As promised in Session 5, we continue with Frequently Misused Words and Phrases.
- Please, what says your time? (In what language?)
This is vernacular. It is a direct translation of how people request to know the time in many local languages. I’ve also heard: What time are we? This is vernacular too. Some would rather ask: What time is it on your watch? Again, on your watch is redundant unless you specifically want to know the time according to the person’s watch and not the cell phone. (Which is unlikely). Therefore, it’s sufficient to ask: Please, what time is it?
- None of my two calls went through. (Bad network, bad grammar!)
None is typically used to mean “not one out of several” (more than two) as distinct from neither which means “not one or the other of two”. Therefore:
Neither of my two calls went through.
None of my three friends is a smoker.
- We are the people that matters in this city (Yes sir!)
The origin of this popular error is not clear. It’s possibly a misinterpretation of the tense sequence rule which states that when the main verb of a sentence is in the present tense, the following verb(s) should also be in the present, etc. (especially in reported speech)
He says what matters is for us to win the election.
He said what mattered was for us to win the election.
(Remember the infinitive to is always in the simple present. So, you can’t say to won the election even though you are talking about the past)
Back to the sentence, this is a case of concord; subject-verb agreement. A singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb. Basically, We is the subject of that sentence: We (plural subject); matter (plural verb) Therefore:
We matter in this city.
Chief Oduma matters in his village.
We are the people that matter in this city.
Chief Oduma is the person that matters in his village.
These lessons mean (NOT means) a lot to me.
- The meal was very pepperish. (Was it peppersoup?)
Some dictionaries do not list pepperish as an English word. Where it is listed, the meaning is ‘somewhat peppery’ or ‘resembling pepper’. Peppery, on the other hand, means hot (with spicy, pungent, piquant, strong and fiery as synonyms). In view of the above, peppery would be more appropriate to describe the meal, as it relates to its spicy or hot taste. Therefore:
The meal was very peppery.
Some tomatoes are pepperish. (resemble pepper)
Note that peppery can also be used to describe someone who is easily irritated or angered. (what in Nigerian lingo is called pepperbody)
But then, one may ask: Why is pepperish not listed by all dictionaries just like feverish?
Well, go and ask Queen Elizabeth that one.
- One of my daughter is an accountant. (And the other half is an engineer?)
This is a very common mistake: One of my friend, one of my colleague, one of my pastor, etc.
One of means one out of more than one. You can’t have one of my daughter except the daughter is cut into two (God forbid). Therefore:
One of my daughters is an accountant.
One of my colleagues is absent.
- They shared the groceries between 200 refugees. (They tried!)
It is commonly said that between is used for 2 things and among for more than 2. This is not strictly so. Between can be used when referring to two or more specific items while among is used if the items are part of a group of more than 2 and are not specifically identified. Therefore:
They shared the groceries between two refugees. (Only two)
They shared the groceries between Isa, Sule and John. (More than two but specifically identified refugees)
They shared the groceries among 200 refugees. (More than 2 but not specifically named refugees)
- The pastor told members of his congregation to embrace and love themselves. (How?)
There are two sentences here.
- The pastor told the congregation to embrace themselves.
- The pastor told the congregation to love themselves.
Have you ever tried to embrace yourself? Maybe in the mirror. Pastors preach selfless love which is the direct opposite of loving yourself. Therefore:
The pastor told members of his congregation to embrace each other or one another. (Depending on the number)
The pastor told members of his congregation to love each other or one another.
- My friend, let’s be frank with one another. (It begins with you)
Take a cue from numbers 6 & 7. My friend indicates only two persons; the speaker and the friend) Therefore:
My friend, let’s be frank with each other.
My friends, let’s be frank with one another.
- The Chairman asked the Secretary to seat down. (When?)
Two things are wrong with this sentence. The first is the question mode.
Questions are indicated in two ways: Directly and in reported mode.
- Direct: “Would you please sit down?” The chairman asked the secretary.
- Reported: The chairman asked the secretary whether she wouldn’t sit down.
