We should not shy from using verbs just because they are deemed weak

Today’s topic of discussion comes from the following passage culled from the Media Observer: Shall we ban ‘want’ in our headlines? “MPs want journalists kicked out of parliament”… “MPs want KDF at disputed border (The Standard). “MPs want KDF in Somali border row”… “We want 30pc of appointive posts”, “Residents want bats, weaver birds removed.” “Team wants Nairobi to halt parking cash loss” (Daily Nation). And this for one day’s headlines alone!

“Mediascape wants this “wanting” business to end. One, “want” is not only a weak verb, but a very egoistic one too. Only children, and very ill-brought up ones for that matter, keep saying “I want…we want…..” and our readers are not children”–end of quote.

Had the concern of the Media Observer been the monotony, (‘echo’ in newsroom lingo) made by the word ‘want’ appearing in several headlines of a single issue of a newspaper, that would have been understandable, but not because ‘want’ is a weak verb. Most regular verbs fall in the weak verb category.

We cannot stop using them because they are ‘weak verbs’. Yet given the contexts in which the word ‘want’ has been used in the quoted headlines, ‘egoistic’ fits the bill.

MPs harbour a sense of entitlement, which makes them behave like spoilt brats. Among the many meanings of the word ‘want’ is; the desire for something. Thus, Kenyans who pay taxes to the government in exchange for services have a right to make demands where the latter fails to honour its end of the bargain.

Young man

Because the “Mediascape wants the ‘wanting’ business to end”, thus repeating the very mistake it accuses the media of, then we must conclude its writer is a “very ill-brought up child”. That said, let us remind ourselves what weak and strong verbs are.

Foremost, the simplest definition of a verb is; ‘an action word’. Ideally, verbs show activity, action or the state. For instance: “The young man has been jumping up for some time now”, “The villagers are feasting on the hippopotamus they killed earlier today and “I like puppies, so cuddly”.

There are four types of verbs, namely, modal, auxiliary, transitive and intransitive. For this column, however, our focus is on weak and strong verbs.

Weak verbs, otherwise called regular verbs, are those to which letters ‘ed’ or ‘t’ have been added to a verb to form the word’s past tense and past participle. As such, we ought to remember that weak verbs follow a specific pattern. For instance: Hate—hated, look -looked, close - closed and leap - leapt (the second word in these examples represents both the past tense /participle).

The vowel (speech sound) in both words does not change. In writing, avoid using weak verbs in the passive voice. They come out strongly when used in the active voice. For example; “Tony’s artwork was admired by the visitors” (passive voice). “The visitors admired Tony’s art work” (active voice).

Grammatical subject

Strong verbs, alternately known as irregular verbs, vary from the original verb (the vowel changes) when used in both the past tense and past participle. In some instances, as with the words ‘quit’, ‘set’ and ‘cut’, there is no change in the original verb when used either as a past tense or past participle.

For example, “George plans to quit football in a month’s time”, “I have just quit the trade union” and “My househelp quit last week without notice”. Examples of strong (irregular) verbs include: swim - swam - swum, go - went, buy - bought, see - saw, bring - brought, arise - arose - arisen, begin - began – begun (the words don’t follow a pattern).

Verbs are part of five components required to form intelligible sentences. Besides the verb, others are subject, object, adverbial and complement.

The grammatical subject is either a noun or pronoun that comes before the verb. For example, “Kofi Olomide dances exceedingly well”. While ‘Kofi Olomide’ is the subject, ‘dances’ is the verb.

A complement is defined as the phrase or word required to complete an idea. For example, “Every Friday is a blessing”. In this case, ‘every Friday’ is the subject and ‘blessing’ is the complement. Without the word ‘blessing’, the sentence would be incomplete.

Adverbials are words that avail more information about verbs and often come after the verb in a sentence. For example, “Sonko spoke absentmindedly about how political parties’ nominations are done”. The adverbial is ‘absentmindedly’. Objects -direct and indirect - receive the action of a verb. For example; “I gave out the book”.  ‘Book’ is the direct object.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The Standard [email protected]