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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessening one's woe...
Patricia O'Conner has produced a jewel of a book in `Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English'. Perhaps the greatest strength in the book is the recognition that language is ever-changing and evolving. Thus, her rules are tempered with the reality that sometimes, that which is wrong today might not be wrong tomorrow.
To those of you in...
Published on 5 July 2005 by Kurt Messick

versus
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fun to read and contains lots of useful information
I am writing a brief review to warn other readers of reviews: I note that two people who thought this book unlearned based their remarks on the title of the work. This title, however, was used to make the author's point about correctness and hyper correctness on page one! How can you bad mouth a book and not even have read the first page? Buyer beware not only of the...
Published on 1 Aug 1999


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessening one's woe..., 5 July 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
Patricia O'Conner has produced a jewel of a book in `Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English'. Perhaps the greatest strength in the book is the recognition that language is ever-changing and evolving. Thus, her rules are tempered with the reality that sometimes, that which is wrong today might not be wrong tomorrow.
To those of you in the know, 'normalcy' is one of those words that (which?) is actually an improper construct, made to be a viable choice by the fact that a lofty person (in this case, I believe it was a President) used it in public.
This book is filled with tidbits of information for any who are interested in the playfulness of language. I particularly appreciate the part of the book that talks about modern trends -- that which was once improper but is no longer, and those things which might be used but are still suspect.
Amusing stories and examples are scattered about the stories -- I would that my original English grammars would have been so light-hearted and easy to read. Perhaps that is the greatest strength of this book -- that it amuses while it teaches.
It is a short book, so don't be put off by the fact that you're actually reading something of the subject 'grammar', and be relieved to know that even the best of authors succumb to the occasional lapse. And I have praise for the author's resistance to hyper-correctivity, i.e., the tendency to correct oneself or others when the correction adds nothing to the meaning and questionable value in construction.
As Winston Churchill said, 'there are some things up with which I shall not put!'
One person I know recently wrote to me, referencing this book, 'Its best attribute is that it is an extremely pleasant book to read when it's about a topic with which we've been Pavlov-ed to find excruciating.' Below I describe a few of the chapters.
--Woe is I--
Therapy for Pronoun Anxiety
In this section, one learns the proper use for which and that, a problem that continues to plague me. Or is it which? The difference and confusion of it's versus its; it's a problem played out many times daily on Epinions. O'Conner goes into great detail about the most common and lesser known pronoun difficulties. It is something that I myself learned something from (or is that, from which I learned something -- well, that is the subject of another chapter).
--Plurals Before Swine--
Blunders with Numbers
In school it was relatively easy. To make something plural, simply add an 's' to the end. Or sometimes an 'es'. Or sometimes... And the rules kept getting more complex. What happens with irregular words (of which English is full to the brim -- oops, cliches are yet another chapter...). Some words and singluar and plural! Egad! You will also learn enough to be Vice President and then some -- how to you spell the plural of potato? Make sure you have your data straight. Ah, that kind of plural is covered later, too.
--They Beg to Disagree--
Putting Verbs in Their Place
One of the commonplace problems is in verb agreement. Sometimes it can feel like a major negotiation must take place for this happen, and the more complex the sentence and paragraph structure, the longer the negotiations can take simply to agree on a suitable venue for talks. Because verbs constitute such a major part of language, this is the longest chapter of the book. However, you will cover it all, past, present and future, active and passive. This is the heart of the matter.
--Verbal Abuse--
Words on the Endangered List
Words can be endangered for several reasons. The first reason is through constant misuse. O'Conner gives the examples of unique -- which technically means 'one of a kind' and is now a substitute for the word 'unusual' -- and the couplet affect/effect, which tend to be used interchangeably more and more. On the other hand, some phrases like live audience now make sense to us, whereas prior to the advent of recording instruments, it would have been redundant. O'Conner lists commonly misused words like dilemma, literally, and presently, couplets like accept/except, ago/since, and good/well. This section is actually quite long; there is a lot of confusion in the use of the English language. Additionally, there are sections for commonly mis-spelled words, words that could be one or two words, and other common bloopers like alot, which is used a lot.
--Death Sentence--
Do Cliches Deserve to Die?
We can all talk in cliches until the cows come home, but does that make them a bad thing? Sometime a well-reconfigured cliche is the best kind of writing. However, given that language is itself a symbolic and representative construct, to layer on additional symbols to that can create more trouble than it is worth. A well-devised metaphor can be a welcome thing, but be careful not to be excessive, and avoid mixing your metaphors! If you let the cat out of the bag too often the whole ship will go off the rails!
--The Nitty Gritty--
Particia O'Conner is an editor at The New York Times Book Review. She has taught grammar courses, and has 'subbed' for William Safire as a guest columnist while he was holiday. She has a style and wit about her that makes the study of grammar actually fun. This book is for an educated person who has trouble remembering some of the rules; it will make the reader feel good at knowing most of the rules, and enable the reader to laugh at common mistakes made personally and by others.
This book makes grammar fun - a near impossible task. It is a good gift for the person who has everything (save flawless command of English).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Fellow Logophiles and Others, 21 Feb 2003
By 
Bruce Kendall "BEK" (Southern Pines, NC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
Grammar and fun. How odd those two words look in such close proximity to each other. Granted, Fowler can be amusing at times, particularly when he's in full peevish mode and attired in full curmudgeonly armor. Mencken certainly summons up a fairly regular chuckle, when dealing with topics related to English/American usage.
But if you're like me, you tend to gloss over those exceptions and hearken back to 9th and 10th grade English classes, featuring Messrs. Strunk & White, supplemented by the latest book of torture published by McGraw Hill, with an exercise book on top of that. Ugh!
