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Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English
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Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  3,513 Ratings  ·  282 Reviews
Lovers of the language, unite! You have nothing to lose but your niggling worries if you're haunted by whiches, all tensed up, or baffled by whose and who's. "Woe Is I" is a survival guide for people who want a clear, simple, elegant introduction to good usage. Charming, amusing, sensible, modern, this book is a gift of clarity and good humor. Most of us don't know a gerun ...more
Hardcover, 227 pages
Published September 24th 1996 by Putnam Adult (first published 1996)
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Jul 31, 2011 Coryke rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
There is an update to this post composed when I completed the book. Skip to the final paragraph for an engaging rant on her chapter on pronunciation.

Original Post:
I haven't finished this yet, but I find it to be subpar - even within the genre of popular grammar books.

In linguistics, there is a distinction pertaining to grammarians between prescriptivists (those who prescribe the rules) and descriptivists (self-explanatory). My BA is in linguistics and so I have a (perhaps) learned antipathy tow
Aug 05, 2012 Carol. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: um. no one?
I'll admit it: I feel grammar and punctuation-challenged, so I didn't groan when I saw this was assigned for my composition class. However, after making my way through most of the book, I have to say I'm disappointed. "National Bestseller" claims my edition. Really?! Really!? This must be one of the those books that people who don't read very much buy and throw on the shelf to show how well-read they are (or wish they were).

While it covers grammar, punctuation and word choice, the tone is breez
♥ Ibrahim ♥

This book is delicious. Some books are just just delicious. You read this book and you fall in love once again with your second language, English, and know you really owe a lot to that language in shaping who you are today. I love this book. It has caused me to fall in love once again with English grammar and proper English usage. This is one book I would say it is a must-have for anybody who has respect for English as their own language, and indeed, I am. I have taken down lots of notes from th
May 13, 2015 Ashley rated it it was ok
Shelves: on-writing
This book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years—too many years, apparently, because in the meantime I’ve read all of this material a dozen different ways, and now I’m finding that there’s nothing here beyond the very basics. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good book on the basics if that’s what you’re looking for.

So in this case, go ahead and judge the book by its cover—or by the subtitle on its cover, to be more exact: “The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” N
Jerome Baladad
May 02, 2011 Jerome Baladad rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers
After a certain period, writers have to seek out help to update themselves on the rules on grammar, changing conventions, metaphor formulation, correct spellings, plus tips and brief materials to make them the best word-smiths in the English language. This becomes a necessity as a lot of distractions are taking place that eat much of the span of attention of writers and readers in English. This book has provided that need (to be updated and be reminded gently) to me, certainly. I didn't feel lik ...more
Aug 13, 2011 Shannon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you find yourself mixing up your it's and its? Do you know the difference between all ready and already? Do you ever blindly throw commas into sentences, hoping at least one will be correct?

Woe is I solves these grammar woes and more. Patricia O'Conner clears the jargon and mystery surrounding grammar. Using simple language, she reviews pronouns, numbers, possessives, verbs, punctuation, clichés, word usage, danglers, bygone rules, and e-mail etiquette. Her book is essentially a lengthy list
Hong Deng
Woe Is I is an absolutely amazing and witty book that I would recommend to anyone who loves grammar or would like to better grasp grammar in an engaging way. After reading 3 of the numerous chapters in English class, I couldn’t resist continue reading this book. The book is well written with 11 chapters that covered all the categories of grammar one could possibly perceive. After introducing its topic, each chapter proceeds with subtitles and paragraphs of explanations and special notes. I reall ...more
Pat Coffey
Apr 25, 2016 Pat Coffey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-books
This book is for anyone who writes. I mean students, teachers, professionals, and above all writers.
Everyone sings the praises of Strunk and White's Eliments of Style as the writer's handbook. I have been a faithful users of Harcourt Brace Handbook of English, but this book written by Ms. O'Conner is the easiest yet. If you want to know what is the passive voice, what is the verb "to be," or how to use lie, lay, lain, laid. This is the book for you. If you want to know what is the current usage
Dec 07, 2007 Theresa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed in this book. It doesn't begin to plumb the depths of language. I found the repeated parenthetical definitions of grammar basics annoying. The list of cliches to avoid was a cliche itself, and the commentary on each was useless.
I'll stick with Strunk & White for real help with grammar and style--It's a true staple of the writer's reference shelf.

