Let’s Speak English!

Following the ruling of the Supreme Court last Thursday, many ardent readers of this column would naturally expect Yours Truly, the most dedicated disciple of ‘konkonsa’, to comment on the verdict. I’m, however, very sorry to disappoint them. I refuse to comment on the ruling this week, lest I say something that might make me fall in the contempt trap. As you already know, when one is sad and livid, the tongue loses control and the mouth inadvertently vomits the unprintable and unthinkable. I therefore reserve my thoughts on the landmark ruling for another day. I lift my ‘holy’ pen today to discuss some elementary grammatical errors many of us make in speech and writing. As the Assistant Headmaster of one of the leading junior high schools in the capital, I’m privileged to be part of a panel that conducts interviews for the school. I must confess that some of the grammatical expressions I heard last week were so horrible that I felt like throwing up. I therefore felt duty-bound to join my senior colleague columnist, Africanus Owusu Ansah, in the crusade to sanitize the situation. Most of the interviewees could not differentiate between ‘each other’ and ‘one another’. ‘Each other’ is an expression showing the relationship between two people or things. For instance: The two friends greeted each other. It’s therefore wrong to say, “The pastor told the congregation to love each other.” It’s wrong because a congregation consists of more than two persons. ‘One another’ is used for more than two people or things. Example: The players greeted one another after the match. ‘One another’ is used because the players are more than two. It is therefore wrong to say, “The players greeted each other after the match.” ‘Between’ and ‘Among’ are two words which are also frequently misapplied by many of my compatriots. One is sometimes used in the other’s stead. ‘Between’ is used for two things or people. Example: There is a problem between the man and his wife. It is, however, wrong to say, “There is confusion between members of the family.” It’s wrong because members of the family are more than two. Rather, one should say, “There is confusion among members of the family”. ‘Among’ is preferred in this case because it is used for more than two people or things. Many of us do not also have a full grasp of the functions of Subjective and Objective Pronouns. Pronouns like ‘I, You, He, She, It and We’ are called Subjective Pronouns because they perform the action. In “I am eating banku’ and ‘We are dancing agbadza’, ‘I’ and ‘We’ perform the action. However, pronouns like ‘Me, You, Him, Her, It and Us’ are called Objective Pronouns because they receive the action. In ‘Abu gave him the money’ and ‘I’m going to see them’, ‘him’ and ‘them’ receive the action. It is therefore wrong for one to say, ‘The money was shared between you and I.’ One should rather say, “The money was shared between you and me.” Remember that ‘Between’ always takes the objective pronoun. Another grammatical puzzle many of us seem not to decipher is the usage of Comparatives and Superlatives. Most of us understand that Comparative Adjectives are used for two, while Superlatives are used for three or more. But the problem is the application. During half-time discussion on the Super Cup match between Chelsea FC and FC Bayern Munich last Friday, a celebrated sports journalist asked his guests this question: “Do you think the best team is leading?” To be very honest, it is a mistake I’ve heard time without number. The correct question should have been, “Do you think the better team is leading?” ‘Better’ is preferred in this case because only two teams are playing. ‘Best’ would have been correct if three or more teams were participating in a competition. Example: Do you think the best team won the tournament? How many times have you heard the expression, “I’m now abreast with the situation?” Is it a hundred times? Perhaps, even a thousand times, eh? Sadly, ‘abreast with’ is wrong. The correct phrase is ‘abreast of’. “I’m abreast of the situation’ is rather the correct expression. A few days back, I heard someone say, “Mensa Otabil is a popular preacher.” Obviously, the speaker could not differentiate between ‘popular’ and ‘famous’. ‘Popular’ means to be loved by many people; while ‘famous’ means to be well-known for a special ability or quality. The speaker’s intention was to state that the pastor was well-known because of his preaching skills. The correct expression therefore should have read thus, “Mensa Otabil is a famous preacher.” Abusuapanin, I have much more to discuss but time and space would not allow me to continue. I, however, make you this solemn promise; I shall sooner than later return to the subject. Please do well to point out any deficiencies in this piece; after all, we are all fallible. See you next week for another konkonsa, Deo Volente!