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Do not use 'so' before an adjective, noun combination

By Alexander Chagema | Published Mon, January 8th 2018 at 00:00, Updated January 7th 2018 at 23:58 GMT +3
[Photo: Courtesy]

The headline ‘Nakumatt in so bad state it couldn’t restock for the Christmas festivities’, taken from a newspaper last week, informs today’s column. The word ‘so’ serves as an adverb as well as a conjunction. Conjunctions, as we all know, are used in joining two main clauses in a sentence. Of the many rules governing the use of the word ‘so’, one demands that it should not be used before an adjective plus noun. The writer of the headline quoted above violated this rule, considering the word ‘bad’ is an adjective and ‘state is a noun’. Ideally, in place of ‘so’, he should have used the word ‘such’: ‘Nakumatt in such bad state it couldn’t restock for the Christmas festivities.’

‘So’ is an adverb that modifies other adverbs and adjectives. One could say ‘Adopting the new education curriculum is not a bad thing, why are teachers’ unions making it look so unworkable?” The same word can be used as an intensifier as in; ‘the Salgaa-Sachangwan stretch of road is so (very) dangerous.’

Often, ‘so’ precedes words such as ‘much’, ‘many’, ‘little’ and ‘few’; ‘The boys had so much fun’. ‘There were so many people it was hard to walk fast’. ‘The new born baby looked so little’. ‘Those present at the fundraiser were so few they couldn’t raise the required amount.’ It is grammatically wrong to use ‘so’ to modify noun phrases because ‘such’ is the appropriate word. ‘He is such a hard working colleague’. Not ‘He is so hard working a colleague’.


In some instances, ‘so’ is used to avoid the dullness that comes with repetition, particularly in regard to answering a question. For example, if one asks “Will Aden Duale, leader of majority in parliament berate opposition Members of Parliament for their stand that they will abstain from vetting Cabinet Secretaries?” An appropriate answer would simply be, “I think so” instead of a long winded one like “I believe Aden Duale will berate opposition Members of Parliament for their stand to abstain from vetting Cabinet Secretaries”. From the same newspaper, another headline read; ‘Couple charged with human trafficking’. As it stands, this headline conveys two meanings that are both correct, depending on one’s understanding. The operative words in the headline are, ‘charged with’. As an idiomatic expression, to ‘charge with’ means to officially accuse someone of a crime or to assign a particular duty to an individual or group of people. Both meanings are carried by the headline. If the writer intended to explicitly convey the former meaning, the addition of the word ‘offence’ or ‘crime’ would have totally eliminated the second meaning (license to trade in human beings) which, by itself is improbable. Human trafficking is illegal hence; no person or people can be given the license to indulge in it.

Like so many that operate as the main words in sentences, the word ‘charge(d)’ can be used in combination with other words to convey different meanings. Here are some of the most commonly used examples. Charge for. This refers to the amount of money one pays for a service: “What is the charge for a haircut at the most celebrated barber shop in town?”

Compound words

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Charge to. This basically refers to debiting: “ Please charge to my account”. This is applicable mostly to the cashless mode of payment that is in vogue nowadays, particularly with the advent of visa cards across the world. Charge at. This expresses fury and the reaction of moving menacingly towards another person, intent on starting a fight. An enraged lion, buffalo or rhino can also charge at a group of tourists or hunters disturbing its peace.

Charge (up). A motorist would most likely drive his or her car around the estate to charge up the battery after a long period of disuse. Regular driving keeps the battery charge up. Charge of. Used to explain why an individual, for instance, has been arrested: “Henry the terrible has been languishing in the police cells on a charge of murder.”

Charge that. Refers to claims against an individual that may not be entirely true: “ Mudavadi dismissed the charge that he was responsible for the humiliation Eugene Wamalwa faced at the Maragoli cultural festival last December.” In charge. This means to be in control: “By dropping a number of Cabinet Secretaries, retaining some and appointing new ones, President Uhuru Kenyatta has demonstrated he in charge of the country.”


Mr Chagema is a Correspondent at The Standard. [email protected]

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