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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, […]

That? Which? WHAT?!?!?

Relative clauses — those subordinate clauses that add information to sentences — can be confusing, even to native speakers of English. They can help you avoid monotony in sentence structure and achieve that variety in rhythm prized in English writing. Some relative clauses serve as giant adjectives or adverbs. For example: You’ll find the mailboxes […]

Political and printable

As we approach the first Obama-Romney debate and the home stretch of the 2012 election season, here are some resources for international students who could use a little guidance through the thicket of the American political system. First, remember from my orientation talk that AP has already set up a style guide to the elections, […]

The articles article

You know what articles are: those three little words, a, an and the, that precede nouns.  You know how to use them, at least in theory. But you may have trouble getting them just right or, if your native language has no articles, remembering to use them at all. In my first month coaching at […]

Introducing English for Journalists

International students at the CUNY J-school come from all over the world: Japan, China, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Russia, India. Their native languages are as diverse as their homelands and cultures. Since the Class of ’13 started arriving in mid-August for the fall semester, I’ve had the pleasure of working privately with at least […]