OUR KIND OF ENGLISH: Govt schools ‘and their students’ excel in exams

Sunday July 21 2019


By Abdi Sultani

We’re so loaded with linguistic gems that we’ll have to skip our usual tutorial blah-blah and move straight to sharing what’s in our basket of goodies. And therefore, here we go…

On Page 21 of the Fri, July 12 edition of the tabloid that’s closely associated with columnist, we’ve this article whose headline is, ‘The man who wants to be left alone’. Giving details on the subject of his story, the Nairobi-based scribbler writes: “He is self-employed and multi-talented who can paint, draw, design and play A PIANO.

We’ve said it here countless times—but let’s say it again: the preceding article for an instrument that a musician plays is THE, not A/AN. It means our colleague’s subject plays THE piano (not A piano). In our days at Mkwawa HS, Abdi’s close friend, Yusuf Ngororo, used to play THE drums (not “drums”) in the school (jazz) band.

Still in this columnist’s stable, whereby the Thurs, July 11 edition has, on Page1-2, a story entitled, ‘COSs caution on application of new NGO laws’, and therein the scribbler says in Para 7:

“The chairman of NPAF, Edward Malecela from Dodoma, also explained his concerns (sic) saying the new law gives the registrar the MANDATE POWER to decide who stays and who goes.”

A reader who drew our attention to this one says that to use the word “mandate” as an adjective to qualify “power” is ludicrous, because both words are nouns that basically mean the same thing. We agree.


In Para 10, the scribbler, purporting to quote a deputy minister, writes: “…any organisation which will fail to complete registration past the given timeline of two months would be disqualifying itself TO operate in the country.”

Saying “…disqualifying itself TO operate” is a straight forward case of grammatical incompetence because we don’t say that. Instead, we do say “…disqualifying itself FROM operating.”

Here’s our example: An MP found guilty of bribing voters, besides losing his coveted seat, is disqualified FROM standing for election again for at least five years. Finally, let’s have gems from Bongo’s senior-most broadsheet of Sat, July 13. In its Page 1 lead story entitled ‘Secret behind exam heroism’, our scribbling colleague says in her intro:

“Government secondary schools, especially ward schools and THEIR STUDENTS, excelled in the 2019 Form IV Exam results which were released on Thursday.”

Just a minute…the “schools and their students” excelled? Isn’t this a case of providing an audience with useless information? Why, when you say a school excelled in exams, aren’t you in effect saying the students excelled. In any case, it’s the latter who make a school…and sit exams. The scribbler writes further in Para 2:

“Apart from featuring two ward GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS among the best 10 SCHOOLS, out of 100 best performing SCHOOLS, 64 are GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS, out of which 52 are ward GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS.”

Phew! In this relatively short sentence, (32 words), the noun “government” appears 3 times and “school”, a record-breaking 5 times. Why?

Ah, this treacherous language called English!

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