Fourth largest ethnic group

SAMPLE 1: “Many people believe that the Tivs are the forth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Other tribes such as the Ijaws from Bayelsa still battle for this position.” (Which tribe is the forth largest in Nigeria, Mini Opera News Hub, 2 May, 2020)

The word forth occurs twice as follows: “the forth largest group” and “the forth largest in Nigeria”(headline). This is the third time we have had to address this error in this place. It is obvious that the word forth in this context is meant to signify ‘4th’. In reality, does the word forth mean the same thing as 4th? It seems obvious that the reporter has confused the word forth with fourth. Yes, the word required in the context is fourth, since the idea is about number four (or 4).

In our discussion of this matter, we rely on the illustrations given in our previous discussions of similar errors.

Consider the following sentences: 1) There are four eggs in the cup, although the fourth one is rotten. 2) We will spend the first three weeks on theory and the fourth on practical. 3) Easter is usually celebrated in April, the fourth month of the year. 4) There are five Books of Moses, the fourth being Numbers. 5) She has four children: the first is a girl and the fourth a boy. 6) Go to the next street; turn to the left; the fourth house, a bungalow, on the left, is the office you are looking for.

There are in fact many expressions often confused by Nigerians: forth, fourth, (the) fort, forte. We need to illustrate the usage of each of them as a way of helping the readers to overcome the frequent confusion.

The word fort is usually used in the context of the idiom hold the fort.  Next we illustrate the usage of this expression: 1) I will soon forward a letter to the chairman about the officer who will hold the fort while I am on leave. 2) The management has taken a decision on the man who is to hold the fort in the absence of the MD. 3) I have held the fort twice in the last five years when the manager was out of the country. 4) It is unfair to ask such a junior officer to hold the fort when there are at least four high-ranking officers around. 5) The MD has not gone on leave in the last ten years because he thinks there is no capable hand that can hold the fort in his absence. 6) The incompetent hands were hurriedly employed during the brief period that the man held the fort for the manager. 7) I cannot take such a drastic policy decision while I am holding the fort because I don’t want to create any problem for the substantive manager when she comes back from leave. 8) The manager did not suggest his name as the one to hold the fort while he is on leave because he has no confidence in him. 9) Many people objected to the idea of him holding the fort during the MD’s overseas trip because he is believed to be arrogant, corrupt and self-seeking. 10) He did so well when he held the fort during the manager’s illness that many workers actually dreamed of him becoming the substantive manager. 11) All the money accumulated in preparation for the second phase of the project was squandered when Mr Adeniji held the fort during the period of the MD’s suspension. 12) When I was holding the fort, I was careful not to tamper with the existing structures, realizing, as I did, that my leadership of the company was temporary.

Please note that we have not left out the definite article (the) in the idiom. That article is obligatory. Some Nigerians would say: “Mr Tanimowo is holding fort for the chairman.” The problem with that sentence is that it has erroneously left out the definite article (the).

How do we use the word forte? Before commenting further on this word, we need to note that the only difference between it and fort in terms of spelling is the letter e. The word fort contained in the idiom whose usage is illustrated immediately above does not have the final e which the word forte contains.

A person’s forte is an activity or area of life in which he has strength, which he finds easy or enjoys. Please read the following sentences: 1) Mathematics not being my forte, I try to avoid any activity requiring extensive mathematical calculation. 2) Realizing quite early in life that singing is his forte, he has gone to the university to study music and formed a band which he leads. 3) Although he studied medicine, he keeps going back to fine art which has always been his forte and which he still loves with a passion. 4) Although there are people whose forte is writing, every educated person should be interested in developing the skill of writing. 5) If your forte is talking, traditionally people would counsel you to train either as a teacher or pastor. 6) I was almost certain that you would become an engineer given the fact that your forte had always been mathematics. 7) Should men whose forte is cooking take over the kitchen while their wives engage in other activities beneficial to the family? 8) Pupils whose forte is football should not be prevented from making a career out of it for footballers are now respected worldwide. 9) Achebe had a great literary mind, with story-telling as his forte. 10) I love literature in general, but poetry is my forte.

