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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  4,152 ratings  ·  333 reviews
Written by Patricia T. O'Conner, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, Woe Is I gives lighthearted, witty instruction on the subject most of us dreaded in school--grammar. Discussion is brief and concise, and much more engaging than the grammar books you may remember. With chapter titles such as "Woe is I: Therapy for Pronoun Anxiety," "Your Truly: The Possessive an ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 256 pages
Published June 29th 2004 by Riverhead Trade (first published 1996)
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Mary Henry It's an outdated grammatical construction. The right way to say it is "woe is me" in modern English, and that's based on 'me' being the first person p…moreIt's an outdated grammatical construction. The right way to say it is "woe is me" in modern English, and that's based on 'me' being the first person pronoun for the objective case. (less)

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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Jul 10, 2011 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
May 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 ♥
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
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
Andrew Blok
Aug 29, 2017 rated it liked it
I wish I had this book when I was teaching English. It's a simple and straightforward explanation of grammar: what you should keep, what you can pitch, and what's up for debate. While I didn't quite have the level of grammarphobia the book is hoping to meet, it was an excellent reminder in a conversational tone. It even turned up some hidden gems: Did you know there's no n in restaurateur? Apparently it doesn't come from the word restaurant. Instead, both words share a root word. What a world!

Jerome Baladad
Apr 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 05, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Pat W Coffey
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
A very good book, written with a lot of wits and it’s also quite simple to read through even when most of it is full of specific words and examples.

Since English is not my native language, I’ve found this book to be very helpful and friendly.
Nov 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
A fun, lighter version of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style". ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Time is not this book's friend. At the time of reading (2017-2018), many of the suggestions listed here are severely outdated. That aside, this book was heavily doused with the author's own opinions and interpretations of what the "correct" grammar should be. She also tried to present everything in a witty way, but it turned out to be more of a distraction. For example, she listed "passed away" as a cliche figure of speech that suggests the writer to be in denial of death, and to limit use of it ...more
Andrea Ross
Admittedly, the best person I could recommend this little witty book to would be the total grammar nerd - and that's with a capital hashtag grammar nerd - such as I consider myself. It's a guide of proper English usage but told in a very entertaining manner. The author has an amazing knack to put humor into proper grammar. That's a talented writer for you. I loved this little book. Seriously fun read for me. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy because you most likely will not want to spend ...more
Benjamin Rubenstein
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: resources, stonecoast
My writing instructor, Aaron Hamburger, would be so pissed to know that I, AFTER having earned my writing degree and thanks to this book, finally know what a comma splice is. Oh, woe is me.
Lara Thompson
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I needed a quick study to formalize my grammar knowledge and this one was funny to boot. highly recommend
Dec 25, 2010 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
Oct 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 quest
Aug 04, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 23, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 09, 2009 rated it liked it
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
May 01, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
Feb 05, 2009 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
May 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book! This is on my to-purchase list. Woe is I makes grammar and punctuation almost fun!!
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone who speaks or writes English. It is full of easily accessible tips without being heavy handed.
Rhiannon Root
For the life of me, I don’t know who the intended audience is supposed to be for “Woe Is I: The grammarphobe’s guide to better English in plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. This 1996 guide is short, but often the explanations for guidance are lacking and there’s this odd “If you don’t understand or agree with this, you must have been raised by wolves!” attitude woven throughout.

It’s this attitude that I have the biggest problem with. If you are someone who needs help with a subject you migh
Jacob Aitken
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
O’Connor, Patricia T. Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.

Not necessarily a handbook, since it doesn’t always discuss the reasoning behind the rules. Still, this is a good “workshop” on how to avoid grammatical faux pais (pl?).


That or Which?

“A which clause goes inside commas. A that clause doesn’t” (O’Connor 3).
Do I use “who or that?”

“A person can be either a who or a that. A thing, on the other hand, is always a that” (6).
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“With grammar, it’s always something.” 2 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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