By Akeem Lasisi
Several top-flight Nigerian women recently gave the hope of better things to come among the womenfolk in Nigeria. It was at the 2019 edition of the Arise Women Conference. Based on the quality of engagement and glitz at the event, it was a time some of us men would love to have naturally been of the other gender. Besides, the resplendent colours the gathering exuded, with beauty written all over the faces and bodies of the participants, made my head swell as I watched the programme on TV.
Among other leading women, some governors’ wives spoke inspiringly at the event where even Mrs Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, was also represented. Among such were the First Ladies of Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti and Akwa Ibom states – Mrs Joke Sanwo-Olu, Bamidele Abiodun, Bisi Fayemi and Martha Emanuel, respectively. When one of them was giving her address, however, she gave me cause for grammatical reflection. She said: “Women have many potentials.”
Philosophically and realistically speaking, that is a fantastic observation, I thought to myself. Women have incredible talents and can be so resourceful that any country – like Nigeria – not adequately tapping these is denying itself a lot of benefits. But, beyond meaning, there is a grammatical issue with the expression. Many potentials? No.
The noun, ‘potential’, is an uncountable noun, meaning that it rejects being pluralised by adding ‘s’ to it. The way we treat water, air, information etc. is the way we are supposed to treat it. You know, no matter how stuffy a room is, you won’t say, ‘We need a lot of airs.’ Also, you should know that there is a grammatical blunder if someone says, ‘I got many informations from the man.’ This exactly is the status of ‘potential’ though many, unfortunately, treat it as a countable noun.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘potential’ as someone’s or something’s ability to develop, achieve or succeed. It then gives the following examples:
The region has enormous potential for economic development.
I don’t think I’m achieving my full potential in my present job.
I think this room has got a lot of potential.
Also noting that ‘potential’ is uncountable, the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as the possibility of something happening or being developed or used:
The European marketplace offers excellent potential for increasing sales.
The implication is that, apart from the fact that you do not add ‘s’ to the word, there are some articles and other grammatical markers that cannot go with it. These include ‘a’ and ‘many’:
The woman has a potential to excel. (Wrong)
Women have many potentials to excel. (Wrong)
Nigeria has a lot of potentials to be great. (Wrong)
The woman has the potential to excel. (Correct)
Women have a lot of potential to be great. (Correct)
Nigeria has a lot of potential to be great. (Correct)
A point to, again, note from the above examples is that although ‘a’ and ‘many’ are naturally odd (indeed wrong) with ‘potential’, ‘a lot of’ and other elements that work with uncountable nous are permitted with it. These include ‘little’ and ‘much’:
We got a lot of information from him.
He didn’t give us much information.
The information he gave was so little that it did not make any sense.
The group has a lot of potential to excel.
They exhibited much potential.
There is little or no potential in the project.
If you must use the plural marker with the kind of promise that ‘potential’ means, then go for ‘potentialities’:
There is great potentiality in the proposal he presented. (Correct)
Nigerian women have a lot of potentialities. (Correct)
I can identify many potentialities in the idea. (Correct)
Remember: the faithful, not the faithfuls
Another word that many erroneously pluralise is faithfuls in the expression, ‘the faithful’, meaning followers of or believers in a particular religion. As a countable noun, ‘faithful’ works without ‘s’, as in when it refers to those who support someone or something:
He gave a rousing speech to a room full of party faithfuls. (Cambridge)
But when ‘the’ is used before it, it rejects the ‘s’:
The cleric enjoined the faithfuls to be steadfast in faith. (Wrong)
The cleric enjoined the faithful to be steadfast in faith. (Correct)
To understand why we say ‘the faithful’ and not ‘the faithfuls’, you have to remember that it is an adjectival noun, the type realised by the addition of ‘the’ and an adjective, to give us a noun that now refers to a collective or a group. You know we don’t add ‘s’ to them – including the rich, the poor and the oppressed:
The riches also cry. (Wrong)
The poors also have hope. (Wrong)
The faithfuls also deserve to be reprimanded. (Wrong)
The rich also cry. (Correct)
The poor also have hope. (Correct)
The faithful also deserve to be reprimanded. (Correct)
As we recently noted in this class, another popularly mishandled word is ‘rubble’. I remember that we treated this not long ago when Lagos experienced continual incidents of building collapse. Although the word refers to ‘the broken wood, stones, bricks, etc., that are left when a building falls down or is destroyed’, it is uncountable and thus rejects the plural marker ‘s’:
The agency fears that some people may still be in the rubbles. (Wrong)
They brought out three children from under the rubbles of the collapsed three-storey building. (Wrong)
The agency fear that some people may still be in the rubble. (Correct)
They brought out three children from under the rubble of the collapsed three-storey building. (Correct)
Answers to last week’s assignment
The suspect may have … away.
