Many people feel that because they have heard something expressed very often and over a long period of time, it must therefore be correct.
This, of course, is quite untrue and in many cases it is difficult for a teacher to persuade students that common expressions they have grown up with over the years are, in fact, quite incorrect grammar and bad English.
Let us take a look at some common examples in current use in Nigeria. How often do we hear people say:
- “This is my first time of coming here.”
- “This is my first time of seeing this.”
- “This is my first time of hearing this.”
It takes a great deal of persuasion and hard work to convince people that these expressions are completely wrong grammatically and bad english.
If you tried to analyse any of these sentences, you would not be able to do it because they are not constructed correctly. They should be:
- “This is my first time I have been here.”
- This s my first time I have seen this.”
- “This is my first time I have heard this.”
The first sentences are wrong because the verb has not been used correctly. The misuse of tenses is the cause of many common errors of speech and writing in English.
“Last week Thursday”
Another example is to be found in such a common mistake as:
“I am sick since last week Thursday.”
This statement is made by someone to tell us that last Thursday he became sick and he is still sick at the time he makes the statement. This sentence then should go into the present perfect tense, which is the tense used to something that was started in the past and is still going on at the time of speech.
It should, therefore, be:
“I have been sick since last week Thursday.”
Also it should be noted that when we give the name of a particular day, we do not need to say “last week Wednesday”, or “last week Friday”.
If the day we are referring to was in the week immediately in the past, then it is “last Wednesday”.
If it is in he present week it is “this Wednesday” and if it is in the next week it is “next Wednesday”. A week is usually considered to begin on a Sunday.
“Under the Ministry of Works”
Another very common mistake is the one that is given in answer to the question, “where do you work?” The reply is usually, “I work under the Ministry of Works.” The preposition ‘under’ is not the one that should be used in this sense at all unless the person who is speaking is actually concerned with digging a tunnel under the building in which the Ministry of Works is situated.
If the speaker is not engaged in this kind of underground activity he cannot use the word ‘under’. He should say “I work in the Ministry of Works.”
We can use the word under when we wish to say that we work “under Mr. so and so”, who is our immediate senior as we really mean that we work “under the supervision of so and so”.
“I came with the bus”
Again there is often great confusion of preposition in connection with travel. People say: “I came with bus”. This is wrong, we should say: “I came by bus”; “I came by train”; “I came by car”; “I came by bicycle”; “I came by ship”; “I came by aeroplane”. We travel “on foot”; “on a horse”; “on a donkey” and “on a camel”.
“Should in case”
“You should take your umbrella should in case it rains”, is a very commonly used expression and we hear people constantly saying “should in case”. There is no expression in correct english like this. What the speaker means to say is: “you should take your umbrella in case it rains”.
Another way of expressing this which is equally correct is: “We had better make alternative arrangements for the garden party in case it should rain.” (Future Conditional Tense)
Another word that is confused very often is the word salute. People say, “Good morning, I have come to salute you”, when they really mean, “I have come to greet you.”
A salute is an actual physical action performed by raising the hand to the forehead and it is only done by members of the armed forces to their superiors, e.g., “The soldiers saluted the Governor as they marched past him.”
“Excuse me” and “Sorry”
Expressions such as “excuse me”, “sorry”, etc, are very common and normal expressions in english if they are used at the right time and in the right place, and it is important to know when the correct time is, or where the right place.
Many people use the word sorry as a literal translation of the yoruba word pele but in english it is not used this way. It is not used alone as an expression of sympathy, as is commonly supposed. I have heard students saying “Sorry” quite unnecessarily, though I appreciated that they were expressing their concern.
We only say “sorry” when we ourselves are the cause of the hurt or inconvenience. For instance,if you were standing at the top of a flight of stairs and another person came past you and fell down the stairs, you would not need to say “sorry” unless it was your pushing him or his tripping over your feet, that caused him to fall.
We would normally, if we were not the cause of an accident and we were standing by when one happened, go to the person’s assistance and ask him f he were hurt or if we could help him in any way.
We also say “I am sorry”, when we wish to apologize for something, but then it is a complete sentence and not just the word sorry on its own. This too applies when it is an expression of condolence.
The expression “excuse me” is normally used quite correctly, but there is often confusion about whether it needs some sort of answer. It does not and if someone says, “excuse me” to us, we should not say anything in reply and certainly not “quite”, or “please be excused”.
We say, “excuse me” when we wish to disturb someone or a group of people, or if we we wish to pass in front of someone or if we wish people to move because they are blocking our path.
If you have any questions about this article, leave a comment below.