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Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,556 ratings  ·  154 reviews
A revised and updated edition of a humorous primer on the English language, expanded for an American audience, contains entries on correct and questionable usage, a glossary, and a pronunciation guide.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 14th 2004 by Broadway Books (first published 1984)
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3.88  · 
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 ·  2,556 ratings  ·  154 reviews

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Aaron Brame
Jun 12, 2011 rated it liked it
I taught middle school grammar for six years, and my favorite part of the grammar book (didn't you have a favorite part of the middle school grammar book?) was always the glossary of usage. I saved that part of the curriculum for the end of the year, like a desert that you look forward to throughout a long meal.

"Class, do you know when to use 'fewer' instead of 'less'? No? Oh, goodie."

After the joyful experience I had reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, I wanted to check out more Brys
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I read this book two times in about six months, so I think I'm done with the cover to cover work. I have it marked and highlighted and handy for reference.

Along with discussions of spelling and usage, Bryson includes many examples of incorrect usage from well-known publications and authors (including his very august self). The examples let you see what it looks like when it's done wrong, and you may recognize your own errors in those of other people. It's also nice to know that even the profess
Feb 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing

I might be starting towards lexophilia, but this book is the only dictionary/ thesaurus that I can seriously read. That is sit and read through it one word at a time. The only disadvantage is that it tends to make one nervous in one's own writing and want to check everything with Bryson just in case you have just made another almighty clanger.

It was given to my by a lovely friend and it has proven to be a delight, you can't categorize it well, it isn't really a dictionary and it's not a thesaur
Kariss Ainsworth
Jan 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This hurt my dyslexic brain!
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
This book definitely earns a 5 star rating, I'm just not sure who to recommend it to:

Professional writers and grammar nerds will love the book's utility; this is a resource I know I'll be returning to often. For example, if all I'm trying to do is spell or define a word then I'll pull out a basic dictionary. But what if three different words seem to have identical definitions, are there situations I'm supposed to use one word over another? Or let's say I see several respected publications handle
Karen Brooks
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant little book amd a must read/desk companion for professional writers. Arranged alphabetically, it basically explains correct spellings, etymology and meanings of various words and the mistakes that even lovers of words and writing can make. For example when to use compliment or complement; when to parlay or attend a parley. He explains the real meaning of condone (which is not to approve or endorse but to forgive - whoops!) and takes his time over who and whom. He also explain ...more
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: folks who like words
I really enjoyed this, but then I do sometimes read the dictionary for fun. I found Bryson’s expectations of correct usage to be insightful and realistic. I appreciate his examples of incorrect usage.

An example of something I have applied to my own writing is the entry for include. He writes, "include indicates that what is to follow is only part of a greater whole. To use it when you are describing a totality is sloppy, as here: “The 630 job losses include 300 in Redcar and 330 in Port Talbot”
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think I'm in love. Be still, my geeky, grammar- and word-loving heart! I had the satisfying experience of coming across entries that reinforced my own pet peeves (e.g. the misuse of 'fulsome,' the confusion of 'tortuous' and 'torturous'). But still more satisfyingly, I learned plenty more that I did not already knew, and also learned explanations for things that I knew only by instinct. Marvellous!
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not a book to read straight through, but a good reference book when you have usage, grammar, or spelling questions. Journalists, bloggers, or anyone else who wants to make a living by their writing or communication skills would benefit from this book.
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In my quest to read all of Mr. Bryson's books, some are easier than others. But I have to say that, for a grammar nerd who loves words, this was a joy. It did take me a long time as I didn't want to read too much at once for fear it would run out of my ears, but I learned a lot and I will be hanging onto this as a reference book for a long time to come.

Did you know the phrase is to the manner born, not manor? Oops. Me neither. Did you know a koala is not a koala bear? That one I did learn last y
Daniel Taylor
As this is a reference book, only the most committed logophile will read it from cover to cover.

The book has one section, "Troublesome Words", and an appendix, "Punctuation".

What makes this guide to correct English stand out from the cluttered shelves of similar books is two things. Bryson delivers his advice with his trademark humor that readers of any of his other books will immediately recognize. That itself leads to the second point — Bryson isn't some grammarian tucked away in the dusty sta
Apr 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfic-writing
Excellent book. There was much here I just didn't know, and a lot of other material that I might once have known but had forgotten. I actually read through the entire thing, although it would be a great browsing book for anyone who wants to write or who just loves langauge. I got several blog posts out of the interesting material I found within.
Shivam Kalra
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This should be a must-read book anyone who writes professionally. However, this is not to say that others should not read it. Everyone absolutely should. One who writes professionally, not necessarily a writer or author, however, must.

Besides being a dictionary-like book, it is sarcastically funny and has hint of grumpiness that Bill Bryson is well know for. A question popped in my head after finishing it, which was put into my head by a friend: Is there any topic that Bill Bryson hasn't written
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
A book to dip into and enjoy. Mr Brysons' wit and writing are what bring a potentially bland word book to life.

Highly recommended.
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What began as a lark as a welcome break for the old noodle after reading some mind-bending books became something much more serious.