I wish now that Ms. O'Conner's witty, 227 pg. text had been available at that time and that I would have had English teachers enlightened enough to use it, even if only as a supplement.
"Woe is I" is a pleasure to read. She accomplishes that rare deed of sallying forth against the convulsive, recalcitrant, obfuscating, hydra-headed monster that is English Grammar and actually coming out of the battle victorious.
She accomplishes this through sheer force of wit. This is not your typical handbook of style, as you might glean from reading over the sample pages. That will give you an idea of the charm and humor that Ms. O'Conner brings to bear on various grammatical bugaboos. Some of my favorite examples: "Back to the drawing board. 'Back to Roget's Thesaurus.'" "Agree to disagree. 'People never really agree to disagree. They just get tired of arguing.'" "Bite the bullet. 'Save your teeth.'"
This book is helpful, no matter what your level of English proficiency. I recommend it to students, writers, lovers of language, Reference book junkies, word-freaks, ESL teachers, English teachers, teachers in other disciplines who need help in grading papers or to anyone else who wants to brush up his/her grammar.
BEK
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grammar Crash Course with Fun, 4 Dec 2004
By 
Andrey Kirillov (Samara, Russia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
Patricia T O'Conner's "Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English" is yet another attempt at explaining the intricacies of English grammar to the general audience using the non-scientific approach. And it surely is a very good one.
The author made it her aim to throw light on some of the most troublesome areas of English grammar, which present certain difficulty not only to a foreigner learning the language, but firstly to those for whom English is a mother tongue. American writers have always been interested in this field, obviously trying to raise the literacy standards while at the same time simplifying the language structure and how it is presented. This book is certainly a crash course in English grammar for those literacy-handicapped and verbally-challenged types of people walking along the streets of New York and London. It is also a useful tool for semi-literate people, who find it easy to converse in the streets and family circles, but might find themselves ill at ease when required to write a grammatically correct piece or speak in front of the senior public. It is also a great and funny manual for the literate persons who may still have some gaps in their language use. We all may have them some time or other. O'Conner's guide lets all of us upholster our speech and add a more correct flavour to it.
Ten chapters of the book are devoted to ten most problematic areas of English grammar: pronouns, numbers, possessives, verbs and their moods and tenses, confused words, punctuation, cliches, grammar stereotypes, etc. Whether you are confused by 'that/which/who/whom'-problem or are not totally sure where to put an apostrophe in the genitive (i.e. possessive), whether you are completely bewitched by the English punctuation rules and wondering if they exist at all, or if you haven't been able to quite agree your subjects and predicates (i.e. nouns and verbs, in most cases) - "Woe Is I" is a book for you.
You can read it from cover to cover, thoroughly studying the rules; or you can use it as sort of a grammar guide-book, which you consult in case of trouble. In any case, it will give you both food for thought and plenty of reasons to laugh. Yes, you will laugh at the way Patricia O'Conner deals with grammar stereotypes or those corners of English grammar that have always been sacred to us, and that we used to consider as the terra incognita for the wider public. There is no more need for you to tremble each time you have to write a formal letter, deliver a speech or simply address a university professor of English. Believe me, they do mistakes themselves; or sometimes they adhere to some "no-go"-s that O'Conner safely buries in the annals of language history.
Surely we can disagree with some points, like discarding several useful cliches, or oversimplifying certain aspects of English grammar. But then "Woe Is I" is neither a textbook for students of English (though they can also find it very helpful), nor a serious treatise of smallish grammar ghosts - it is a plain guide to how to make our speech more correct and how to make us feel better about what we say, or, rather, how we put it in words and sentences.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyed the book .. very helpful, 2 Oct 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English (Hardcover)
I found this book in my local library. I enjoyed it so much, decided to buy a copy for my own personal use.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide to the world of grammar, 12 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
This book is the wittiest guide to grammar that I've ever read. I wish it had existed when I was teaching a college composition course 25 years ago. Though I consider myself a good writer, I learned a number of things from this book, especially how to sort out tenses in complex sentences. Another useful section is "The Living Dead," where many old grammatical no-no's are laid to rest. I recommend it highly for those who think grammar is as difficult as calculus. It isn't.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A simple to understand guide, 20 Nov 2013
By 
D. Frost "D.C.Frost" (York, North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
A very handy little book that makes the art of English Grammar simple to understand. One that I will always keep on my desk for quick reference.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars response to criticism, 22 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
It is interesting that people with the strongest critiques usually offer no alternate suggestion to the void that is apparently left by the inadequate item held up to scrutiny.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fun to read and contains lots of useful information, 1 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
I am writing a brief review to warn other readers of reviews: I note that two people who thought this book unlearned based their remarks on the title of the work. This title, however, was used to make the author's point about correctness and hyper correctness on page one! How can you bad mouth a book and not even have read the first page? Buyer beware not only of the product but especially the reviewer of the product.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific reference source & hilarious fun, too!, 2 Oct 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English (Hardcover)
I am a professional research librarian who uses this book very frequently for patron assists. I think it's so useful, in fact, I bought a copy for all three of my college age kids to take back to campus with them. The writer uses wit and clever examples to help struggling writers make quick and accurate decisions on usage. Try it, you'll like it!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good fun and good advice in one package., 13 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woe Is I (Paperback)
I write a lot in my work, and I find that many of the usage issues I face on a daily basis can be quickly resolved by reference to this work. Then the only problem is that I want to keep reading, and I end up chortling in my office and getting stared at quizically by my office mates. Give it a try, and enjoy!
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Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English
Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T O'Conner (Hardcover - 24 Sep 1996)
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