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 […]

Legal language

The Chelsea bombing Saturday night is not just a textbook case of breaking-news reporting (and police work). It’s also a handy news peg — a compelling reason to do a particular story right now — for an explainer on basic legal terminology. First-semester students are already turning in stories involving the police, crime and the […]

‘One of’: the most common problems

Milana Vinn, a first-semester student from Russia, e-mailed to ask: “What is the correct grammar for this sentence? Syria is one of the countries that are in a war zone.” “That is absolutely CORRECT!” I wrote back, and thank you for asking. In subject/verb agreement (for a quick review, click here), one of the trickiest cases […]

Welcome to English

In “Love in Translation,” in the Aug. 8 and 15 New Yorker, Lauren Collins wrote about learning to live in French after moving to Switzerland with her French husband. But she makes an astute observation about her native English: Grammar offers few clues as to the parts of speech that are not so much idioms as loose […]

Self service

I’ll go my way by myself, this is the end of romance. I’ll go my way by myself, love is only a dance. I’ll try to apply myself and teach my heart how to sing. I’ll go my way by myself like a bird on the wing, I’ll face the unknown, I’ll build a world […]

Running on at the mouth

A student working on two stories this week was quoting a lot of sources but having trouble rendering those quotes correctly. Three examples: “It is not the responsibility of the city to enforce an immigration policy, that is the responsibility of the federal government.” “Even for the businesses here, they have to start paying the […]

Block that metaphor!

The New Yorker may be a bastion of long-form journalism, but some of its funniest content is very short: those column-fillers whose headline this post has borrowed in homage. They’re poorly edited quotations from small-town (and sometimes big-city) newspapers, government documents, police blotters and such, collected with one purpose: to make readers laugh. From the […]

Too simple, too complex

A 2013 post, Embracing complexity, showed how complex sentences can add variety and rhythm — both highly desirable in English. “Complex sentences can make your writing smooth and sophisticated,” I wrote then. As illustrations, several recent passages from student work jumped out at me. From a late-breaking capstone: Jazz writer James Hale is also drawn […]

Grammar points to ponder

Since the semester is just a couple of weeks old, writing assignments have yet to begin rolling in. (And they’re likely to be fewer as first-year students branch out from Craft I into broadcast and interactive.) In this slow season, let’s review some recurring grammar points. Ages Is the following sentence, from student work, correct […]