Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Improper Preposition

IF you say “I demand FOR an apology”, your command may fall flat – on your face or the floor – all because of one wrongly used word.
If someone has done you wrong, can you imagine how forceful you can sound if you say: “I demand an apology!” (with the stress on “demand”)? But if you were to say “I demand for an apology!”, you will sound somewhat tame and will also be ungrammatical.

“Demand” means “to ask for something forcefully” while “request” means “to ask for something politely or formally” (CALD). Since both words, when used as verbs, mean “to ask for” (but in different ways), there is no need to use the preposition “for” after them.

The idea for this article came from reader Hassan Abdullah, a native speaker of English, who pointed out the frequent use of the word “for” after the verbs “demand” and “request” in Malaysian writing. These verbs in fact do not need any preposition after them.

See if ‘mention’ is used as a verb or noun in Did She Mention My Name?, the title of a moving song by the great Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot.

I have illustrated the correct use of “demand” above. The following sentence from the BBC News website of 10 June illustrates the correct use of “to request” as a verb, without “for” after it: “Spain’s decision to request a loan of up to 100bn euros ... from eurozone funds ... has won broad support.”

The words “demand” and “request”, however, can also be used as nouns. I suspect that the erroneous use of “for” after the verbs may be due to the perfectly correct use of “for” after the nouns. Let me give some examples:

1. The workers’ demand for better wages is justified.
2. Her request for three days’ leave was readily granted by her employer.”

When using either of these words, therefore, it is important to remember whether you are using it as a verb or as a noun.
The same reason may be behind many Malaysians’ use of incorrect verb + preposition structures like “discuss about”, “stress on” and “emphasise on”. The verbs should all be without the prepositions after them. Here are some examples of sentences with the verbs correctly used:

1. They discuss politics all day long.
2. The speaker stressed/emphasised the health benefits of regular physical exercise.

However, when the noun equivalents of the verbs are used, the prepositions often come after them, though not always immediately after them. The noun forms of discuss, stress and emphasise are discussion, stress and emphasis respectively. The following are examples of correct sentences using the nouns followed by the prepositions:

1. There will be a discussion about the coming elections today.
2. The emphasis/stress in this course is on developing students’ thinking skills.

Two other verbs that should not have prepositions after them are “await [for] and “mention [about]” (the redundant prepositions are in square brackets). “Await” means to wait for (somebody or something), while “mention” means to write or speak about something/somebody, especially without giving much information (OALD).

Thus we say: “We eagerly await your arrival.” And we may sometimes ask: “Did she mention my name?” The second sentence is in fact the title and refrain of a moving song by the great Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot. Here are the links to two YouTube versions of this song, one live, and one with lyrics, both sung at the peak of Lightfoot’s career in the early 1970s:

> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdWnDmbohg0
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeAkoakbmVA

To get back to grammar, “mention” can also be used as a noun, but the preposition usually used after it is “of”, not “about”, as in: “The mention of his hometown brought back memories to the singer.” There is however no noun equivalent of “await”.

The verb “comprise” presents an interesting case. It means “consist of”. When the verb is used in its active form, it is not followed by “of”. For example, we say: “Malaysia comprises fourteen states.” But its passive form, “be comprised”, is followed by “for”, and we can use this passive form to say “Malaysia is comprised of fourteen states” which has the same meaning as the active sentence. I should add that this is a new development in the English language (Concise Oxford Dictionary 2004, revised 2009).

There is a verb that Malaysians often wrongly use with a preposition, and that is “list”. I have even heard teachers use sentences like the following: “Please list down the names of students who want to order the dictionary.” “To list” means to write a list of and there is no such phrase as “list down” or for that matter, “list out” which some Malaysians use. I suspect that “list down” may have come into being through a false analogy with “write down”.

At some time you have probably been asked the following question by a fellow Malaysian: “Are you coping up with your work?” If so, the person is using the wrong expression. “Cope” means to deal successfully with something difficult (OALD) and can either be used by itself, or with the preposition “with”. So, the question should go: “Are you coping with your work?” And your answer could be: “Thanks, I am coping all right.”

Finally I would like to discuss that expression some Malaysians so often use when they want to buy some food from a cafe or restaurant, and take it home to eat. The expression is “buy back” as in: “Shall we buy back some food?”

This really implies that the person and his companion(s) have earlier sold some food to the cafe or restaurant and he is suggesting that they buy it back. This is the sense in which it is used in the following news report:

“Sir Richard Branson is attempting to buy back the former Virgin Radio 14 years after selling the UK radio group” (telegraph.co.uk 14 Apr 2011).

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, our Malaysian friend should have said: “Shall we buy some food to take home?”

The Star, 26 June 2012.

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