Speak good English: Nuance

BY: Junior Graphic

In today’s lesson and in subsequent ones, we are going to look at nuance as far as words are concerned — the very slight difference in the meaning of words.

In English, we know that many words are similar in meaning to one another.

For instance, the words impending, forthcoming, upcoming and imminent do have the same meaning of describing an event that is about to take place, as in:

a forthcoming trip outside the country

the upcoming BECE and WASSCE examinations

the impending confrontation between the man and his accusers

But, although these four words, just like many other groups of words, have a general meaning, there is a slight shade of difference in meaning among them when it comes to usage, just the same way artists and people who use different colours know that there is a difference between sea green and apple green and between yellow and curry.

It is knowledge of this shade of difference in meaning that makes good writers use appropriate registers when narrating, describing, reporting, commenting, debating, arguing, etc.

Let’s look closely at the four words we used above to illustrate the shade of difference in meaning among words which seem to have the same or similar meaning.

While all four words have the general meaning of describing things that are about to happen, the dictionary tells us that forthcoming and upcoming are associated with future events or happenings that are neutral or positive in outlook; that is, events that do not come with danger, horror, disaster, etc.

But impending and imminent are associated with future events or happenings that connote danger or disaster or are unpleasant.

So it is correct to write or say:

Final-year students in JHS and SHS are preparing for their upcoming/forthcoming examinations.

My sister has arrived from the US for the upcoming/forthcoming family reunion.

We are all looking forward to the upcoming/forthcoming movement to the new site.

But it is not correct to use the words impending and imminent in these sentences because no danger or unpleasantness is associated with any of the events mentioned.

Indeed, if you describe somebody’s trip outside the country or wedding as impending or imminent, that person should sue you in court because you are foretelling danger or disaster concerning those events.

Use impending and imminent only when the event about to happen is associated with danger or disaster, as in:

There is imminent/impending danger unless the authorities pull down that dilapidated structure.

We live in a flood-prone area and the impending rains have made us panicky.

(To be continued.)