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Customer Review

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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