Points to remember about the place and use of prepositions

Elections in Africa are ticking time bombs. There are three guaranteed outcomes when an African country goes through the motions of conducting elections.

First, the incumbent - mostly unpopular - wins by a landslide. Second, the opposition claims victory ahead of the official announcement of the final tally by the electoral agency. Third, an election is never complete without a body count. 

Kenyans have been there, seen it all and know better, but their propensity to forget and repeat the circle every five years is legendary. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was unceremoniously bundled from the country’s topmost political seat by the military last year and because elections had been slated for this year, his successor did not want to take off on the wrong side of history by clinging to power unconstitutionally.

To be president, one must subject oneself to a vote and get elected by popular vote.

Dutifully, Zimbabweans cast their votes last Wednesday, and then hell broke loose. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the elections.

Ahead of the commission’s announcement, the opposition had already claimed victory. Because of the conflicting positions, tension mounted so much that at some point, it needed to be defused.

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Achieve clarity

According to the opposition’s supporters, due to the palpable suspense and expectations, the only way to get the final tally was to lay siege to the offices of Electoral Commission to goad its officials into declaring the results expeditiously.

It was a mistake; trigger-happy security officers found that they had targets for shooting practice. It turned tragic. 

A number of prepositions feature in the narration above. These include ‘according to’, ‘ahead of’, ‘into’, ‘because of’, ‘as for’, ‘due to’. Using prepositions correctly is tricky at times, hence the need to remind ourselves of some of the basics about their application.

A preposition is a word used to connect nouns and pronouns to other words in a sentence to achieve clarity. For example: “Emmerson Mnangagwa is in the spotlight after the Zimbabwe elections”. Instead, one could come across the sentence: “Emmerson Mnangagwa is on the spotlight after the Zimbabwe elections”. The interchangeable use of ‘in’ and ‘on’ is inadmissible. 

It helps to remember the various types of prepositions to avoid their misuse. There are time prepositions (before, after, during, until), place prepositions (around, between, at, against) and direction prepositions (down, up, across).

Place prepositions revolve around the words ‘at’, ‘in’ and ‘on’. ‘At’ refers to a certain point. ‘In’ refers to an enclosed area. ‘On’ refers to surface. Thus, ‘spotlight’ goes with ‘in’ - the area enclosed by the circle of light. When referring to a surface, we say ‘on the spot’, not ‘in the spot’. 

Phrasal prepositions

As a rule, prepositions precede the noun or pronoun to which they refer. One can begin a sentence using a preposition, but remember not to place a verb after a preposition.

Of further note is that we have simple prepositions such as ‘about’, ‘above’, ‘along’, ‘against’, ‘at’ and ‘as’, and double prepositions such as ‘into’, ‘onto’ ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.

They are called double prepositions because they are basically two prepositions merged to form one word. The examples used earlier fall in the category of compound prepositions (for example 'according to', 'ahead of', 'as for', 'due to' and 'apart from'). 

When verbs and adverbs combine to form prepositions, they are called phrasal prepositions. These include 'as opposed to', 'as soon as', 'as well as', 'and so forth'.

Prepositional phrases invariably begin with a preposition and provide additional information for clarity. For example, while to say “Murkomen ranted” is grammatically correct, it does not have the additional information as in “Murkomen ranted at Tinga”. 

On the situation in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote a tweet that beseeched his opponent in the presidential elections to urge his followers to maintain peace. The tweet read: “We have been in communication with Nelson Chamisa to discuss how to immediately diffuse the situation and we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear”.

The word ‘diffuse’ is used in the wrong context. The correct word is ‘defuse’, which means to make a dangerous situation safe. Tense situations are likened to bombs and so can be defused. To ‘diffuse’ is to disperse or cause to spread.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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