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 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 […]