Final exam

It’s the end of spring semester — time to review. (You want to look good on your internship,  don’t you?) Here’s a quiz on what you’ve learned from this blog. What’s wrong with the following sentences written by students this academic year?   1. But it took one year for the European Union to sign it. 2. […]

Punctuation points

Victor Borge (pronounced BOR-guh) was a Danish pianist and comedian who combined those talents in a way that made him a star of American television in its early years. Among the many topics Borge explored in his sophisticated brand of stand-up (and often sit-down, from the piano bench) was punctuation, as in this video: Phonetic Punctuation […]

When a home is not a house

Housing is news. Sales of new and existing homes are an important indicator of the state of the economy. And in New York, a city of tiny living spaces, housing is practically an obsession. (So is its cost. “The New York question” is “How much?”) When you’re covering  housing issues, it’s important to get the […]

A good time was had by all

That sentence used to end small-town newspaper reports on  church socials and other gatherings. Today it makes us laugh — or should — because it’s such a backwards way of saying what it means: everyone had a good time. Written in passive voice, it sounds pretentious. It would sound far less so in active voice. […]

Why style changes

While the market was recovering in 2013, the prices in cities like Las Vegas and San Francisco recorded a year-over-year gain of over more than 20 percent.  “Humor an old lady,” I told the student who wrote that sentence. “When you’re talking about numbers, make it more than.” As of last week, she doesn’t have […]

Prepositions and phrasals

The J-school is at 219 West 40th Street, but on 40th Street. It’s in Manhattan, but on the West Side. Students live in apartments or buildings anywhere they can afford. On this island, they live in the Village, SoHo or TriBeCa; on the Upper East Side or Upper West Side; in Morningside Heights, Harlem, Washington Heights or […]

Saying and telling

The verbs say, tell, talk and speak all have to do with communication. The differences are subtle, and non-native English-speakers often confuse the words. Since they’re so often used with quotations — the building blocks of journalism — it’s especially important for journalists to get them right. Which one to use in a particular sentence depends on […]

Some? One? A?

My makeup made a wow-effect with my girlfriends (who knew I had been practicing makeup at home but never had a chance to see me in one). After freelancing in England for couple of months and Paris for one year, he came to New York in 2009. Last night I went to see some photo exhibition on […]

Need ‘that’?

About this time last year, I wrote a post titled That Again,  a guide to when it’s safe to omit that in a subordinate clause.  For example: He said (that) it was starting to rain. What did he say? That it was starting to rain. That whole clause acts as the direct object, especially in reported […]

Who and whom

Knock, knock Who’s there? To. To who? You mean to WHOM. Knock-knock jokes are practically an art form in English, and when I heard this one at a Christmas Eve party from Fred Kaimann of The Star-Ledger, I roared.  Not only because I was planning to write a blog post on who and whom, but also […]