Of rending, staff

SAMPLE 1: “Shootings rented the air for nearly an hour forcing residents to flee their homes.”(Boko Haram attacks Maiduguri hours after Buhari’s visit, Premium Times, Thursday, 13 February, 2020)

We are interested in the form and use of the word rented which occurs in the following context: “shootings rented the air”.  This word, its appropriate usage and its misapplication have engaged our attention several times in this place before. It would seem that reporters have not benefited sufficiently from such efforts. What is the problem with this word as used in this context? How do we use the word correctly?

In answering these questions we would not shrink from rehashing some of our earlier presentations on the subject.

The verb from which the form rented is supposed to derive is rend, meaning to break through violently, to tear apart, to make a loud, deafening noise. The form rented has been presented by the reporter as the past form rend.

However, the reporter is obviously confused regarding the forms rend, rent and rented. There is the verb rent, meaning to take and use for some time, say an apartment, a facility, a vehicle, etc, for a fee. The forms of that verb are: rent, rents, renting and rented. Usage examples: 1) She rents a car every week for that purpose. 2) He has been renting out his father’s houses for the past five years. 3) The facility was rented for five hundred thousand naira. 4) I have not rented any house since I secured this job; the company has been providing accommodation. 5) The university has been renting facilities from the company.

The noun form of that verb remains rent: 1) She always takes a loan to pay her rent. 2) When is your rent due? 3) Rents have gone up astronomically since the increase in the prices of petroleum products. 4) Is the house for rent? 5)  We pay an annual rent of one million naira.

We need, however, to distinguish the various forms of the verb rent from the various forms of the verb rend. The verb rend has the following forms: rend, rends, rent, rending. As we have noted, this verb means to tear violently apart, break into pieces with violence, to utter loud, deafening noise. Usage examples: 1) Every night, the noise of carousing men rends the air. 2) When the president arrived, shouts of ‘APC’ rent the air. 3) A hefty branch of the huge tree was rent by the storm. 4) Heart-rending stories of death and destruction were told by the hapless returnees. 5) Her loving and innocent heart was rent by a bitter disappointment. 6) It was the tradition of the ancient Hebrews to rend their clothes as a sign of penitence. 7) The rocky hill was rent by an earthquake. 8) It was a terrible crash in which the vehicle was rent into two.

It is important to note that the past tense of rend is not rented but rent; the past participle is not rented but rent.

It is also important to note the difference between rend and render. The following sentences are defective: 1) We are *rending an account before the end of the financial year. 2) She narrated a soul-*rendering story of how her husband and children were brutally murdered. 3) He collapsed while he was *rending a song. 4) That sad development *rendered her heart. 5) Increased technology seems to be *rending many workers redundant.

Those sentences are re-presented as follows with the appropriate word replacing the wrong one in each case: 1a) We are rendering an account before the end of the year. 2a) She narrated a soul-rending story of how her husband and children were brutally murdered. 3a) He collapsed while he was rendering a song. 4a) That sad development rent her heart. 5a) Increased technology seems to be rendering many workers redundant.

At any rate, let the form rent replace rented in the context under review.

Sample 2: “It is beyond our comprehension that one Mr Femi Adeleye Daniel, a staff in the Porter Department of Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH), was allegedly given compulsory retirement.”(Anxiety in Ekiti over alleged plan sacking of 10,000 more workers, The Nation, 5 January, 2020)

Please note the use of the word staff which occurs in the following context: “one Mr Femi Adeleye Daniel, a staff…” The problem here has to do with the use of the word staff as a singular, rather than as a collective noun. Mr Daniel is referred to as “a staff.” A single person does not qualify to be referred to as “a staff.” This word sometimes presents problems for some users. It will be necessary, therefore, to pay some attention to it.

Please read the following sentences: 1) The staff is the single most important force in any establishment. 2) The staff were drawn from various companies in the metropolis. 3) Our staff is an even mix of both male and female workers. 4) All staff are expected to submit their files before the end of the day. 5) All members of staff are trained from time to time. 6) The company has a highly skilled staff. 7) The staff strength has increased by ten. 8) Half of the staff were laid off.

However, when the reference is to the workers in several establishments, then it is proper to add –s to staff. Now consider the following sentences: 1) There is a forum where all the staffs of the various companies in the conglomerate meet. 2) Should the staffs of the companies belonging to the government and those belonging to private entrepreneurs be placed under the same salary scheme? 3) Representatives of staffs from private and public companies are meeting next month. 4) This consulting firm trains staffs of both government and private companies. 5) The staffs of the companies in the rubber industry will be interacting very soon.

The word staffs in each of those sentences refers to bodies or groups of workers in two or more establishments.

The word can also be used in the verb form. Let’s consider the following sentences: 1) The Department is staffed by highly intelligent and experienced people. 2) It is a well-staffed school, with about seven mathematics teachers and ten chemistry teachers. 3) The major problem of that firm is that of staffing. 4) The unit is staffed exclusively by medical doctors. 5) Of course the kitchen should be staffed by trained caterers. 6) Do you think hospitals are staffed by only doctors and nurses?

The word staff shares certain features with the word personnel. We have said repeatedly that a single person cannot and should not be referred to as a personnel. As a collective noun, the word personnel can neither be pluralized nor modified with the word a or one. Usage examples: 1) The memo is meant for the attention of all technical personnel. 2) The vehicles are to convey only medical personnel. 3) The organization has a tradition of training and re-training its personnel. 4) All qualified personnel are to register in the Personnel Department. 5) Only senior personnel are entitled to annual leave with pay. 6) Military personnel are kept in a separate section of the estate.

Please note that the noun personnel cannot become plural by the addition of a final –s.

This leads us to a crucial question: Can the noun be pluralized by the addition of s? Yes and no. Yes, if we are thinking of staffs of different establishments, but no if we are thinking of the staff of a single establishment.  The following sentences, for example, are deficient: 1) The school’s *staffs are committed to their duties.  2) The company’s *staffs are loyal to the chairman. 3) All the *staffs in this unit are to come for the one-week workshop. 4) The chairman would like to address all *staffs of the company tomorrow. 5) The workshop is meant for all the *staffs of this school. 6) The *staffs in our Department have not received their salaries.

It is grammatically improper to have the word staff in a form carrying a final s as it does in each of those sentences.

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