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 […]

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 . . […]