I glimpsed an interesting photo caption on Facebook last week. In part, just below the picture of a young man seemingly paying too much attention to a post he had just written, were the words: “This is how I go through my posts to avoid the unemployed editors on Facebook correcting my grammar”.
Lately, perhaps because acerbic politics that raise adrenaline levels among combative Kenyans, always on the prowl on social media have taken a back seat, many of the bloggers must find other forms of distractions; they cannot sit still for long. One sure thing about social media, but particularly on Facebook, is that civility is not much of a concern.
However, the point was made. Social media does not employ editors, neither does it hire journalists, analysts and all sorts of commentators in between. It is an open field, and the mix is an interesting one. For the longest time, the rules of grammar are hardly observed if a collection of words can convey the writers intended meaning. At times, attempts at correcting grammar have elicited sharp, insensitive responses.
Common mistakes include rambling sentences so that two or three independent clauses are written as one. Often, one finds a mixture of tenses and confusion in words, especially with homonyms and homophones. Homophones play havoc with many writers who fail to distinguish between simple words like its and it’s, horn and hone, wean and win, arc and ark, by and bye, cell and sell.
Several factors account for some of the confusion we encounter. First, our dialects are phonetic, hence the tendency to write words the way we pronounce them. Second, language teachers don’t lay much emphasis on the phonetic aspect of it, and it gets worse when the teacher hasn’t overcome first language interference.
The rule that every new sentence must begin with a capital letter hardly registers. Many writers fail to take into account the fact that the number of verb is determined by the number of the subject. For example: “Mountain climbing – despite the dangers, joys and challenges - is an experience to savour”. Sometimes because of the words that come between the subject and verb - which in this case are in the plural form - the temptation to use the plural “are an experience to savour” becomes great.
Where reference is to a group and the necessity to use the words ‘one of’, if a relative clause has been used as the subject, the verb takes on the plural form. For example: “Macharia is one of the most dedicated ministers who have improved service delivery in their ministries”.
Even though only one individual has been singled out for praise in the sentence, he falls within a group - that of ministers. In this context therefore, to write “Macharia is one of the most dedicated ministers who has improved service delivery in their ministries” is grammatically incorrect.
Nouns and pronouns present their own challenges. Some nouns are erroneously believed to apply only in the plural form because they end with the letter‘s’.
The most common are ‘news’ and ‘politics’. However, in application, they are assigned a singular verb. For instance, we say ‘Politics is not for the faint hearted’, not ‘Politics are not for the faint hearted’. ‘News of a police officer battering an unarmed civilian has shocked the nation” not “News of a police officer battering an unarmed civilian have shocked the nation’.
The word ‘however’ is tricky to use, for it changes its meaning depending on where it falls in a sentence and the punctuation marks around. When ‘however’ is used at the beginning of a sentence, but is not immediately followed by a comma, it takes on the meaning of ‘whichever way’ as shown in the following sentence: “However one looks at it, the political climate in Kenya is far from serene”.
If a sentence begins with ‘however’ followed by a coma, ‘however’ takes on the meaning of ‘nevertheless’. For example: “Kingsley is ready to go. However, he must rush to catch the train’. In such a case, the word ‘however’ can be removed without altering the sentence in any way.
When ‘however’ appears in the middle of a sentence separated by commas, it means that despite something that could have been a hindrance, and clearly mentioned earlier, one went ahead or managed to do something. For example; ‘she has, however, managed to make it in life’.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]