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When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse
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When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  380 ratings  ·  67 reviews
What do you get when you mix nine parts of speech, one great writer, and generous dashes of insight, humor, and irreverence? One phenomenally entertaining language book.

In his waggish yet authoritative book, Ben Yagoda has managed to undo the dark work of legions of English teachers and libraries of dusty grammar texts. Not since School House Rock have adjectives, adverbs,
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published February 13th 2007 by Broadway Books (first published 2007)
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Sep 14, 2010 rated it liked it
A very interesting tour on the parts of speech. I dare not say any more for fear of making a mistake.
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, linguistics
Ben Yagoda has written a most enjoyable book about the English language, parts of speech, and grammar. Yes, that's right--enjoyable, and quite humorous. For example, he writes:

"... shall call anyone a dork to the end of his days, who insists on maintaining the distinction between shall and will."

Yagoda devotes a chapter to each part of speech. With the advice in this book, you can learn to write in an unpretentious manner. You can learn to use correct grammar, and learn how to write (and speak)
Kerri Anne
Catchy title; (mostly) dull, monotonous writing. I could see Yagoda being a stellar grammarian and/or grammar teacher, but as Matt already noted in his review, this reads a lot like a lecture, and made me remember how psyched I am not to be in college anymore.

[Two stars for English nerdery.]
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book, humour
I suppose I may be one of the few people who will consider a book on grammar to also be a book belonging in the humour category, but there you go. Yes, I am a geek. If this is news to anyone, then somebody doesn't know me all that well.

I did actually learn a few things and I enjoyed myself while I did it. I would absolutely recommend reading this book for anyone who either needs a little grammar refresher or is a member of the grammar police.
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
This book is very entertaining.
Brad McKenna
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another book I read on vacation and have be slack in my reviewing. Again, though, I took notes! Like, a ridiculous amount of notes. Most of them are quotes that connected with the English Major in me.

Adjectives that can be rearranged without changing the meaning have commas, those that can’t don’t. Ex: wide, rough, freezing river and stately seaside motel. (pp. 20-1)

“Adjectives are tools of lazy writers.” P. 22

NOAs = Needlessly Obscure Adjectives p.23

“Reviewers of all kinds are probably the most
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
As someone who loves languages and everything about them (grammar, etymology, style, syntax, etc.), I absolutely loved this book. It was written with just the right balance of information and humor, and its entertaining style had me reading through it at a pace somewhat faster than what is usual for me for a non-fiction book.

The book addresses each part of speech in a different chapter, picking apart several of the most noticeable examples of modern changes, trends, and evolutions in its categor
Jul 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Yogada's take on the so called "parts-of-speech" had me turning the pages like a good mystery potboiler. His tone swings gleefully from irreverent to respectful, and he is at all times illuminating. He gladly takes on the presciptivist school of thought (although ever careful to point out the flows in the descriptivst's camp, as well), and zings with great one-liners as: "[...] the only response to anyone who says, 'I shall go to the store' is 'And I shall call you a dork till the end of your da ...more
Samuel Choi
Oct 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It is indeed as written on the back cover, “Not since Schoolhouse Rock! have adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions, interjections, nouns, prepositions, pronouns, and verbs been explored with such infectious exuberance." The book takes the parts of speech and does its dance with them. He goes over each of them and extensively talks about them with the full realization of the philosophical camps and yet dances over and along the fence with gusto and skill. As an aspiring writer, it is a grea ...more
Andrea Blythe
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Not many writers can tackle the sometimes tedious subject of the parts of speech. Ben Yagoda's fascination with the English language is clear, and I couldn't help but take part in his excitement, joy, and occasional irritation that is involved in defining and determining proper usage of the parts of speech.

Each chapter takes a stab at the sometimes shady definitions of the parts of speech. Quotes and anecdotes from famous editors, writers, and pop culture icons bring the language to life.

Brenten Gilbert
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, business
This is definitely one of the nerdiest books I've ever read. Imagine the most thorough grammar teacher trapped within pages of printed text. Devoting one full chapter to each part of speech, Yagoda keeps it interesting by detailing tidbits of insight into our lexicon. I feel like I learned a lot from reading it, but at the same time, I almost feel too terrified to write anymore, because I'm sure I'm not doing it right. I tried to keep a running count of how to incorporate the correct percentages ...more
Aug 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Ok, I really liked this book and it has lots of insight into the division of words in English. It is well written and interesting. That being said, since it is a discussion on the parts of speech, Dr. Yagoda includes "off color" words in his discussion as pertaining to how they are used in context of written English. I have gone through my copy and edited so that it will be acceptable to read. Here are the pages to avoid: p.4 ignore the example in the middle of the page, middle of p. 61-middle o ...more
"The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer. I signify all three." -Ulysses S. Grant

Recommended for all writers. What I learned:

Keep preposition ratios in sentences to about 1:9 or 1:11.

Cut adjectives, use verbs. Or pair adjectives unexpectedly, don't use dead words.

C.S. Lewis' notes on Kenneth Tynan's paper: "Keep a strict eye on eulogistic & dyslogistic adjectives--They shd diagnose (not merely blame) & distinguis
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is a lot more entertaining than a book on parts of speech ought to be. Yagoda includes enough pop-culture references (many are from The Simpsons), literary quips, and bad jokes (including the best Tom Swiftie of all time: "'I manufacture tabletops for shops,' Tom said counterproductively") to keep the material from being dry and dull. He manages to point out sins of amateur writing (over-reliance on adjectives and adverbs, for starters) that some readers (myself included... gulp) will recog ...more
Aug 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
" far as not getting respect goes, adjectives leave Rodney Dangerfield in the dust. They rank right up there with Osama bin Laden...". [p 15].

