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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 […]

Reported speech and sequence of tenses

Grammatically speaking, reported or indirect speech means one person is communicating another’s ideas, but not the exact words — in short, paraphrasing. The concept is important in journalism because, well, journalists report a lot of speech. Often we do it in direct quotes: “Come on, Charlie Brown,” Lucy said. “I’ll hold the ball and you […]

Can you count?

Some years ago, my friend Steffen Muench, a German radio journalist, was counting out cash he owed me for theater tickets on a family visit to New York. No matter how many times the two of us counted and recounted, we couldn’t come up with the same figure. “We can’t count,” I explained to his […]

Idiom: the advanced course

Native English-speakers use idioms — those funny expressions like putting the cart before the horse and sleeps with the fishes and Break a leg!  — without thinking twice. But idioms often leave non-native speakers scratching their heads. (If you don’t know those, e-mail me at for a list of common ones. It runs six pages.) A real-life example from […]

-ing or -ed?

“I am boring,” a Japanese student a few years ago would tell me repeatedly. Actually, she was anything but. She meant she was bored. Adjectives like boring and bored are often confusing to international students. They and many other English language-learners are confused by such participial modifiers — that is, adjectives that originate as participles. Such […]

How to use this blog

Welcome to the J-school, new international students! (And everyone else.) As you start turning in assignments and, more traumatically, getting them back, you may be finding you don’t know English as well as you thought. This blog is here to help. English for Journalists was founded five years ago as an offshoot of my work […]

Graceful IDs

Along with “What is ‘it’?” and “Recorded announcement: In multi-sentence quotes, put the attribution after the first complete sentence,” one of my most frequent comments on student writing is “Needs a few words of ID.” (I should put those all on save-get keys.) When you’ve spent a lot of time and effort reporting a story, you […]