i newspaper, June 6, 2017

(41 words) Instead of wasting precious words saying three times that Helen Dunmore has died, how about including some of her works? You don’t need to say she is British – that is taken as read, but it’s interesting to say whereabouts she came from. It doesn’t matter who announced the death, and the quote from the publishing house is pointless – the news would be if they were not saddened. Her age should not be left to the end.

This is how I would do it:

Poet and novelist Helen Dunmore has died of cancer at the age of 64. The Yorkshire-born writer won the inaugural Orange Prize in 1994 with A Spell of Winter. Her last book, Birdcage Walk, was published earlier this year. (40 words)



Sunday Times, June 4, 2017

Two infelicities for the price of one. ‘To only buy’ is a split infinitive and while opinions differ about how important this is, here it is ugly and unnecessary. ‘Only’ should be as close as possible to the word or phrase to which it refers, in this case ‘the best’. So this should read:

. . . this show wants consumers to buy only the best.

See ‘split infinitive’ and ‘only’ in



The Times, June 2, 2017

Here is a great example of how a small subbing change can make all the difference. All you need to do is move the last sentence to the start of the last paragraph, with just a light tweak. The quote then reads on from it, and gives a wonderful pay-off. Thus:

On days off from Coronation Street, Barraclough could be spotted at his local supermarket, alert to verbal gems in the conversation of fellow shoppers.

A quiet man, he said: ‘An actor is really an observer of life and people. To be an observer, you must be in the background, and I don’t subscribe to the business of the public knowing all about you. All the actor owes the public is a bloody good performance.’


i newspaper, June 1, 2017

There seems to be a lot of confusion about past tenses. The past tense of ‘spin’ is ‘spun’. Maybe the writer (the editor, no less!) was trying to avoid the error mentioned in Post 104, where the past tense of ‘shrink’ was rendered as ‘shrunk’ (the passive or pluperfect) instead of ‘shrank’. Yes, English is irregular, but writers should be familiar with it.


The Times, June 1, 2017

‘Nonplussed’ means ‘baffled’ or ‘confused’, but it is clear from the copy that Murray feels the opposite. The right word or phrase here could be ‘not bothered’, ‘not perturbed’ or maybe ‘unfazed’. Apparently in the US ‘nonplussed’ is coming to mean ‘not perturbed’, ie the opposite of its meaning here, but the Times is not a US paper.


The Times, May 29, 2017

Let’s just ignore the contrived, irrelevant intro and matching heading. The other main problem with this story is the systematic mixing of singular and plural. If you are talking about ‘the vole’ as a species, you refer to ‘it’. If you are talking about ‘voles’ as a group, you refer to ‘they’ or ‘them’.

In the penultimate paragraph, there is a sudden appearance of stream banks, when the story so far has been about a tarn. This needs to be explained, not just dropped in.


i newspaper, May 29, 2017

This is a common error. The past tense of ‘shrink’ is ‘shrank’. ‘Shrunk’ is the passive voice or pluperfect tense, as in ‘the clothes were shrunk’ or ‘it had shrunk to nothing’. The film title ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ should be ‘Honey, I Shrank the Kids’.


The Times, May 29, 2017

What were the odds?! I cannot understand the lack of curiosity that would allow this obvious question to go unanswered. Without the odds the story is almost meaningless. Incidentally I assume ‘Guldford’ is meant to be Guildford. Not good, is it?


Sunday Times, May 28, 2017

(132 words)

What a peculiar intro, and the whole thing has a stilted feel.

This is how I would do it:

(Par 1) The jacket worn by Brian Jones, the original leader of the Rolling Stones, in the months before his death nearly 50 years ago is to be auctioned.

(Par 2) The Ossie Clark design, in green suede with fringes, is expected to fetch up to £20,000.

(Par 3) It is being sold by Anna Wohlin, who was Jones’s girlfriend at the time. She and the guitarist shared a home in East Sussex, and she found him drowned in the swimming pool in July 1969. He was 27.

(Par 4) Swedish-born Wohlin said Jones’s clothes ‘have been a source of comfort when I remember him, the fun we had and how his life ended too soon.’

(Par 5) The jacket will be sold by Bonhams on June 28. (118 words)

Par 1: It is better to say ‘nearly 50 years ago’ than 1969, as it saves the reader having to do mental arithmetic. It also avoids repeating 1969.

Par 2: The first thing you want to know is how much it is worth.

Par 3: Describing Anna Wohlin as Jones’s former girlfriend makes it sound as if their relationship had ended by the time of his death. It is worth pointing out that she found him in the pool.

Par 4: This quote is fine but it really needs to explain why she is parting with the jacket now. If you start it as I have, you don’t need the ugly and intrusive square brackets.

Par 5: The least interesting bits of the story are the name of the auction house and the date of the sale, so leave them to the last par. They certainly don’t need to be in the second par.

This comes up a little bit shorter than the Sunday Times version, which leaves room for a line that Wohlin wrote a book which claimed that Jones was murdered.





i newspaper, May 27, 2017

Some group nouns can be treated as singular or plural, for example ‘the jury was told’ or ‘the jury were told’, and often it comes down to a matter of which sounds better. I feel that the smaller the number, the more likely that treating the noun as plural is the better choice, because you visualise the group as a number of individuals. Some authorities differ, but I can’t bear ‘The couple was . . .’ Anyway, the one thing you can’t do is to mix singular and plural. Here we have ‘ . . . did not do enough to protect them’ and ‘The royal family was killed’. Obviously you could not have ‘ . . . did not do enough to protect it’ so the last line should have been ‘The royal family were killed’.

See ‘singular or plural?’ in Style Matters: