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

ISBN: 0767910435
ISBN 13: 9780767910439
By: Bill Bryson

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About this book

Why should I avoid discussing the 'weather conditions'?Can a woman be 'celibate'?When can I use 'due to', or should I play safe and always use 'because of'?What's wrong with the way I'm using 'crescendo'?This book provides a simple guide to the more perplexing and contentious issues of standard written English. The entries are discussed with wit and common sense, and are illustrated with examples of questionable usage taken from leading British and American newspapers.No familiarity with English grammar is needed to learn from this book, although a glossary of grammatical terms is included and there us also an appendix on punctuation.Journalists, copy-writers and secretaries will find this an invaluable handbook, and it will also be a highly enjoyable book for the word-buff.

Reader's Thoughts


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.


For lovers of the English language

Christopher Weaver

Great book. Definitely quality reference material. I'm positive I highlighted more than half of the information. I believe that I am a good writer, and this book made me aware of several dozens of mistakes that I make.

Mark Allen

A great reminder of how easy it is to write bad English. Not a book you'd generally read straight through unless you like reading operating manuals. However, it's a great reminder of those things that trip most people up.Recommended.


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” (Times). No one ever pointed that out to me before. Thank you, Mr. Bryson!


How do you rate a reference book? Very helpful and informative. Many publishing mistakes are uncovered and discussed. I checked this copy out from the library but it's a great reference that I'd like to have handy on my desk.


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 a stylistic/grammatical choice differently, whose example do I follow? What if the experts throughout history have disagreed? Or what if modern usage differs from those expert resources? What if various countries use the same word in different ways? Bryson's guide helps to navigate these types of tricky questions. Bryson doesn't care about following rules for the sake of following rules. This is not an arbitrary style guide. No, this book has the sole purpose of improving one's writing by taking away those things that are incorrect, confusing, or misleading. I'm paraphrasing here but the the reader should never have to re-trace their steps to figure out a sentence. The reader should be able to get from A to B with as little resistance as possible, that's what good writing is all about [certainly in journalism, anyway].I could also recommend this book to the non-writers, non-grammar-nerds. Bryson has written a really accessible book, it's not bogged down with linguistic jargon and it always presents the ideas in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way. Even though it functions as a dictionary, I really enjoyed reading it from cover to cover. Bryson's breezy commentary makes the reading experience feel more like grabbing coffee with your brilliant writer friend than going to the library to crack open a dusty tome. Just saying, good stuff.I would also recommend this book to anyone who fully reads the title of the book. I'm seeing negative goodreads reviews because the person was expecting something like his travelogue humor. Hmm. So just be clear, this book only, but masterfully, delivers what the front cover claims it will deliver: a dictionary of troublesome words for writers who want to get it right.


Loved it. I felt vindicated by a few entries (like "begs the question") and surprised by others.I read this on an e-reader, but would like to have a hard copy to be able to flip through it more easily.I liked how direct he is, no over-explaining, just corrections and concise explanations when needed.I love just about anything Bill Bryson writes. He's laugh-out-loud funny in a lot of his books.


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 year while preparing to visit Australia. How about that there is no such thing as one kudo? You give someone kudos or none at all. Luckily for all of us, Mr. Bryson has pulled together here a comprehensive list of the most commonly misused ("As U.S. travel abroad drops, Europe grieves" -New York Times. Really? Grieves?), misunderstood (grisly vs. grizzly), and overused words and phrases (lion's share) in writing.As Mr. Bryson was a copyeditor at Penguin in the U.K., once or twice I did wonder if his use of a word was British, however he does note differences in American and British usage (if not spelling, and the spelling throughout and punctuation are American) so I think my guesses about those Brit-isms are likely wrong. But it is worth noting that he does elucidate a lot of British place names that an American will never need to know. However that minor inconvenience is not good reason to ignore this book. I love how he comes down on the side of reason and sense over rules and traditions (it is okay to split an infinitive, as well as end a sentence with a preposition!) but he has done his homework and cites multiple sources for any debate, and even tries to find the originator of those rather random grammar "rules," to point out how recent and ill-founded they are.So if you've ever wondered when to use "on to" instead of "onto" or whether it is better to use "flammable" or "inflammable" when talking about a thing easily lit on fire, Mr. Bryson has you covered. If you find this book cursory and wish it were more comprehensive, he's got you covered with Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors. But if you actually want to read a dictionary straight through and retain any of it, I recommend starting with this thinner volume. And if you just love words and language, you need to check out Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.

Vanessa Beardsley

Well, I thought this was going to be an actual history of words, but it's actually a word guide... I suppose that's why it's titled "Writer's Guide?" Duh. So, although very useful, not the kind of thing to read cover to cover for me, anyway.

Kathleen Dixon

Someone (or ones) in Reading Seals recommended this, so I borrowed it from the library. He's a very entertaining writer, though he hasn't said anything here that can't be found in other collections like this.


What a delightful surprise. I can't say that I've ever read a dictionary from cover to cover, but that's just what I did with this book. Unlike other books by Bryson, this really isn't don't read it looking for chuckles...but it was so clear and helpful that I just had to read it all. My sister asked me jokingly if I was getting that smug feeling that sometimes accompanies reading about grammar and spelling and so forth--"Oh yes, I already knew that,"--but no. If anything I was very humbled by how much I didn't know. I'm going to keep this on my bookshelf at school because I know I'll refer to it again.

Syntactical Disruptorize

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.


Excellent. It answered innumerable questions on spelling, grammar and punctuation. Plan to keep it atmy office within arm's reach.

Angela Benedetti

This is a great book, one any writer should have on a shelf near their keyboard. It explains most of the words, phrases, and basic punctuation issues that regularly screw up even professional writers and editors, and is handy to have within reach when you have a, "Wait, which one was that again--?" moment. All the examples are from professional (and often highly respected) publications, showing that even the folks one looks up to screw up over and over; it's just part of the business.That said, I don't always agree with the author. For example, his distinction between "parody" and "pastiche," that a pastiche is a work inspired by a variety of sources while a parody is inspired by a single source, not only contradicts what I was taught, but also renders the concept that parody should be protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution completely pointless. The element of sharp or humorous critical commentary has to be present in a parody, or there's no reason to protect that type of speech.Still, I agreed with Bryson far more often than not, and I'll be keeping this book near to hand when I'm writing. Good stuff, and highly recommended.

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