Outside of these, you have instruction or command; in which case you don’t ask but tell or command or instruct, or order, as in the sentence in question. There is a big difference between to ask and to tell or order, etc. Since the Chairman did not ask (no question mark at the end of the statement) the correct sentence should be:
The Chairman told (instructed/ordered/commanded/directed) the Secretary to sit down.
I guess you’ve noticed already the second thing wrong with the sentence. The noun seat (a thing) is used in place of the verb sit (an action). That is why the correct sentence is as stated above.
If you must use seat, then it should be as the object (the unit that is acted upon). For example:
Please, take a seat.
Please, have a seat.
There is a slight distinction between these two sentences. Take a seat denotes command while have a seat indicates an offer. The Chairman is more likely to tell his secretary (especially if she’s towering over him) to take a seat, with a commanding tone and the president of the stakeholders association, for instance, to have a seat.
- It was my daughters birthday yesterday (How many daughters?)
The missing (possessive) apostrophe casts ambiguity on this otherwise straightforward statement. Was it a single or two daughters (twins)? If one, there should be an apostrophe before‘s’ but after ‘s’ if the reference is to two or more daughters. Therefore:
It was my daughter’s birthday yesterday. (one daughter)
It was my daughters’ birthday yesterday. (two or more daughters born on the same day)
- The Vice Chancellor employed the students to end the protest. (On what salary?)
This borders on malapropism. The intended word is implored (pleaded with). Therefore:
The Vice Chancellor implored the students to end the protest.
- My foot is paining me. (Sorry o!)
This one is Made in Nigeria (pidgin) English. It is a direct interpretation of the discomfort the speaker is feeling. It means the foot hurts. Therefore:
My foot hurts.
Unfortunately, this usage has many cousins, including:
My back is scratching me. (My back itches).
My eyes are turning me. (I feel dizzy).
The thing is sweeting me. (It’s sweet).
I hope no one is laughing!
- We are sorry for your lost. (Thank God you’ve been found)
A case of using an adjective (lost) in place of a noun (loss). Therefore:
We are sorry for your loss. (The thing or person you lost)
- The president has informed of his desire to extend his vacation. (Informed whom?)
This sentence breaches the transitive verb rule. A transitive verb expresses an action and is followed by a direct object (person, animal or thing) that receives the action.
Examples of transitive verbs:
Tell, inform, give, kick, want, buy, write, eat, clean, etc.
How to identify transitive verbs: The direct object following the verb answers the question what? or whom?
Let’s tell her. (Her, which comes directly after the verb tell answers the question let’s tell whom? Therefore, tell is a transitive verb while her is the direct object). It would be incomplete to say Let’s tell without the person (whom) to be told.
I gave the ball away. The ball answers the question what? It would be meaningless to say I gave away. Therefore gave is a transitive verb.
The president has informed (the National Assembly) of his desire to extend his vacation.
The National Assembly answers the question informed whom? Without it, the sentence is incomplete.
Sometimes, transitive verbs take an indirect object before the direct object.
I gave my daughter/a car/ for her birthday.
The indirect object my daughter appears before the direct object a car.
This could also be written as:
I gave a car to my daughter for her birthday.
Both sentences answer the questions What? and Whom?
I gave my daughter for her birthday (What?)
Without a car the direct object becomes my daughter. Is it possible to give your daughter to another female as a birthday present? Even if you could, you would still need to explain to your wife the person (to whom) you gave your daughter as a birthday present.
15. The spokesman of the government is always on the attack. (He’s doing his job)
A spokesman/spokesperson is one who speaks for another or an organisation while people are always speaking of him/her (the spokesperson), especially if he/she peddles alternative facts. Therefore:
The spokesman for the government is always on the attack.
There are various spokesmen for our government.
Note: A full chapter on Frequently Misused Words and Phrases will be provided later.
Meanwhile, let’s examine the following poser together:
The old man died after a brief illness.
Was the illness over before he died?
Was he still ill when he died – in which case he died during a brief illness?
Did he die as a result of the brief illness, in which case he died, YES, as a result of a brief illness?
If the above is the case, can we also say he died following (as a result of) a brief illness?
What’s your take?
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