If you want entertaining discussion on grammar, try Eats Shoots and Leaves instead.
Nov 08, 2008 Dallas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun, lighter version of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style".
Dec 25, 2010 rabbitprincess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who write in English as part of their jobs
Recommended to rabbitprincess by: Frances Peck
Bought this for my mum for Christmas, had to get up to free shipping and decided to buy a copy for myself! I read the second edition from the library last year, so here is my review for that one:

A very instructive book, in particular the chapter on word usage, which pointed out a couple of words that I myself use wrongly (or whose definitions I do not entirely understand). I shall make careful note of those when I come across them in my work.

The book as a whole is very good. The example sentence
Woe is I was written to help those who are intimidated by correct grammar usage.

Although the book is meant for novices, it was just as enjoyable to someone like me who knows quite a lot about English. Because I appreciate beautiful, precise language, I enjoy an occasional refresher course in how to use it. So I skimmed over the sections on rules I know well, and focused on the ones that give me problems.

I discovered I've been using parameter interchangebly with perimiter, which is not the same
Nov 20, 2009 Dolly rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who would like to write better
I never thought I'd be a fan of books about grammar, but I've really enjoyed them lately. Perhaps it's my own feelings of inadequacy regarding some of the more nuanced rules; perhaps it's my opportunity to relearn something I've forgotten along the way. But this is a good book, and it's a handy reference guide for your desktop.

Although it's not nearly as zealous, revolutionary, or funny as "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," this book is a witty and comprehensive review of the most common errors and q
Aug 04, 2008 Jenna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Woe is I is a simple, easy to read guide to understanding basic grammar. While it is not as concise as the (I think more popular) Elements of Style, you can read it like a novel. The book cites humorous examples and engages the reader without patronizing them. I put this in my log because I feel that this sort of book is important for the education of any college bound student. So many students show up in freshmen composition classes not understanding the difference between 'its' and 'it's.' If ...more
Angela Blount
Witty, sarcastic, whimsical, and shamelessly punny. I never imagined I could enjoy a walk through of proper grammar. It's a tedious trial for me to make myself ingest this subject, but a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

While I was deeply annoyed to discover how little I was taught in high school English class, (and worse, what I was taught -incorrectly-) it was vindicating to re-learn principles in a light-handed and memorable way. I applaud the author for mercifully bre
Nov 12, 2010 Ashley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ashley by: Amy
Not a fan. The author was off-putting - embracing some weird rules at times and then scoffing at others - and the book seemed to drag on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. I hate not finishing a book, so I pushed through. A lot of this book was on to correctly spell and use words, which while I guess it's technically considered grammar, felt more like reading a dictionary. I was so frustrated at some points, I wanted to use bad grammar and improper spellings just to spite the author.

If you want a better grammar-rel
Cora Rose
Another book I needed for a class. All about grammar to which I already have a hard time with, in the matter of any of the information sticking to memory.

And even though -personally- not much of what was read stuck, this book keeps things simple and to the point, which is great as you don't get lost from understanding the grammar tricks the book offers. Even funny with drops of sarcasm. A good book to have just as a reference.

I love words in general, and the thesaurus is my best friend. This bo
Feb 05, 2009 Karen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The jokes aren't funny and the author makes rules often based on her own unfounded bias, and with such smugness! Any grammarian could find a dozen things to disagree with in this book. What I personally found frustrating was the author's willingness to accept some changes in language but not others, and still cling to outdated, dogmatic grammar guides from 50 years ago as justification. This was the most disappointing Christmas gift ever.
Dec 18, 2011 HeavyReader rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, reference
Anyone who writes needs a copy of this book!

The author tackles common grammar mistakes (from pronouns to punctuation) and explains how to solve the problems in easy to understand (and sometimes laugh out loud funny)language. This grammar book is not dry or boring!

The index makes it a useful reference book, but it's fun to read it cover to cover too.

