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08.01.2020 Feature Article

Choose Your English Words Carefully

Choose Your English Words Carefully
LISTEN JAN 8, 2020

Using the appropriate word or expression poses a big challenge to many writers and speakers of the English language. Choice of words plays a key role in the Queen's language, in that when a word or an expression is wrongly used, it could potentially alter the content of a message. This clearly underscores the importance of choosing appropriate words or expressions to ensure effective communication.

Let's consider some pairs of words that are wrongly used interchangeably by many writers and speakers of English on a daily basis.

Cutlass Or Machete?

The following sentence is an extract from the comprehension part of an English Language exam for Class Five pupils: Mr Ghandi told the students to bring cutlasses and hoes to school the following day. The use of 'cutlasses' in the sentence is wrong; the correct word is 'machetes'. Hence, the sentence should be corrected as follows: Mr Ghandi told the students to bring machetes and hoes to school the following day.

The Oxford Dictionary describes a cutlass as 'a short sword with a curved blade that was used as a weapon by sailors and pirates in the past'. It describes a machete as 'a broad heavy knife used as a cutting tool and as a weapon'. Based on their respective descriptions, machete better fits the implement we use in Ghana and which we erroneously call cutlass.

Unveil Or Introduce?

Carefully study the following sentence: The Ghana Football Association has unveiled the new Serbian coach at a press conference in Accra. As a verb, unveil has wrongly been used in the sentence. Hence, the sentence should be corrected as follows: The Ghana Football Association has introduced the new Serbian coach at a press conference in Accra. The appropriate word is 'introduced' and not 'unveiled'. As a verb, introduce means 'to bring someone or something to the attention of the public for the first time.'

Unveil means 'to remove a cover or curtain from a painting, statue, etc. so that it can be seen in public for the first time', e.g. The President unveiled a plaque to mark the official opening of the factory. Besides, unveil means 'to show or introduce a new plan or product to the public for the first time'. Examples: The government has unveiled plans to embark on massive road construction projects in 2020. They unveiled their new models at the Motor Show yesterday. Based on the foregoing, we unveil something, not somebody.

Impending Or Forthcoming?

Carefully study the sentence that follows: Akua is feverishly preparing for her impending wedding ceremony. The use of 'impending' in the sentence is inappropriate. The right word is 'forthcoming' or 'upcoming'. The sentence should, therefore, be corrected as follows: Akua is feverishly preparing for her forthcoming/upcoming wedding ceremony.

As regards choice of words, 'impending' and 'forthcoming' should not be used interchangeably. As an attributive adjective, 'impending' is usually used to describe an unpleasant event that is going to happen very soon. Thus, we can talk of 'an impending earthquake', 'an impending flood', 'an impending fatal accident,' etc. Hence, expressions such as 'impending victory', 'impending referendum' and 'impending Christmas' are inappropriate. 'Forthcoming' or 'upcoming' is appropriately used for a situation devoid of a disaster or something of that nature.

Severally Or Several Times?

Carefully study the following sentence: I have advised Kwame severally to respect elderly persons. It is noteworthy that the adverb 'severally' does not mean 'several times' or 'several occasions'. It means 'separately', e.g. The two levels of government sort out their responsibilities severally. Hence, the incorrect sentence should be corrected as follows: I have advised Kwame several times to respect elderly persons.

Unload Or Offload?

Study the following sentence carefully: The ship is offloading a consignment of rice at the harbour. The word 'offloading' has wrongly been used in the sentence. The appropriate word is 'unloading'. Therefore, the sentence should be corrected as follows: The ship is unloading a consignment of rice at the harbour.

Many writers and speakers of English wrongly use'offload' and 'unload' interchangeably. As a verb, offload means 'to get rid of something that you do not need or want', e.g. Some waste materials are being offloaded at the dumping ground. As a verb, unload means 'to remove things that you need or want from a vehicle or ship after it has taken them somewhere'. Examples: My children helped to unload the luggage from the car. Some bags of rice are being unloaded from the truck for the staff of the company.

Secured Or Secure?

Carefully study the following sentence: Residents of Kumasi are not secured following a series of murder cases in the city. The sentence is incorrect due to the use of 'secured'. The sentence should, therefore, be corrected as follows: Residents of Kumasi are not secure following a series of murder cases in the city.

'Secure' is both an adjective and a verb, and it's an adjective in the correct sentence. When it functions as an adjective, always drop'd' in 'secured'. However, when it functions as a verb, always maintain the'd', e.g. The doors have been secured against intruders.

Senior/Junior Or Elder/Younger?

Carefully study the following sentences: Philip is my senior brother. Theresa is my junior sister. The two sentences are incorrect.

To express age difference, use either 'elder' or 'younger' as an attributive adjective. In terms of expressing difference in position or rank, use either 'senior' or junior'. Examples: Frank was my senior at school. David was my junior at school.

Therefore, the incorrect sentences should be corrected as follows: Philip is my elder brother. Theresa is my younger sister.

Somewhere Or Sometimes?

The following sentence is incorrect: Somewhere last year, John bought a brand new car.

With reference to time, use the adverb 'sometime'. With reference to a place, use the adverb 'somewhere', e.g. John lives somewhere in the Greater Accra Region. Hence, the incorrect sentence should be corrected as follows: Sometime last year, John bought a brand new car.

The writer is a proofreader

Writer's email: [email protected]

By Anthony Kwadwo Kyei

Anthony Kwadwo Kyei
Anthony Kwadwo Kyei, © 2020

The author has 9 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AnthonyKwadwoKyei

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