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Pay attention to word spellings to convey intended meaning

By Alexander Chagema | Published Mon, January 1st 2018 at 00:00, Updated December 31st 2017 at 21:39 GMT +3
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Because many people, journalists included, make merry on Christmas day, media houses in Kenya do not produce print editions of their respective newspapers on Boxing day. Journalists, as most of you know, work a day ahead of actual dates. However, that did not stop media houses from posting latest news on their online platforms.

On Boxing day, I picked the following extract from one of the newspapers: “We (police) are yet to know who exactly beat him because mob injustice is not allowed in this country. We are still doing investigations and will narrow down on the main culprits.”

Several things stand out. First, there is nothing like ‘mob injustice’, hence the question of it being allowed or not allowed does not arise. Socially, legally, mob justice is anathema, so to even qualify it as not ‘being allowed’ in Kenya was unnecessary. The expression “we are yet” means that up to that particular time the reporter interviewed the police, the investigators had no clue, specifically, no names of possible suspects. To therefore conclude the sentence by saying; ‘we will narrow down’ is a contradiction. Narrowing down suggest there is a list of suspects from which the culprit(s) will be identified.


Investigations are a formal inquiry or systematic study of causes leading to something, such as death. The plural noun ‘investigations’ should therefore be used together with the word ‘conduct’ instead of ‘doing’.  The police, or any other investigative arm of government ‘conducts investigations’. To conduct is to direct in action or course or to manage something. As such, the police direct the action of looking for clues or searching for information that could help in concluding a case of homicide, theft or hit-and-run accidents. On the other hand, ‘doing’ is defined simply as ‘the act of making something happen through an individual’s own action’.

Reaction to a sad story, someone on social media wrote, ‘such an evil.’ to register his disproval. By itself, this is a dangling sentence, for it does not convey a complete thought as it would have had it been written; ‘such an evil deed deserves condemnation’ or ‘such an evil person should be behind bars’. Had the writer simply written, ‘Such evil,’ it would have expressed a complete thought.

The expression ‘such as’ is often interchangeably used with the word ‘like’. The expression ‘such as’ is used to introduce examples while ‘like’ should be used to show similarities. On the same online platform, one comes across quite a number of grammatical errors that are not deliberate, some of which are quite hard to spot. Listed below are some of the words that are often used wrongly by those who are not bound by the restrictions of having their work go through stages of proof reading and editing; those who simply post anything whenever the urge to post something grips them.

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Proof reading

The resultant errors present a good reason why media and publishing houses employ editors to polish copies of stories submitted for publication. Someone defending himself against a charge that his reasoning was base, actually affirmed that by hitting back with the boast ‘I have poured over many books than you.’  The correct word in the retort should have been ‘pored’, which means to read or focus on something with intensity. And because books are countable, he should have written, ‘more books than you.’

The real challenge is with words such as ‘canvas’ (type of tough clothing material) and ‘canvass’. The extra ‘s’ changes the meaning to ‘seeking peoples’ support or votes’ for any given cause. Advice (recommendations about what one should do in a given situation or to achieve a desired result). Advise (to counsel or suggest something). To ‘counsel’ is to give advice. ‘Council` refers to a group of people who either give advice or manage an institution et cetera.

Discreet and Discrete. The first means to be careful, circumspect while the second means something separate and distinct. Envelop and Envelope also tend to be confusing. The first means to cover or to surround while the second refers to a specially designed paper pocket in which a letter is put and sealed before affixing postage stamps and sending through the postal service. At times the delivery may be by hand, in which case no stamps are necessary. Loath and Loathe. The addition of letter ‘e’ at the end significantly changes the meaning. The first refers to being reluctant or unwilling The second means to hate; ‘I am loath to go on the long journey’. ‘If mary loathes anything, it is bathing’

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

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