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on 7 May 2017
At last, a book on grammar that is so easy to understand. Written in a straight forward way, with humour, and invaluable for reference.
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on 5 March 2017
Not bad, it helped me on my language.
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on 21 February 2003
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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HALL OF FAMEon 5 July 2005
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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on 4 December 2004
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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on 4 December 2004
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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
HALL OF FAMEon 22 December 2005
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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on 2 December 2013
I have the impression that this is a book written with native-speakers in mind, and perhaps not so suited for learners of English. But if you are beyond the most basic stages of the English language learning process you'll find it extremely useful. What's more, you'll find it incredibly funny, and that's not so common among grammar books. There are perhaps other books more handy when it comes to a quick query on a particular grammar topic but none of them will put a smile on your face at the same time, as "Woe is I" will.
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on 11 March 2000
The first place I went to find out about "woe is I" was the index. I looked up "woe" but that word is not there. I looked up "I" which directs the reader to pages 10-13. "Woe is I" is not treated on these pages. That is not a good sign. O'Connor does treat "Woe is I" on page 1: Hundreds of years after the first Ophelia cried "Woe is me" some pendents would argue that Shakespeare should have written "Woe is I" or "Woe is unto me." (Never mind that the rules of English grammar weren't even formalized in Shakespeare's day.) The point is no one is exempt from having his pronouns second guessed.
First of all who are these pendants? O'Connor does not name them but I suspect she is referring to an "On Language" column written by William Safire and republished in his "In Love with Norma Loquendi" pages xiii-xv. Secondly, she does not explain the grammar of "woe is me" at all and gives no hint if she prefers that to "woe is I" or "woe is unto me" Did Shakespeare use the wrong case? Or is there something else going on? My objection to O'Connor is that she raised the issue of "woe is me" but did not explain it. This is not just a matter of second guessing which pronoun Shakespeare should have used. It is a matter of understanding the grammatical rules of Early Modern English. We know a great deal of the grammar of Early Modern English, the English of Shakespeare, because of scholars like E. A. Abbott and Wilhelm Franz. We know from them that the "me" in "woe is me" is not in place of the nominative "I" but a dative pronoun. We know from them that dative pronouns, indirect objects and the like were much less likely to have prepositions in front of them in Early Modern English than in Present Day English. But O'Connor makes no mention of this. Readers will have to go elsewhere to get this kind of information. If you want more information about "woe is me" I can recommend a few books to look at. Abbott's "Shakespearian Grammar" and Onion's "Modern English Syntax" treat various constructions with "woe" with admirable brevity. For comprehensive treatment readers should read Maetzner's "Englische Grammatik" and Franz's "Die Sprache Shakespeares in Vers und Prosa."
As for the rest of O'Connor's book I would recommend that readers be skeptical and suspicious of her conclusions.
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on 2 October 1998
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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