Personnel, Staff, Where

Sample 1: “He said an army Lieutenant and a Civil Defencepersonnel also sustained gunshot wounds during the exchange of fire between the kidnappers and security operatives.”(Police recover corpses of soldier, civilian from forest in Ibadan, Opera News, 14 December, 2020)

The word that interests us is personnel which occurs in the following context: “a Civil Defencepersonnel.” It is remarkable that a single person (an officer of the Civil Defence Corp) is referred to as personnel. The point has been made repeatedly in this place that a single person does not and cannot constitute personnel. Personnel, let us note, are a body or group of workers in an organisation. To repeat, it is a misnomer to refer to a single person as personnel. This word sometimes presents problems for some users. It will be necessary, therefore, to pay some attention to it.

As a collective noun, the word personnel can neither be pluralised 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 organisation 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.

The principle guiding the usage of personnel is not markedly different from that of staff. Like personnel, the word staff is a collective noun which is not to be used in reference to a single person. It refers to the entire workforce in an organisation.

Readers may find the following sentences useful in their effort to master the usage of the word staff:

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?

This leads us to a crucial question: Can the noun be pluralised 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.

Sample 2: “This prompted the major protest which occurred at the Lekki toll gate were the youths decided to spend the night for about 3 consecutive days.” (#EndSARS: Minister reveals why president Buhari refused to speak about Lekky shooting, Opera News, 23 October, 2020)

Let’s pay attention to the context in which the word were occurs in the following structure: “at the Lekki gate were the youths decided to spend the night…” The choice here constitutes a stupendous error. It is astounding that anyone would insert the wordwere in the position in which it occurs in this structure.

My guess is that the error stems from a pronunciation crisis on the part of some Nigerians who often pronounce were as where (and presumably vice versa). It is likely the case that they would select where or were blindly in a context requiring just one of them. In other words, the two words remain undifferentiated in reality. Elementary as these issues are, it is expedient to illustrate the usage of the words involved to avoid the risk of misleading young and vulnerable readers.


Please read the following sentences illustrating the usage of the verb were:

1) If I were you I would not borrow a kobo for the burial of such a useless relative.

2) Janet and Ajetunmobiwere husband and wife until December last year.

3) The girls were punished for coming late.

4) All the bills were thrown out by the National Assembly because they were allegedly sponsored by the opposition party.

5) The patients were discharged prematurely because the health workers had gone on strike.

6) The children were always complaining about their father’s absence from home.

7) The two women were always trading insults in public.

8) The five names that were initially on the reserve list were later brought to the main list.

9) The villagers were not interested in talking to the police.

10) The offensive clauses were later removed from the constitution.

Please note that like is, am, was, and are, the word were is a form of BE. It occurs in contexts similar to those in which the other forms of BE occur. But specifically, it is:

1) used with plural nouns

2) in its past form. Actually, it is the past form of are.


Now compare its usage with that of where:

1) Where were you when the inspector arrived?

2) Where would you like to spend the next holidays?

3) Where in western Nigeria is the place in which hot water is flowing side by side with cold water?

4) Where are you living?

5) Nobody seems to know where the information leaked.

6) You should know that where your right ends is where another person’s right begins.

7) Where else in Africa is the press as vibrant as our own?

8) He is so energetic that one sometimes wonders where the energy comes from.

9) I will continue to live in Lagos, where I have lived for the past ten years.

10) I don’t even know where to start.

11) Where is your faith, you doubting Thomas?

Please let the verb where replace were in the context under consideration.


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