I like books, words, and books about words. This doesn't take much brain-power - but this was different. This was quite a serious, thorough, quite complete run-through of the most common bugaboos that need addressing.

I thought Bryson was a bit overstuffy at first, but then realized how useful and relevant all his advice is. Halfway through the book, I then realized
May 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book to sit down and read from beginning to end. It is more a reference book, and also very good for browsing. Bryson was a copy editor in England in the 1980’s and here he lists common mistakes in usage and spelling, with delightful paragraphs and examples of correct and incorrect sentences. Although I didn’t read it chronologically, I browsed enough to have read practically the whole book, and I enjoyed it. He has written other books about the English language and I will probabl ...more
Katharine (Ventureadlaxre)
What an organised mind Bryson must have, to be able to put together such a needed collection of information. I would find it hard to believe that a single person exists that wouldn't learn something from this book, I know I've been corrected on several things. I had no idea that Americans use the word 'homely' differently than Britons do, or that we shouldn't say 'I feel nauseous'.

Everyone who's serious about writing (especially journalists) should take a look at this book. I assure you that it
Aug 05, 2008 is currently reading it
I am always reading this type of book to glimpse into the world of those smarties that I believe secretly carry a red felt pen with them to correct the incorrect grammar of the rest of us.

I always learn that I have been misusing or mispronouncing some word or another, this makes me think that reading through the book has been validated, until I catch myself using that same word incorrectly again.
Syntactical Disruptorize
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a charming book on words writers often get wrong, but it misses its target, through no fault of the author. If you know enough to look in this book, much less own it, you probably cared enough to get it right in the first place. It's an okay book to wave in someone's face to let them know just how wrong they are, but that's a nasty use of Bryson's self-effacing, gentle style.
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
I learned many things from this book. Did you know there is no rule against split infinitives? I was also reminded to just forget about the word 'very'.

In fact, I think I'm going to buy this to use it as a quick and easy reference, much easier than using a dictionary or maybe even
Nov 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-stars
Recommended for people who are already fans of linguistics, grammar, and clear explanations of the rules governing both. Bryson writes clearly and concisely, providing many examples of words which can be troublesome indeed.
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
every writer should have this book for reference
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an actual reference book, so I'm not sure I'll ever finish reading it.
Matt Hooper
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm running out of Bill Bryson books to read. I've taken to reading his dictionary.

"Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right" was the author's first published book (it has undergone several updates since debuting in 1984). If you are unfamiliar with the author, then please allow this brief contextual diversion.

Bill Bryson has written several humorous, erudite and grouchy travelogues, hiking memoirs, and scientific explainers. Born and raised in Des Moines, I
Robert Hepple
First published in 1984 under the title 'The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words', Troublesome Words is a short book of various words the are often misused. In most cases, Bryson provides examples (mainly from newspapers) of incorrect usage, before telling you how the word should be used. Mostly this is okay, but there are a few contentious descriptions. Bryson quite rightly points out many instances where common usage has changed the intended meaning of a word over time, yet ignores quite a ...more
Ed Hatfield
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very good at what it does - poking sharp holes in journalistic writing whenever there is redundancy, wherever there is rambling and in papers as successful as The Times and The Guardian. It has a very simple layout and could easily be used as a reference for those writing professionally, as well as being very simple to read casually.

Probably best received by total pedants (such as those who sneeringly inform you that 'advance planning' is the only possible sort, ha ha) and those in
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: linguistics
For someone who is as fascinated by the language as I am, and as interested in writing well, this book is useful and more entertaining than it might be expected to be; Bryson's writing is, as usual, stylistically enjoyable. But for anyone who enjoys his books describing his travels, or other less pedantic works, but who does not share my enthusiasm for correct usage of the language, this book might be considered tedious. Do not be fooled by the fact that it's written by Bryson, who tells an amus ...more
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, reference
Mine is the 'New expanded edition' as published by Book Club Associates.

The book is a useful and amusing dictionary or words that people tend to use incorrectly or in place of each other, e.g. the difference between 'affect' and 'effect'. Another example is the difference between grisly and grizzly - do you know the difference? It also addresses regularly misspelt words and, overall, is very handy to have at your side when writing.
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have an almost endless appreciation for both style guides, and Bill Bryson.

It continues to amaze me that Bryson can take any subject and make it at once humorous and educating. Bryson has done it yet again, but now with a dictionary.

Probably only an amazing book if you already have an interest in language, but it is a good book for anybody. Always fun to get a writer's hot take on their own tools.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
This is definitely something for the grammar-nerds out there. I didn't finish it but there's really not a reason to. It's not a book to be read, per se, but a dictionary (as in the title). It has good humor and explanations but it's more of a one-off kind of book for someone who isn't a writer, like myself. But I didn't dislike it, so a solid 3.
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

In The Lost Continent, Bil
“Before, prior to. There is no difference between these two except length and a certain affectedness on the part of 'prior to.' To paraphrase Bernstein, if you would use 'posterior to' instead of 'after,' then by all means use 'prior to' instead of 'before.” 13 likes
“One idea to a sentence is still the best advice that anyone has ever given on writing.” 8 likes
More quotes…