Next, we illustrate the usage of the word forth. The word means forward, going out. Now read the following sentences: 1) We set forth as early as 5 am so that we could arrive there before dusk. 2) He was restless, pacing back and forth. 3) This is the season the plants bring forth leaves and fruits. 4) From there the cows went forth, destroying farms and gardens. 5) The church prayed for them and sent them forth.

To hold the fort is to hold an office in an acting capacity. The person holding the fort is there until the owner of the office comes back. That is the idea of holding the fort.

To make the point absolutely clear, let us note the following. Do not say: “Ayo is holding forth during the chairman’s leave.” You should say: “Ayo is holding the fort during the chairman’s leave.” Do not say: “The Administrative Officer has held the forth twice this year when the MD was out of the country.” You should say: “The Administrative Officer has held the fort twice this year when the MD was out of the country.” Do not say: “We will not allow an incompetent person to hold fort the next time the manager goes on leave.” You should say: “We will not allow an incompetent person to hold the fort the next time the manager goes on leave.” Do not say: “The company made rapid progress last year when the Engineering Manager held forte for the MD.” You should say: “The company made rapid progress last year when the Engineering Manager held the fort for the MD.”

Do not say: “Ayo, a boy, is the woman’s forth child.” You should say: “Ayo, a boy, is the woman’s fourth child.” Do not say: “We set fourth early in the morning.” You should say: “We set forth early in the morning.” Do not say: “This is my fort week on the programme.” You should say: “This is my fourth week on the programme.”

At any rate, the word should read “fourth.”

Embarrassing grammar mistakes even smart people make (II)

Prostrate cancer

This one is a simple spelling mistake resulting from an extra r. “Prostrate” actually means to lie face down. The “prostate” gland is a part of the male reproductive anatomy.


Slight of hand

A “slight” is an insult, whereas “sleight” indicates dexterity or cunning. It’s why “sleight of hand” is commonly used in the world of magic and illusion.


Honed in

Just know that to “home in” on something means to move toward a goal, such as “The missile homed in on its target.” To “hone” is to sharpen.


Baited breath

When I think about bait, worms and lures come to mind. The first word should actually be “bated,” which stems from the verb “abate,” meaning to stop or lessen. So, if you’re trying to say that someone is holding his breath, you can see that “bated breath” makes the most sense.


Piece of mind

If you want to share what you’re thinking with someone, this could work if you add “my” before “mind.” But if you’re trying to indicate tranquility, then spell it “peace.”


Wet your appetite

“Whet” means to sharpen or stimulate. As such, the latter spelling is more appropriate.


Make due

“Due” means “owed,” and that’s not the intent with this idiom. “Make do” is the proper way to say that you’re going to get along with what you have.


Do diligence

“Due diligence” is the proper business and legal term. It means you will investigate an individual or company before signing a contract.


Peaked my interest

To pique means to arouse, so the correct phrase is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was stimulated. While the incorrect way it’s written in the heading may suggest that someone’s interest was taken to a high level, it’s still wrong.


Must of, should of, would of, and could of

All those ofs should be “have.” The proper versions were corrupted by contractions such as “must’ve.”


Per say or persay

Both are incorrect because the Latin phrase which means “in itself” or “intrinsically” is spelled “per se.” The best communicators speak and write clearly and concisely and probably avoid phrases like this one anyway.


All the sudden

Whether you say “all of a sudden” or “all of the sudden,” the preposition “of” must be involved either way. But if you’re really trying to say “suddenly,” just do.


The first-year anniversary

The use of the word “year” is redundant. “The first anniversary” or “the 50th anniversary” suffice.


Worse comes to worse

“Worse comes to worst,”–note the t–is better because it indicates something has degraded from one negative plane to the lowest possible.



Even though people use this word as a verb all the time, the best way to “un-thaw” something would be to put it in the freezer. Is freezing what you mean, or thawing?






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