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Use these English expressions correctly

Using the correct word or expression in a sentence poses a challenge to many speakers and writers of the English language. 

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When a word is wrongly used, it can alter the import of a message. I would, therefore, like to highlight some expressions that are commonly used incorrectly. To start, the incorrect usage of 'outdoor' as a verb has gained wide currency in the Ghanaian mass media. The following sentence is incorrect:

• Former President John Mahama has outdoored Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang as his running mate. In terms of parts of speech, it is instructive to note that 'outdoor(s)' is NOT a verb; rather, 'outdoor' and 'outdoors' are adjectives and adverbs respectively. Examples:

• l attended an outdoor party yesterday. In this sentence, 'outdoor' is an attributive adjective that qualifies the noun 'party'. The opposite of outdoor is indoor.

• It was warm enough to eat outdoors. In this sentence, 'outdoors' functions as an adverb of place that modifies the verb 'eat'. The opposite of outdoors is indoors. Besides, outdoors can function as a noun (the outdoors) referring to the countryside, away from buildings and busy places, e.g. the great outdoors in Canada. The incorrect sentence should, therefore, be corrected as follows:

• Former President John Mahama has introduced/inaugurated/nominated/named/selected/endorsed Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang as his running mate.
I suggest that every time 'outdoor' is used as a verb, it should be put in quotation marks to indicate that it doesn't conform to standard English. Can we classify it as Ghanaian English? Other expressions that are commonly used incorrectly are as follows:

Understudy

The following incorrect sentence is an extract from a local newspaper: She spent two weeks in Kumasi last year to understudy how the royals dress. It is noteworthy that 'understudy' is a theatre expression, and it can function as a noun or a verb.

As a noun, an understudy is an actor who learns the parts of other actors in a play, so that he or she can replace them if necessary. E.g.: An understudy took over for the rest of the performance when the main actor fell ill.

As a verb, understudy means 'to learn the lines of other actors in a play so that you can replace them'. E.g.: He took ample time to understudy the most challenging role in the play.

The incorrect sentence should, therefore, be corrected as follows: She spent two weeks in Kumasi last year to learn how the royals dress.

Ward(s)

The following sentence is an extract from an English language textbook: Parents are to buy books for their wards. In terms of choice of words, the noun 'parent(s)' matches 'child or children', while the noun 'guardian(s)' matches 'ward(s)'. Therefore, it is inappropriate to use 'parents' for 'wards'.

A 'ward' is a child in the custody of a guardian or a minor being cared for by a guardian; hence, the following sentence is correct: Guardians should treat their wards as their own biological children.

The sentence should, therefore, be corrected as follows: Parents are to buy books for their children. Or: Parents and guardians are to buy books for their children and wards respectively.

Queen mother(s)

The following incorrect sentence is an extract from a textbook: Chiefs and queenmothers play significant roles in societies. The Oxford Dictionary defines queenmother as ‘a title given to the wife of a king who has died and who is the mother of the new king or queen'.

It defines a queen as 'the female ruler of an independent state that has a royal family.' Based on these definitions, the opposite of 'king' or 'chief' is 'queen' and not 'queenmother'. In other words, 'queen' is not synonymous with 'queenmother'.

The incorrect sentence should, therefore, be corrected as follows: Chiefs and queens play significant roles in societies.

The writer is a freelance proofreader
Writer's E-mail: [email protected]

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