Grammatical errors we commit in God’s name

grammar errors

We do not usually treat the weekly homework questions on this page. All I do is provide the right answers for the previous assignment. My belief is that once this is done, everyone will be able to make necessary corrections in terms of what they might have missed. Besides, whether on the phone or via email, many people ask me follow-up questions that I try as much as possible to answer.

Today, however, we are taking off by treating one of the three questions given last week — question two. It is the one that inspired the title of today’s lesson. And I decided to give it more time because many people got it wrong. Here it is:

I pray that God … all of us.

(a) will protecting (b) protects (c) protect

(d) has being protecting

The correct answer is protect, not protects!

The question becomes controversial because the grammar governing it falls under what is called the subjunctive mood. It is not to be treated in line with the general concord rule of the singular subject taking a singular verb (He goes there regularly) or plural subject cuddling a plural verb (They go there regularly). Rather, the subjunctive mood, in the context under consideration, retains the base form of a verb, that is the one without an s. We have discussed the topic on more than one occasion in the Punch English Class. But because it is tricky and many people hadn’t joined the class at the time, the question became an albatross last week.

Consider the following sentences to appreciate the concept of the subjunctive mood:

He goes there. (Correct, normal grammar structure)

You have to ensure that he goes there. (Wrong, because it is in the subjunctive mood.)

ou have to ensure that he go there. (Correct, subjunctive mood)

You have to ensure that they go there. (Correct, subjunctive mood).

Akin went there last week. (Correct, normal grammar structure)

He ensured that Akin went there last week. (Wrong, subjunctive mood)

He ensured that Akin go there last week. (Correct, subjunctive mood)

The other subjunctive constructions you must watch include:

He suggests/suggested that…

She recommends that …

We demand that…

They are requesting that…

He suggests that Sade goes there tomorrow. (Wrong)

He suggests that Sade go there tomorrow. (Correct)

We demand that President Buhari appears before the Senate next week. (Wrong)

We demand that President Buhari appear before the Senate next week. (Correct)

While recommending that you revisit our earlier lessons on subjunctive mood – they are available on The PUNCH website – let us now see how the concept directly affects the last week’s question that looks harmless but later proved to be deadly. And, believe you me, subjunctive mood clauses are like that: they look simple but are engaging. Clauses in the prayer mood, with the word God included or not, fall under the category. What you thus need to do is to ascertain if the sentence is in the normal grammar structure or in the subjunctive. Often, when it is in the prayer mood, the subjunctive rule applies:

God gives and takes. (Correct, normal sentence structure)

I pray that God gives me money. (Wrong, prayer mode, subjunctive too)

I pray that God give me money. (Correct)

God protects this community. (Correct, normal sentence structure)

I pray that God protects this community. (Wrong …)

I pray that God protect this community. (Correct)

What this suggests, therefore, is that in the course of praying, we commit certain blunders, and this is what a mischievous teacher like me will describe as committing errors in or with the name of God.

I know you find it tough to survive. My prayer is, ‘God helps you’. (Wrong)

I know you are finding it tough to survive. My prayer is, ‘God help you’. (Correct)

Note that I have not said that it is every time you see ‘God’ in a sentence that the verb to be used must be the base form – the singular without the s. It is only when the construction is in the subjunctive mood as I have explained above. I need to stress this so that you will not write It is God who KNOW the heart when you are supposed to write It is God who KNOWS the heart.

Let me remind us about another God-expression that is generally mishandled: For God’s sake. Note that the expression is not For God sake; there must be an apostrophe and an s after God because we are indicating possession. It is like For John’s sake, For the man’s sake etc. As we also discussed in this class recently, other sake-phrases you must watch include For heaven’s sake, For posterity’s sake and For continuity’s sake.

Pronouncing tomb

If you were expecting us to continue our discussion on oral English today, sorry, the subjunctive palaver has taken our time. However, we can round off (not up) with hints on how to handle another commonly mispronounced word –  tomb.

The noun, tomb, should remind us about a category of words we treated last week. These are those that end with b that has to be silenced during pronunciation. You remember that we said bomb should be pronounced as bom — not bomb — and comb should sound like koum — not komb.

Two errors are, however, usually involved in the case of tomb. Apart from the fact that many still erroneously retain the b, they get the pronunciation of the vowel owrong. It should sound as oo (u:) — like what you have in tool and not o as in top or tomtom.

So, tomb should be pronounced toom (/tu:m/) — not tOmB!