's time to pick up the pen and write something, and that's how I felt several times while reading through this one. In fact, her section on point of view "cured" a bit of writer's block I was having with regard to one story that had been lingering about in my mind for the last four years and which I had been unable to start.
I'd be tempted to do away with the writer's handbook for these two books of O'Conner's, but that wouldn't be smart. These are good, but they aren't a reference so much as they are an explanation for why grammar needs to be observed.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Naweko San-Joyz on March 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
Reasons to buy/read this book

1. You have writer's block and need help.

2. You feel that you've confused the many rules of writing.

3. Your writing style bores you.

4. It takes you three pages to explain something that's complicated.

I read "Words Fail Me" for motivation while writing my second book. The best way to move past a writer's block is to lift your confidence by sharpening your writing skills. O'Conner delivers writing confidence in about 20 easy-to-digest chapters.

Patricia T. O'Conner's work is neither preachy nor boring. She speaks to the aspiring writer who may have forgotten some grammar rules while queuing you to times when you may not need to adhere to all the rules in the grammar book.

Her writing is witty and makes grammar fun, for once. It's a neat refresher book to add to your writing library.
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