Subject must always agree with predicate

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The hype that coronavirus has received is intense, and so has the attendant fear. When it was first reported in Wuhan, China in December last year, it did not cause much concern. Indeed, there was no reason to panic, especially after Wuhan was quarantined. However, little did the world know that the Chinese authorities had closed the stable door long after the horse had bolted.

Now the world has to deal with a pandemic it is ill-equipped to handle. When news that the first case of coronavirus had been detected in Kenya broke last week, there was palpable panic. Supermarkets were jammed by people afraid of the effects of a possible lockdown and those who bought the idea that alcohol-based sanitizers were the best defense. Among netizens, as usual, there were those who took everything as an elaborate prank while others took it seriously. There are those who wondered why people shouldn’t just drink the alcohol and saturate the system to lock out the virus.

From numerous social media responses, I picked a few for our discussion today: “One has to make sure they observe the rules on avoiding coronavirus while in public places”.

“The virus should go back where it belong in”

“We have taken notice”

“Coronavirus should let me alone”

In the first sentence: “One has to make sure they observe the rules on avoiding coronavirus while in public places”, the stipulation that emphasizes agreement between the subject and predicate has been violated. A predicate is defined as ‘the part of a sentence or clause containing a verb and stating something about the subject’.

Present continuous

This definition clearly shows that ‘one has’, which is singular, cannot be followed by ‘they’, which is plural. The sentence should, therefore, have been: “One has to make sure he or she observes the rules on how to avoid coronavirus while in public places”.

Where one can, one should try to avoid the use of gerunds. These are verbs to which letters ‘ing’ have been added to form nouns. Often, the words created thus are in the present continuous tense or present participle. In our example, therefore, we can go around the word ‘avoiding’ by writing the sentence as: “One has to make sure he or she observes the rules to avoid coronavirus while in public places”. In many instances, gerunds are preceded by the words ‘were’, ‘was’. For example, “He was asking after you” (He asked after you). In this example, the words ‘was’ and ‘asking’ have been removed and replaced with the past tense of the verb from which the gerund ‘asking’ is derived; ask.

The second quote; “The virus should go back where it belongs in” demands that we examine the proper use of the word ‘belong’ either individually or when prepositions ‘to’ and ‘in’ follow it; ‘belong to’, ‘belong in’. Additionally, there is the word ‘belongings’. ‘Belong’ and ‘belong to’ are in the possessive form. When something belongs to, it is the property of that which it is said to belong. The wallet in your pocket, the watch on your wrist and the hair on your head belong to you.

Garbage collectors

On the other hand, ‘belong in’ is used to refer to a place or position where something should ideally be, or where it snugly fits. For example; “Convicted lawbreakers belong in a jail”. “Refuse that litters the streets of Nairobi after garbage collectors went on strike belongs in dustbins. Another example is that while hospitals belong to doctors, patients belong in hospitals. ‘Belong to’ also denotes membership of a club or organization. For example; “Retired President Mwai Kibaki belongs to the exclusive Muthaiga Golf Club”.

‘Belong’ is classified as an action verb that refers to ‘being the property of’  (owned by), ‘what is due to someone’ (the medal belongs to her). ‘Belonging’, on the other hand, refers to affinity, the sense of being part of. The definition of ‘belongings’ (note the addition of letter ‘s’) is ‘a person’s movable possessions’.

The sentence “We have taken notice” is ungrammatical. “We have taken note” is the correct phraseology. It means ‘acknowledge correction, proposals or amendments’ by another person or ‘to pay attention’.

In conclusion, to say ‘let me alone’ is wrong. It should have been; “Leave me alone”, which is to ask another party to go away, to leave your presence. ‘Leave alone’ also means to refrain from interfering in the affairs of another person. ‘Let alone’ is used to show that a situation is far worse/tougher than another. For example, “He is unable to seduce her, let alone marry her”.

Mr. Chagema is a copy editor at The Standard.achagema@standardmedia.co.ke

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