(a) runs (b) RUN (c) ran (d) runned
I watched the match from the … to the end.
(a) begun (b) beginnings (c) begining (d) BEGINNING
We will meet in …
(a) two weeks time (b) TWO WEEKS’ TIME (c) two week’s time (d) two weekly time.
Those who got all the answers right
A.B Adejumo, Akin Gandonu, E.C. Porbeni, Ekemonde Ayomikun, Ahmed Zainab, Muhammed Uthman, Nwogwu Sunday, Lanre Sowunmi, Bayo Adekoya, Adeyemi Eunice, Fakunle Oluwatoyin, Michael Abimbolu, Kingsley Sophia, Akinro Merit, Tony Unogu, Kingley Success, Adeleke Taiwo, Kolawole Kareem, Oke Gabriel, Alisha Salimon, Olaide Owomoyela, Modupe Oladipupo, Dickson Ogala, Blessing Aghojare, Festus Obi, Robert Agboola, Tomi Joseph, Kolawole Emmanuel, Leziga Mitee, Chimaroke Eugene, Onuodu Praise, Adewale Musa, Shaba James, Daramla Oloniruha, Vicent Ani, Josiah Abu and Chukwudi Uruakpa.
Those who also did well
Ajayi Olalekan, Akbar Bello, Oladapo Jadesola, Hildru Zainab, Adunni Ogunsakin, Kunbi Aina, Okunade Olusina, Ayomide Ibironke, I.O Akintunde, Oyekanmi Daniel, Ademola Widad, Ojulari Eniola, Shola.M, Adebayo Ajagun, Olawale Ayodeji, Ayomuyiwa Ayoade, Peter Miracle, Wobidi Gracious, Akinboye Abiola, Tony Maria, Mayowa Olubiyi, Gabriel Opute, Iniobong Ukpong, Charles Ekereke, Chidera Precious, Ezekiel Goodnews, Idongesit Ekpamfon, Ewuzie Kamsi, Nkwocha Munachimso, Aluko Oluwaseun, Adegboyega Michael, Hussainat Dawuda, Fayokun Ayodele, Hassan Rukayat, Ego Nneji, Akingade Olusoji, Lateef Adio, Adleke Olatunde, Ajayi Oluwaranti, George Magbadun, Tijani Amidu, John Okeke, Mr Okechukwu Chigbo, Mr Dotun Ogunleye, Pius Uduhirinwa, Abba Gana, Alozie Ironkwe, Obilengbe Ruth, Akinfala Ibraheem, Japhlet B.V., Al-ameen Fagbohun, Amoo Adegoke, Olunye Olayinka, Paul Olukwade,Lasisi Morufu, Suarau lshaq, Balogun Moses, Chinasa Nneji, lkechukwu Gabriel, Adebayo Joshua, Steve Oseji, Saheed Omotayo, Abba Gana, Raphael Aderanti and Martins Anerua.
Nigerian children have a lot of …
(a) potentials’ (b) potential’s (c) potential (d)
President Muhammdu Buhari have sent greeting to the
Muslim … over Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
(a) faithful (b) faithfuls (c) faithfully (d) faithfuls’
How many of them have … round the field?
(a) runs (b) ran (c) run (d) ranned