Odds and ends

As the semester winds down, the quality of English I’m seeing in student writing is way up. No wonder: by now, you’ve been living in New York for the better part of a year, and there’s only one better way to pick up a language: have a significant other who’s a native speaker. You may […]


This week, students in the business concentration were gearing up for  Friday’s monthly jobs report with blog posts about what the news was likely to be. They used words like expect, estimate and predict — not always correctly. It wasn’t the meaning of the words that was off, but rather the constructions that followed them. […]

Further reading

Like most New Yorkers who subscribe to The New Yorker, I’m generally behind in my reading. So I’m a week  late in calling to your attention John McPhee’s piece in the April 29 issue:  “Draft No. 4,”  the latest in McPhee’s occasional series on writing. If a year in journalism school hasn’t introduced you to […]

More parallels

Continuing last week’s post, here are two more examples of sentences that cry out for parallel structure, courtesy of an international student who has graciously shared her work.  . . . they wanted to know how this union would affect their income. How would Russians benefit from teaming up with a country on the brink of […]

Drawing parallels

      If you studied geometry before taking up journalism, you know the definition of parallel: “Being an equal distance apart everywhere,” as the Free Online Dictionary puts it. The word applies to grammar, too, though the same source’s definition is a bigger mouthful: “Having identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses or phrases.” […]

Hyphens and compounds

Think of a hyphen as mini-conjunction — that is, something that joins words together. In noun phrases like singer-songwriter and actor-director, the hyphen joins two nouns of equal weight, indicating that the person in question is both. In compound adjectives, one of the hyphenated words modifies, or describes, the other. Together, the two modify the noun. For example, […]

What not to say

Nobody is going to be interested in work for the next week — it’s spring break!  So, instead of parsing English grammatical constructions, today I’m pointing you toward this week’s post on jimromenesko.com about words and phrases to avoid  in your writing.  (Apologies if you’ve already been through this list in Craft. And if you’re not […]

Required reading

You couldn’t possibly have a better writing teacher than William Zinsser. This veteran nonfiction writer began his career in 1946 at The New York Herald Tribune — which, I believe, puts him right about where you’re sitting now. He has since published 19 books on subjects ranging from travel to baseball to writing. (His “Writing on […]

Embracing complexity

In English writing, we value variations in sentence structure the way we value rhythm  and cadences in speech. If every sentence consists of subject, verb, predicate, in that order, the writing very quickly becomes  monotonous. So we might have a long sentence followed by a short, punchy one, or a simple declarative sentence before one […]

That again

From a post-Oscar story in The Daily News: Anne Hathaway released a statement saying that she simply couldn’t stand to look like any other girl on the red carpet. . . . “And so I decided it was best for all involved to change my plans.”  Shouldn’t there be another that in there? Or is there one too many? It’s […]