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SPEAK RIGHT, MIND YOUR ENGLISH

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With Charles Akinriyibi

  1. Trouser/Trousers

It is only Nigerian and probably African to say ‘trouser’. ‘Trouser’ does not exist as an English word. The word is ‘trousers’. A word always regarded as plural. Therefore, it is used as:

  1. Don’t say: My trouser is torn.
  2. Say: My trousers are torn.
  3. Comprise of/Consist of

The word ‘of’ does not collocate with ‘comprise’ in English. So instead of saying ‘comprise of’, we say ‘comprise’ or say ‘consist of’ and not ‘consist’.

  1. Don’t say: Our classes comprise of/consist brilliant students.
  2. Say: Our classes comprise/consist of brilliant students.
  3. The devil you know is better than the angel you do not./Better the devil you know than the devil you do not.

One tends to wonder where the error from the above must have been generated since idioms are fixed groups of words. Therefore;

  1. Don’t say:

Alfred: I hate my job so much that I’m thinking of asking for a transfer.

Julius: I would advise against it. The devil you know is better than the angel you do not.

  1. Say:

Alfred: I hate my job so much that I’m thinking of asking for a transfer.

Julius: I would advise against it. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not.

  1. put to bed/give birth

‘Put to bed’ has always been wrongly used by most Nigerians to mean ‘give birth’ but it means:

Put (someone) to bed: to make someone go to bed.

Put (something) to bed: to complete work on something and send it on to the next step in production, especially in publishing.

  1. Don’t say: My pregnant elder sister has been in hospital trying to put to bed.
  2. Say: My pregnant elder sister has been in hospital trying to give birth.
  3. as at when due/as and when due

It means ‘at the time that something happens’. Many Nigerians mishear this as ‘as at when due’ when the proper form of the idiom in British English is ‘as and when due’.

  1. Don’t say: We pay our workers as at when due.
  2. Say: We pay our workers as and when due.
  3. drop/alight

‘Drop’ is sometimes used by Nigerians in urban areas when passengers mostly in commercial buses want to come down at a bus stop or their destination. This use is considered wrong when the right word to use is ‘alight’ in British English.

  1. Don’t say: Driver, I want to drop here.
  2. Say: Driver, I want to alight here.
  3. repeat/repeat (something) again

If you repeat something, you say or write it again but when you repeat something again, you say or write something again again. The penultimate will result in an unnecessary repetition which we call tautology.

  1. Don’t say: He repeated again that he had been misquoted.
  2. Say: He repeated that he had been misquoted.
  3. theirselves/themselves

‘Theirselves’ does not exist as an English word, the third person possessive pronoun equivalent to ‘them’ is ‘themselves’.

  1. Don’t say: They bathed theirselves.
  2. Say: They bathed themselves.
  3. themselves/each other

‘Themselves’ can only be used in English as either a reflexive or intensive pronoun but not as a reciprocal pronoun. Intensive pronouns are pronouns that place emphasis on their antecedents by referring back to another noun or pronoun used earlier in the sentence while reflexive pronouns are pronouns that indicate the receiver of an action is also the subject or refers back to the subject. On the other hand, reciprocal pronouns are pronouns used to indicate that two people or more carrying out an action of the same type are both receiving the benefits or consequences of that action simultaneously.

  1. Don’t say: The students always fight themselves.
  2. Say: The students always fight each other.
  3. everyday/every day

‘Everyday’ is an adjective we use to describe something that is seen or used every day. It means ‘ordinary’ or ‘typical’. ‘Every day’ is a noun phrase that simply means ‘each day’.

  1. Don’t say: My parents go to work everyday.
  2. Say: My parents go to work every day.
  3. Don’t say: We are on the hunt for the best every day men’s wears.
  4. Say: We are on the hunt for the best everyday men’s wears.
  5. parent/parents

‘Parent’ refers to a person’s father or mother while ‘parents’ refer to people ‘father and mother’.

So, the singular ‘parent’ should be avoided when referring to both father and mother.

  1. Don’t say: John said Mr and Mrs Johnson are his parent.
  2. Say: John said Mr and Mrs Johnson are his parents.
  3. Sleeping/asleep

‘Sleep’, as a verb, shows the state of being of its subject. As a stative verb, it cannot express a continuous action at the time of talking or doing something else. It does not involve any action so visible that an audience can see its progress. So, to express its relevance at the point of speaking, ‘asleep’ is preferable.

  1. Don’t say: John was sleeping when you called him.
  2. Say: John was asleep when you called him.
  3. Saw your missed call/missed your call

It is common to hear many phone users say they saw their callers’ missed call when they mean missing the callers’ call. Since it was your calls you could not answer and not your callers’, so

  1. Don’t say: I am so sorry that I could not call back when I saw your missed call.
  2. Say: I am so sorry that I could not call back when I missed your call.
  3. Pick calls/answer calls

‘Calls’ are expected to be ‘answered’ and not ‘picked’. So,

  1. Don’t say: You should pick the call whenever he calls.
  2. Say: You should answer the call whenever he calls.
  3. Splitted/split

Individuals who are yet to establish ‘split’ as an irregular verb still exist and so will use a regular pattern of adding ‘-ed’ to form its past and past participle tenses as ‘spliited’. So,

  1. Don’t say: I splitted the students into two groups last year.
  2. Say: I split the students into two groups last year.

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