Write tight!

That’s one of  first, and best, pieces of advice I received when I was a reporter on my college paper at 17. Throughout high school, I had been encouraged to show off whenever possible by writing long, complex sentences using big words, and plenty of them — fine if you’re Henry James, or an academic. […]

Articles revisited

“What’s missing here?” you’ve heard me demand, tapping my blue felt-tip on a space between words in your copy. Sometimes, the answer is dead silence; sometimes, “Article?” Sometimes you even say the right one. A semester after The articles article, students are still coming to me confused about articles.  That’s OK; as I mentioned in that post, […]

Refresher course

This post was meant to be headlined “End of the Semester,” but final projects and internship applications came first. (You know who you are.) No matter; refining your English was probably the last thing on your mind over the holiday break. Now, back to work. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Phil Corbett down […]

What spellcheck won’t catch

In e-mail from a certain friend of mine, I often catch him writing loose when he means lose, as in: Obama is certain to loose the election. (That’s not a real example, though he is a diehard Republican.) He also once wrote me: . . . when I traveled in the East Block . . […]

Comma knowledge

The comma, that curved little wisp of a punctuation mark, indicates a pause. It gives readers a chance to catch their breath as they navigate the ideas in a sentence. Commas also help shape sentences, defining which words go together. Commas tend to travel in pairs, especially in sentences containing nonessential clauses and appositives, nouns […]

Tense about tenses?

Just before Election Day, a student asked me why his Craft professor had made the following edit in one of his stories: “The turnout will be seriously affected,” said Russell C. Gallo, the Republican candidate in the 45th district for the State Assembly, who runs is running against veteran Democratic member of the New York […]

Singular or plural?

The most common way to form plurals in English is simply to add -s to a noun: one reporter, two reporters; one desk, two desks; one laptop, two laptops. So does that mean any noun that ends in -s is automatically plural? Not necessarily. Consider two fields that journalists cover regularly: politics and economics. There’s […]

Antecedents in the news!

Right about now, Richard Mourdock is probably wishing he had paid more attention in his eighth-grade English class. Mourdock is, of course, the Republican Senate candidate from Indiana who got into hot water (that’s an idiom, meaning trouble) last week by saying that when rape results in pregnancy, “it is something that God intended.” But what does English have to do […]

Giving an adjective its due

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I haven’t posted on this blog for several weeks. And if I can’t write better than that sentence, I shouldn’t be posting at all. The point is to call your attention to the use, or rather misuse, of due to. It’s one of the most common mistakes in English, […]