In what can be described as a hurriedly issued statement, the Director of Communications at the Seat of Government writes the following sentence:
● We will neither ask for an apology or retraction from the NDC General Secretary."
Expectedly, this statement has been greeted with a storm of criticisms from a section of Ghanaians. Why? It is grammatically offensive!
From a different perspective, we of LITERARY DISCOURSE add our voice to the various efforts at correcting the faulty statement. Our decision has been necessitated by our observation that - although appreciable - the efforts made so far seem to be simplistic. Indeed, almost every person concerned about the error in question thinks that the solution is simply replacing "OR" with "NOR" in the structure.
With all humility, we contend that the simplistic approach itself constitutes another error about the use of the correlative conjunctions under review. Call it a hidden error, and you are right.
Justification of Claim
To justify our claim, we revise our notes on correlative conjunctions which are the victims of abuse in the structure under discussion. Correlative conjunctions are pairs that connect words of the same lexical category or grammatical structure. This implies that correlative conjunctions connect:
● nouns to nouns
● verbs to verbs
● phrases to phrases
● clauses to causes.
The idea is to ensure balance in reasoning and construction.
Other pairs of correlative conjunctions are "either ... or", "not only... but also", "both ... and." In this discourse, emphasis is on "neither ... nor."
In the light of the above explanation, it becomes clear that merely replacing "OR" with "NOR" is not enough to correct the grammatical blunder under review. Let us restate the sentence for better appreciation.
● We will neither ASK for an apology or RETRACTION from the NDC General Secretary.
Let us then state the replacement approach:
● We will neither ASK for an apology NOR RETRACTION from the NDC General Secretary.
In the above-attempted correction, it is obvious that "ASK" which is a verb is connected to "RETRACTION" which is a noun. In fact, we can be pardoned to liken the structure to a mixture of petrol and palm oil in the fuel tank of a car. Definitely, such a car CANNOT spark! !
What is then the solution? The solution is a complete structural overhaul of the sentence to ensure that appropriate correlative conjunctions connect appropriate lexical items. Below are suggestions:
● We will NEITHER ASK for an apology NOR EXPECT a retraction from the NDC General Secretary.
In this structure, the correlative conjunctions connect the verb "ask" to the verb "expect."
● We will demand NEITHER an APOLOGY NOR a RETRACTION from the NDC General Secretary.
In this structure, the correlative conjunctions connect the noun "apology" to the noun "retraction."
It is possible to use negation in the verb and contrast it with the positive version of the correlative conjunctions. Example:
● We will NOT demand EITHER an APOLOGY OR a RETRACTION from the NDC General Secretary.
In this structure, the verb is in the negative, and the correlative conjunctions are in the positive, connecting the noun "apology" to the noun "retraction."
Let us see other illustrative sentences involving phrases and clauses:
● We will not allow Wunnam to look for the pen EITHER IN THE ROOM OR ON THE TABLE.
In this structure, the correlative conjunctions connect the prepositional phrase "in the room" to the prepositional phrase "on the table."
NEITHER THOSE WHO GO TO CHURCH EVERY DAY NOR THOSE WHO SPEND ALL THE TIME IN THE MOSQUE will enter the Kingdom of God if they are not pure-hearted.
In this structure, the correlative conjunctions connect the subbordinate clause "those who go to church every day" to the subbordinate clause "those who spend all the time in the mosque."
Conclusively, we observe that correlative conjunctions are well known to users of English as a Second Language (ESL). But many of us abuse them because of inadequate information about using them properly. Dear reader, do not feel intimidated about the new insights uncovered in this discourse. After all, to commit an error is to gain an opportunity to enhance learning, a life-long affair.
Allah is the Best Linguist.
By Dr. Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo,
Lecturer, University of Applied Management, Germany - Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra.
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