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More time words

As noted in How to make the most of coaching, it’s always useful when students asking for help tell me their deadlines. But sometimes they get more than they bargained for: If you have time today until about 9 p.m. could you please correct it? Will it be possible to receive it back from you […]

Focus words and appositives

One definition of the verb focus is to pay particular attention to something. In speaking or writing, focus words direct attention to a particular part of a sentence. Think of using a magnifying glass to focus light on a single spot. The sunlight is the reader or listener’s attention, and you want to focus it […]

How to make the most of coaching

Coaching should be an integral part of your strategy for surviving J-school, and even learning. What it’s not intended to be: an afterthought and a free edit. The J-school offers the services of a number of coaches: Tim Harper for writing; Deb Stead and me for English language and writing; Ricardo Reif for Spanish; and various […]

Laying Bush, and confusion, to rest

“As President George H.W. Bush now lays in state in the U.S. Capitol . . .,” Amna Nawaz intoned on “PBS Newshour” the other night. Really, PBS? Lays in state? The nation’s grammar nerds cringed. “And was the flag at half-mast?” we may have grumbled. (Maybe it was, somewhere, since Bush had once been a […]

Singular or plural? Revisited

The New Yorker is legendary for its meticulous copy editing. So when it deviates from established grammar, as in Larissa MacFarquhar’s Oct. 8 article “The Memory House,” it’s an event. The piece repeatedly used plural verbs and pronouns with singular nouns like a person or each patient. A few examples: Each patient wore a nametag at all times; there was […]

Anatomy of a cover letter

It’s application season. First-semester students past the first shock of grad school are looking (or should be by now) for summer internships and scholarships. Soon-to-be graduates are seeking fellowships, further internships, actual jobs or, in the case of international students, optional practical training under their F-1 visas. So perfecting their resumes and cover letters is […]

AP updates: vocabulary for election season

“Make friends with your stylebook,” I advise incoming students each summer at international pre-orientation.  “Not only will you learn AP style, but you’ll also learn a lot about the English language.”  These days, of course, “stylebook” really means the online version. It’s superior to the physical book for two reasons: it’s updated constantly (as opposed to […]

Hardy perennials

Every fall brings a new crop of students making the same mistakes in English as the class before them, and the class before that, and one before that. (And second-year students aren’t necessarily any better.) From student work early this semester, here are fresh examples of some of the most common, and avoidable, mistakes I’ve seen […]

Time words

Ago and before, after and since. They all have to do with time, and as paired above, they’re often confused. Let’s clear up that confusion. First, the easy ones, ago and before. Years ago, I noticed my German friends almost always said before when they mean ago, possibly because the German word is the same […]