I'm glad to own a copy of this book.
Stephan Anstey
Dec 18, 2012 Stephan Anstey rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, but it really wasn't a good book from which to learn grammar. it really is just a good entertaining book. I wouldn't use it as a reference. In fact I would question any professor that would use it as a text book in a class. I just don't think that's appropriate. But I did love the book and enjoy it so it's staying on my shelf.
Oct 17, 2014 Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic-writing
This is a humorous look at better English and Grammar. It's definitely a dry and understated wit but I found it generally funny. I found it a very good refresher course on rules that I "knew" but probably didn't have a firm grasp on. It's always helpful to have more examples and this gave quite a few.
Oct 14, 2014 Autumn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for anyone who speaks or writes English. It is full of easily accessible tips without being heavy handed.
Jeffrey Bumiller
Every now and then I like to read a book about grammar. I just enjoy it sometimes. This one I didn't enjoy. Maybe this one isn't designed to be read cover to cover and is intended more as a reference book? Maybe that explains why it is just kind of boring and lame? Or maybe it's just because this author is irritating and not as funny as she thinks she is. I don't know, I just didn't like it and it made we want to violate all kinds of grammar rules because I feel like it and I can do what I want ...more
LInda L
Nov 06, 2016 LInda L rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Good information, but hard to single out anything -- OK, but not great.
Margo Mulvihill
Oct 03, 2016 Margo Mulvihill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went to Catholic school in the 1950s and got a killer education in English grammar. But I started getting confused as the years went on. I know the English language evolves, but were the changes I saw part of that evolution, or was the quality of education in this country declining that badly? Well, it's a little of both, and the author helped straighten me out on which was which. I don't agree with her on everything; I accept that some things are a matter of taste. I don't buy many books, but ...more
James Swenson
Oct 19, 2011 James Swenson rated it liked it
Recommended to James by: Goodreads
I expected to hate Woe Is I, because I hate the illogical, stupid, evil rule on which the title is based. Why shouldn't I say, "Woe is me," using a subject, verb, and object? Some people don't interpret "to be" this way, I guess. There is the "to be" of characterization (Socrates is mortal); the "to be" of inclusion (Socrates is a Greek); the "to be" of identity (Socrates is Plato's teacher); the "to be" of significance (Socrates is rationality itself); the "to be" that's an auxiliary verb (Socr ...more
Bob Nichols
The book is another version of the dos and don’ts of English. Most of this is familiar enough. O’Conner states in so many words that she is not a stickler for English purity. Hence, “as the book’s whimsical title hints, it’s even possible to be too correct….Only a pompous twit – or an author trying to make a point – would use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ me here.” She even has a full chapter of examples where technically correct English needs to give it up. It’s really o.k. to say “It is me,” as opposed ...more
Sep 21, 2016 Jackson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fun fun fun. It is to be hoped I will remember some of the rules.
Fraser Kinnear
Very funny writing!

Most of the book is grammar/usage rules that I had forgotten immediately after 7th grade English. Each rule is illstrated with some funny/witty examples. I'm too lazy to copy the example sentences, but here are some of the rules (sometimes copied verbatim):

which vs that
- if you can drop the clause and not lose the point of the sentence, use which. If you can't, use that.
- a which clause goes inside commas. A that clause doesn't

who vs whom
- 'who' does something (it's a subject)
Meghan Pinson
Feb 19, 2014 Meghan Pinson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: editing

The following excerpt is why you don't need to read this book.


No two authorities seem to agree on how we should form the plural of abbreviations (GI, r.p.m.), letters (x, y, z), and numbers (9, 10). Should we add s, or 's? Where one style maven sees UFO's, another sees UFOs. One is nostalgic for the 1950's, the other for the 1950s. This is more a matter of taste and readability than of grammar, and frankly, we have better things to worry about. For the sake of consistency and com
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“With grammar, it’s always something.” 1 likes
“As for other nouns of foreign origin, how do you know whether to choose an Anglicized plural (like memorandums) or a foreign one (memoranda)? There’s no single answer, unfortunately. A century ago, the foreign ending would have been preferred, but over the years we’ve given English plural endings to more and more foreign-derived words. And in common (rather than technical) usage, that trend is continuing. So don’t assume that an exotic plural is more educated. Only ignorami would say they live in condominia.” 0 likes
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