Place an auxiliary or helping verb before main verb ‘begun’
Workers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) went on strike last week. Perturbed by the proposed takeover of the airport’s management by the fiscally challenged national carrier, Kenya Airways (KQ), the workers worried about their future under such skewed arrangement. As such, they resorted to using the only medium government understands to get its attention; Strike.
Characteristically, as events unfolded, the Government chose brawn over brains. To justify its highhandedness in clobbering unarmed airport workers; most of them women, Transport CS James Macharia kept repeating that the airport is a security installation, hence industrial action is forbidden there. In the course of apprising the public of the goings on, a news anchor kept saying; “The standstill continues”.
In the general context of what was happening at the airport, the word ‘standstill’ was not entirely misplaced, but it was in the context in which the anchor used it. At the time, the anchor was making reference to a continuation of the state of misunderstanding between striking workers and the Government, represented by security services personnel. The ideal word then should have been ‘standoff’; defined as a deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.
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The inertia that results from a standoff is what leads to a standstill. The dictionary definition of standstill is; ‘a situation or condition in which there is no movement or activity at all’. That is exactly what happened at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport because there was paralysis that led to the cancellation of both incoming and outgoing flights.
The JKIA standoff, we understand, began after the possibility of job losses triggered concern for the employees’ future, and had begun to hurt when the police moved in to contain the situation. The words ‘began’ and ‘begun’ pose their own challenges in application. They are among the many words we interchangeably use, but incorrectly. That confusion, however, can be overcome by remembering that while both words are forms of the irregular verb ‘begin’, which means to ‘start’ or ‘initiate’, ‘begun’ is normally preceded by an auxiliary or helping verb. The same is not true of ‘began’.
An irregular verb, as opposed to a regular verb, does not follow a set sequence. For example, while the tense of a regular verb requires the addition of ‘ing’ and ‘ed’ for the present and past tenses, doing so with irregular verbs would violate rules of grammar. Though we can write ‘play’, ‘playing’ and ‘played’ (regular), it would be atrocious to do the same for the irregular verb ‘drink’. Thus, it is proper to say ‘drink’ (present) ‘drank’ (simple past), and ‘drunk’ (past particle) ‘drinking’ (present continuous). It would be atrocious to write ‘drinked’, ‘dranked’ or ‘drunked’.
A helping verb comes before the main verb. In the sentence: “Army personnel can direct operations at the airport in case of an emergency”, the helping verb is ‘can’ while the main verb is ‘direct’. Thus, the “JKIA workers strike began after misunderstanding between their union officials and the government over a merger proposal. Conversely, “The airport workers strike had begun to turn rowdy when security personnel moved in to restore order and direct operations”.
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Now that the JKIA standoff has not been resolved, should we wonder ‘if’ or ‘whether’ both parties will reach an understanding anytime soon? When do we use either of the two words: If and Whether? The first, if, is normally used in conditional sentences, meaning, there is a proviso attached to something; that one thing can only happen after a certain requirement has been met. For instance, ‘The workers say they will resume work only if a guarantee of non-victimisation is given by the Government’.
‘Whether’ is normally used where two possible outcomes exist. The same should be used whenever there is the infinitive ‘to’ or together with a preposition. For example: ‘Cotu demands national debate about whether KQ should be allowed to take over KAA management’. ‘Transport CS Macharia is undecided whether to issue an amnesty to the airport workers or sue them’.
Alternatively, one can use either of the words where an outcome is unstated but clear. These examples should make it clear: ‘The strike was bound to happen whether Macharia believed it possible or not’. ‘Macharia did not know when, or if the workers were going to down their tools’.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]
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Jomo Kenyatta International AirportKenya AirwaysStrikeTransport CS James Macharia