Imagine a book filled with English language quirks, stuffy linguists, and enough pop culture references to make a schoolmarm scream. In When You Catch an Adjective, Yagoda delivers a funny and well-balanced look at the history and future of our language. I am delighted that he sometimes throws dusty grammar rules upside down, but other times defends g
Jun 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Would recommend: Yes, if you can get excited about whether "they" can be a singular pronoun

Ben Yagoda, the author of When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, is a professor at my alma mater, the University of Delaware. I never had him as a teacher, but now I wish I had. Despite its dry subject matter, Yagoda uses a light, slightly sarcastic tone, and the result was entertaining and enlightening. I now know that the full title of Huck Finn has no "the," as well as the origin of the term "ampersand."
Troy Blackford
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who loves languages, wonders about them, or wants to learn and be entertained would do well to buy this book immediately. Yagoda's tone is a perfect balance of humor and authority, knowledge and playfulness. This isn't 'build a nuclear reactor in fifteen cut and dried steps,' this is both an exploration and celebration of the language, in the hands of someone who's love of language and ear for humor shine through in every page. Wonderful book, through and through. First book by Mr. Yagoda ...more
Heather Mims
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An entire book dedicated to the eight parts of speech? This was an English nerd's dream. Slightly pedantic, but never boring, I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

As for reviewers feeling too intimidated to write after reading this, all I can say is "don't." The English language is always evolving, and as the author points out on multiple occasions, the best results often happen when the "rules" are broken. Being aware of grammatical strictures is good for any writer. But feeling as if you have to
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I've expected more (but that's my fault, I guess)

Overall, it's a really nice overview of the different parts of speech. But personally, I've found it rather dry, despite the humorous tone, and lacking something... applicability, maybe?

Maybe my opinion comes from reading this book right after finishing Yagoda's "How Not To Write Bad", which I've found supremely helpful due to its many tips on practical usage. This one, however, is what it is: an overview and nothing more. Therefore, this 3-star
Aug 15, 2007 rated it liked it
“Anything for 185?” I ask, stopping by to check my PO Box.
“Just a second, honey. Let me check in the back,” someone usually says. I’m pretty convinced that the people who run my little PO franchise are related.

And sometimes they emerge from the back room with a package for me.

The last time this happened, I got this book: a gift from Dad, who’d heard the author interviewed on NPR.

Grammar fun!
Jul 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the grammatically inclined
Recommended to Kate by: 425.5 Y
Shelves: línguas
"Specifically, speakers can use 'oh' to correct themselves, request clarification, correct someone else, make a request for elaboration, introduce a suddenly remembered question or remark, indicate ignorance of the just given information, display recognition, or mark an intense reaction. When kicking off the answer to a question, the word can also be used as a way of neutralizing, or removing any tension from, the conversational moment." ...more
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A enjoyable romp through the english language, examining how it works and how it has changed through time. This book also offers a great slice of americana, with the author quoting or referencing, it seems like, every band, movie, TV show, commercial, advertisement, author, novel, and politician you've heard of. Just a fun book that really makes you realize how rich the english language can be. ...more
Mar 06, 2008 is currently reading it
I love this book. For any armchair grammarian or word nerd, Yagoda offers both instruction and entertainment as he covers the fundamental parts of speech, their history, application, and amusing misapplications. He is not afraid to voice his own opinion, which keeps the reader amused and engaged by what might easily have been a very dry topic indeed. I am thoroughly enjoying this book.
May 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you need a fun way to look at parts of speech, this is it. I don't agree with all his perspectives, but he writes interestingly and insightfully about our changing language. I like his other book, The Sound on the Page, better--but this is still one that had me reading paragraphs out loud to people around me (if you know me, you know I do this when something tickles me). ...more
Harish P
Oct 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
An interesting examination of parts of speech - not just adjective, as the title says. My favorites sections are about adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. The book is full of anecdotes and real-world examples. At times, Yagoda sounds pedantic and certain chapters, especially, pronouns and prepositions are boring. Those monolithic paragraphs (oxymoron) didn't help the cause. ...more
Apr 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I truly believe this might be a good book, but I suggest that you are either a native English speaker or study languages if you aim to enjoy this. It is clearly written with a lot of humour and meant to be easy to read. And it's not difficult language per se, but still a bit heavy if English is not your first language. ...more
Aug 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Are there enough snarky grammar guides out there? Yes. Few of them are as fun to read as "If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It." The book dedicates a chapter to every part of speech. Plus, it has a great moral. Writers use adjectives and adverbs too often. ...more
Sep 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: word nerds and others who like grammar
This book is so much fun! Yes, it's all about the proper usage of the parts of speech, kind of. But it also discusses the roots of the parts of speech (i.e. Latin doesn't have one of them -- gasp, I've forgotten already! -- I think it was prepositions. This is a book I'll buy. ...more
Suzanne Mishkovski
This humorous look at the parts of speech will always be one of my favorites. It is part grammar guide, part comedy. I suggest it to any writer who has ever wondered the origin of the parts of speech, or even, really weird words. It is a quick read, but it will stay with me forever.
Feb 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Grammar nerds
Recommended to Rob by: NPR...does it get nerdier?
No point in reading this one unless you're a grammar nerd. I am, so I really enjoyed it. Yagoda does a nice job of describing descriptive vs. prescriptive approaches to grammar, shares his opinions without shoving them down the reader's throat, and makes some amusing observations along the way. ...more
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Ben Yagoda (born 22 February 1954 in New York City) is a professor of journalism at the University of Delaware.

Born to Louis Yagoda and the former Harriet Lewis, he grew up in New Rochelle, New York and entered Yale University to study English in 1971. He became a freelance journalist for publications such as The New Leader, The New York Times, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone, and published a number o

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