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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 diane.nottle@journalism.cuny.edu 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 […]

Better late than never: election language

“What is the difference between ballot, vote and poll?” Carlos Serrano from Colombia e-mailed over the weekend in preparation for election night. “How should I use each of these words?” Great questions, Carlos, and thanks for asking. The seemingly endless presidential campaign of 2014, 2015 and 2016 finally ends tomorrow — we hope (cf. 2000). […]

Faith, hope and clarity

“I knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith.” “What was the name of his other leg?” When I first saw “Mary Poppins” as a 9-year-old, those two lines struck me as nothing more than a silly joke, though they do turn out to be a plot point. When I saw it again in […]

Feeling fragmented

Like other English words derived from the same Latin root, fragment has to do with breaking. Fracture, as a noun or verb,means break (a fractured skull); a fraction is a “broken” number, less than a whole; a fragile object is easily broken; diffract means to break apart or bend — for example, light. A fragment is a piece […]