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Wealth, property, concord

SAMPLE 1: “Following apparent lack of diligence on the part of IPOs at FESTAC Police Station and Gender Unit to arrest the suspect, I paid someone to keep a close watch at his residence and discovered that he had started removing his household properties in a suspected bid to pack out of the house and evade arrest…But when, on Saturday, March 23, 2019, I received information that someone came with a truck to evacuate Sochi Oba’s remaining properties, I called an officer at FESTAC Police Station, identified as Inspector Kate, who claimed she was not in the office and could not attend to any request. Later I called the police at Ago Police Station and two officers promptly responded and arrested the man and two others along with the truck containing the properties to FESTAC Police Station.”(Abduction, Rape, Murder, Land-Grabbing, Sunday Vanguard, 14 April, 2019)

The word properties occurs three times in its plural form as follows: ‘removing his household properties’; ‘evacuate Sochi Oba’s remaining properties’; ‘the truck containing the properties’. Have you noticed that the word properties in each case is used in reference to personal, movable, household effects? Here lies the problem. The writer/speaker seems to be unaware of the important distinction between the use of the word property as a collective, non-count noun and its use as a countable.

There are two basic ways of regarding the word.

Whenever we use the word property to refer personal effects or movable items such as shoes, clothes, furniture, television sets, fridges, generators, and even motor cars, we should use it in its singular form. No matter the volume or quantity of such items, the word property should remain in its singular form and the choice of verb should be singular. Please read the following sentences: 1) The landlord has seized the tenant’s property kept in two rooms, saying he won’t release it until and unless he pays all his debt. 2) No matter how long you stay in the UK, your property will remain in this room and it will be intact.  3) Before I woke up, he had gathered all his property and travelled back to our home town. 4) Since he owns little property, he doesn’t need more than one room. 5) Fire destroyed the entire house including his sister’s property kept in one of the rooms. 6) His property consists of a few items all of which are kept in one huge bag. 7) After working for two years, his property is so much that he needs to rent a second room. 8) Thieves broke into the room and made away with almost all his property. 9) He has found a new house and his children are helping to carry her property to the new place. 10) Two trucks carried his property to his newly built house. 11) In those days, slaves were considered part of the personal property of rich men. 12) Shoes and shirts are the most prominent elements of my property.

The word property has been used in its singular form in each of those sentences because it is about personal effects, household items, movable belongings. However, when the word is employed in reference to land and houses, it can be used in the singular sense if the reference is to a singular item or in the plural if the reference is to two or more items. Indeed, whenever the word property is used in the plural by knowledgeable people, the assumption is that the reference is to land/houses. It should not be used in the plural sense if the reference is to personal effects as discussed and illustrated earlier.

Now read the following sentences: 1) The government has decided to sell all its properties in the choicest parts of the country. 2) Properties are more expensive in Lagos than in any other part of Nigeria. 3) I have three uncles who are into the business of buying and selling of properties. 4) There is an uncompleted property which the owner wants to sell at a moderate price. 5) I have refused to buy that property because it is too close to a stream. 6) The prosecution has alleged that the politically exposed persons have acquired the said properties with the proceeds of corruption. 7) Only teachers are allowed to buy and own properties in the estate. 8) I want to acquire a property in an exclusive area. 9) He rejected the property because it was too close to the police barracks. 10) Being in a marshy and undeveloped area, the property should not be expensive.

Sample 2: “He also told well-to-do Nigerians to spare a thought for the downtrodden stating that all the wealth they have acquired are better deployed lifting lives.”(Abiara Makes Case for the Less-Privileged, The Nation, 24 February, 2019)

I draw readers’ attention to the verb-form (are) which occurs in the context: “are better deployed.” It is incontrovertible that this verb form (are) is plural. That being so, it has to be preceded somewhere in the structure by a plural noun to which it is grammatically and logically related. The only noun with which the verb-slot has logical and grammatical relationship is wealth. The user’s choice of the plural verb-form is predicated on his assumption that the word wealth is a plural noun.

The erroneous assumption is probably reinforced by the modifier/quantifier all: all the wealth. This is a false assumption. No wealth can be so huge that we will be compelled in our reference to it to change its status from uncountable to countable. The quantity of truth or information or strength or love or hatred or goodness or faith cannot change its status from the singular to the plural. We have to be thoroughly familiar with the nature/status of each word we are using. The error could also have arisen from the presence of the plural pronoun (they) so close to the word wealth. Grammatical and lexical choices should be based on facts and not on uninformed assumptions.

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