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In environments where English is a foreign or second language, errors are bound to occur in the spoken and written English of users. It is vital that we choose and use words correctly so that Communication is effective. However, there are some words, phrases and clauses that are often misused by EFL/ESL users, sometimes irrespective of their level of education. These include the following:

Woman embarassed

(a) Advice (noun), Advise (verb). Not an advice but some advice or a piece of advice. E.g. Let me give you … which will help you overcome the problem.

(b) Machinery or machines, not machineries.
E.g. The machinery in the workshop is out-dated. Or The machines in the workshop are out-dated.

(c) Consists of or comprises, not comprises of.
E.g. The science block comprises two lecture rooms. Or The science block consists of two lecture rooms.

(d) Turn off the light. Or Switch off the light. Not Off the light.

(e) He was unable to cope with the demands of studying medicine. Not cope up with.

(f) John went to the campus on foot. Not with leg.

(g) The students greeted their teacher in Hausa. Not in Hausa language.

(h) There is no decent house in this town. Not no any.

(i) The man shouted at the boy. Not on the boy.

(j) My daughter prefers cheese to butter. Not than butter.

(k) The farmer was caught in the rain on his way home. Not beaten by the rain.

(l) I would like to borrow N5, 000.00 from you. I would like you to lend me N5, 000.00. Not I would like you to borrow me N5, 000.00.

(m) How much did you pay for that Car.? Not How much did you buy that Car? Note: “buy” is used in relation to price when it is followed by “for”. E.g. He bought this car for N450, 000.00. He paid N450, 000 for the car.

(n) I will accompany you to the supermarket. Not I will follow you to the supermarket.

(o) More/better (comparative); most/best (superlative). E.g. Of my two friends, I like Eunice more/better. Not most or best. Who is the happiest person in this class? Not most happiest.

(p) I can smell fuel. Not I can perceive fuel. Not I can hear the smell of fuel.

(q) I could not buy that dress because it is not my size. Or … it did not fit me. Not … it did not size me. "Size" is a noun and not a verb.

(r) Mary Onyali–Omagbemi came first in the 100 metres race. Not took first.

(s) Nigeria defeated South Africa in the female football match last week. Not won South Africa. You win a competition but defeat an opponent.

(t) Being/Been: The matter has been reported to me. Not has being. The verb “to be” (am, is, are, was, were) goes with “being”, e.g. He is being punished. But “have”, “has”, “had” go with “been”, e.g. They have been congratulated.

(u) He lay on the floor yesterday. Not laid. The past tense of “to lie down” is lay not laid.

The following explanation will be useful:

(i) Lie lied lied lying (not to tell the truth)
(ii) Lie lay lain lying (to lie own)
(iii) Lay laid laid laying (to place or put)


(i) He lied when he said that.
(ii) He lay on the bed, reading.
(iii) She laid the table for lunch.

(v) Dangling modifier: this is when the action attributed to the subject of the sentence cannot be performed by the subject. E.g. Running down the lane, the flower was in full bloom. The flower cannot perform the action of “running”; so an appropriate subject should be provided. For example, Running down the lane, I(the girl, he , she they, etc) saw the flower that is in full bloom. Note: the rule states that only the second part of the sentence can be rephrased.

(w) Ambiguity: means having more than one meaning. It is caused by misplacement of words, phrases and clauses. Such adverbs as only, hardly, even, just, nearly etc, should be placed next to the word they modify.

E.g. I only reported to the teacher what had happened. It could mean:
(i) Only Ireported to the teacher what had happened.
(ii) I reported to only the teacher what had happened.
(iii) I reported to the teacher only what had happened.

Now, consider the different meanings expressed in the following sentences:
(i) I arrived only yesterday.
(ii) I only arrived yesterday.
(iii) Only I arrived yesterday.

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