What a English!

(Note: There is a second part to this article, which you can view here.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A man walks up to a boy sitting outside his house and asks, “Where are your parents?”

“They was in but they is out,” the boy says.

“‘They was in but they is out’?” the man says indignantly. “Boy, where’s your grammar?”

“Upstairs,” the boy replies, “knitting.”

English grammar is a tricky thing, especially for us Filipinos. We pride ourselves in our mastery of the language, but in reality we make so many mistakes in it that grammatical errors can be more the rule than the exception. And in the age of Facebook, these mistakes are becoming more and more prevalent and visible.

As a newspaper editor, I am kind of a stickler for correct grammar. I don’t claim to be perfect (I’m sure you can spot errors in this very piece, and you’re more than welcome to point them out), but I often cringe and sometimes laugh out loud at some of the serious grammatical errors I see on a daily basis in press releases, news articles, and yes, Facebook posts. Some of the mistakes are understandable because many of us think in Filipino when we write in English, but other mistakes are simply unforgivable. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Her wife. I can no longer count how many times I’ve read about a man mauling “her wife” or a woman killing “his husband.” But this is understandable because in Filipino, pronouns have no gender. Our language is so non-sexist that we stumble when we use a language (English) that is.
  2. Its wrong. We’ve been taught that the apostrophe-s is possessive, as in “Michael’s car,” and we think this rule applies to the word “it.” And so when we describe something, we write about “it’s color,” or “it’s shape,” or “it’s weight.” The word “it’s” is actually a contraction of “it is.” The possessive form of “it” is “its” — without the apostrophe.
  3. I’ll go ahead. An American friend of mine, who is a linguist, once told me that he was fascinated by our use of “I’ll go ahead” when we leave. “Go ahead” actually means “proceed,” as in, “I’ll go ahead and make dinner.” But Filipinos use it to mean, “Goodbye, I’m leaving.” I think the sense in which we use it is, “I’ll go ahead of you.” It’s a literal translation of, “Mauuna na ako sa inyo.”
  4. The Simpson’s. Family names are tricky. We hold so much respect for the surname that we don’t want to sully it with an extra letter, so when we pluralize it we put an apostrophe before the “s.” That’s wrong, of course, because we only make the last name possessive. So it’s the Simpsons, the Mirandas, the Salcedos. Surnames that end with “s” are more fun: the Gonzaleses, the Paredeses, the Triases.
  5. Asking for an apology. This one is fairly new, and I hear it even in the media. “I want to ask for an apology,” they say, when they actually mean, “I want to ask for forgiveness.” If you ask someone for an apology, you actually want that person to say “I’m sorry” to you. I think the reason for this is we have only one word for “apologize” and “forgive”: patawad. We say, “Patawad (I apologize),” and “Humihingi ako ng tawad (I am asking for forgiveness).” The problem arises when we mix the two words before translating them into English, so we end up with “Humihingi ako ng sorry” or “Humihingi ako ng apology” – literally, asking for a sorry or an apology from the other person.
  6. Healthy food. I see this mistake even among those whose first language is English. How can food be healthy when it’s dead (inanimate, a friend insists)? The correct adjective is “healthful.”
  7. Not because. This is a uniquely Filipino mistake because it is a translation of the phrase, “Hindi porke’t…” An example would be, “Hindi porket’ mayaman ka ay puwede mo na akong maliitin,” which should be translated, “Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you can look down on me.” But because the first word in Filipino is “Hindi,” many of us use the negative when we write it in English: “Not because you’re rich…” So wrong.
  8. Inlove. There was a time when the term was “inlab,” a Filipinization of “in love.” As people became more “sophisticated,” they changed the spelling back to “love” — but forgot to separate the two words.

These are just among my favorites, and I’m sure you can think of a lot more. Post them in the comments below and let’s have some fun 🙂

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