End-of-semester review

First, congratulations to all our new graduates, especially the international students! You’ve been very brave, coming to New York to do graduate work in a language that is not your own. You’re to be commended.

That said, learning never ends — at least, it shouldn’t. To that end,  here’s a recap of some continuing problems in student work,  with recent examples.


Gerunds and infinitives

Correct or incorrect?

1. A newsletter for the event suggested to take a picture while shopping.

Incorrect. Suggest is one of those verbs that demand to be followed by a gerund — in this case, taking — or a clause (. . . suggested that you take a picture).

2. But during the ceremony, friends and colleagues preferred remembering happy memories.

Hmmmm. Not awful, but prefer usually takes an infinitive: Better: . . . friends and colleagues preferred to remember happy memories. For a helpful list of which verbs take infinitives and which gerunds, click here.

3. Eight analysts recommend holding the stock, and six advise to sell.

Half right. Recommend is like suggest: it calls for a gerund or a clause, so recommend holding is correct. But advise requires a gerund: advise selling. Another factor is parellelism: the two clauses carry equal weight in the sentence, so they should have the same structure.

4. The challenge for veterans is to learn how to promote themselves.

Either to learn or learning is correct. Here it’s not a matter of the verb. Is is a linking verb that equates the subject with predicate. The subject of this sentence is challenge, a noun. It can take either the infinitive (the challenge is to learn) or the gerund (the challenge is learning). Using the gerund also avoids two infinitives in a row (to learn how to promote).

5. But the possibility to send unlimited text messages decreases the time spent on each message.

This one is more complicated. It is possible to do something — adjective + infinitive — but we generally don’t use the infinitive with possibility, the noun form. Here the gerund is a better choice: the possibility of sending . . .



Watch out for those misplaced modifiers — clauses and phrases that dangle off a sentence and make copy editors laugh at you.

1. Primarily a point-to-point carrier, 85 percent of JetBlue’s passengers fly directly to their destinations.

The writer assumed it was clear that primarily a point-to-point carrier referred to jetBlue.  But grammatically, it modifies 85 percent of JetBlue’s passengers, making it sound as if those passengers are a point-to-point carrier. Here, JetBlue’s is acting as an adjective modifying passengers. Better:

JetBlue is primarily a point-to-point carrier, and 85 percent of its passengers fly directly to their destinations.

2. From the same story:

Flying more than 160 aircraft, one of JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes is listed for more than $90 million.

One A320 flies 160 other planes? That’s what the sentence says, but I think not. Again, unravel the sentence into its two main ideas:

JetBlue flies more than 160 aircraft, and one of its Airbus A320 planes is listed for more than $90 milli



Those three little words — a, an and the — continue to perplex students whose native languages have none, and even some who do. Here, from the reading of new graduate Elena Popina, are two questions about articles.

Chinese society’s concerns have centered on the breakdown in social relations, at a time of wrenching change.

“Technically, changes can be counted, right?” she asks. “One change, two changes. Then why is it not ‘at a time of a wrenching change’?

It could be a, but it’s not necessary here because the writer means change in general. More than one or two changes are taking place in China right now. If you say a, it means you’re referring to one specific change — for example, changing the one-child policy, as opposed to urbanization or any of the zillion other changes in progress in Chinese society.

And her query about a story on CNN:

“I was reading about the Colorado shooting, and I was wondering why this sentence was correct: The shooting began after the student entered Arapahoe High School in Centennial with the intention of confronting a teacher, Sheriff Grayson Robinson told () reporter

“There is no a in front of reporter. Is this OK? Why is it so?”
It’s so because copy desks are woefully understaffed these days, and the editor who handled this one was probably overworked or asleep. In other words, it’s totally not OK. Of course it needs to be either a reporter (any reporter) or the (specific, previously mentioned) reporter. More and more, the burden is on you, the writer, to get it right.
Coming next semester: who and whom, some and one, more about that, prepositions, and any other problems or questions you supply. Watch this space. Happy holidays, and get some rest!




Comments are closed.