The downtrodden

SAMPLE 1: “The security component of the Bayelsa State COVID-19 Task Force had in the early hours of Sunday began demolishing of all illegal structures at the Tombia market.”(Illegal structures demolition…New Telegraph Online, Monday, 18 May, 2020)

Please note that the form had is followed by the form began in the following context: “The security component…had in the early hours of Sunday began demolishing…” Any intelligent reader would note immediately the grammatical relationship between the forms had and began, separated as they are by six words.

The form had is a marker of the perfect tense. Other markers are have and has. The structure of the perfect tense is this: have/has/had plus a past participle: has spoken; has driven; has written; has attended; has bought; have broken; have bitten; have beaten; have encouraged; have smitten; had gone; had drawn; had greeted; had shown; had driven.

The relationship between the forms had and began clearly violates the principle of the perfect tense as sketched and illustrated above. The form began, in its past simple form, ought to be in its past participle form: begun. The distance between the two words, as between any two words for that matter, should not affect the grammatical relationship between them. Writers should not only be knowledgeable in grammar but should be sensitive to the grammatical relationships among the words they employ within and across sentences.

Sample 2: “But a visit to most of the densely populated areas in Lagos where the downtrodden resides reveals that majority are yet to benefit from either the Federal Government’s cash payment or the one being touted by the state government.”(Lockdown: tales of hardship by vulnerable Nigerians, The Nation, April 26, 2020)

I draw readers’ attention to the expression: the downtrodden. Note that this expression is followed by the verb-form: resides. The verb resides (with its final –s) does indicate that the expression the downtrodden is regarded as a singular noun item. Is it really a singular noun item?

Not at all. When an adjective (or a past participle such as downtrodden) is modified by the definite article (the), the result is a plural noun. Please read the following sentences: 1) The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. 2) The weak and vulnerable are not treated with the compassion they deserve. 3) The righteous are often rich in spiritual things but poor in the material. 4) It is often the case that the politically powerful are oppressing the weak. 5) The lazy have no future. 6) The weak-minded have no place here. 7) The broken-hearted are welcomed and encouraged in an ideal Christian church. 8) Theunderprivileged are frequently oppressed by the financially privileged people. 9) The lawless have the police to contend with. 10) The mentally challenged are not to be taken advantage of by society. 11) The cleverest are not necessarily the richest in any society. 12) The physically challenged are to be offered automatic employment. 13) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 14) The ungodly are not so… 13) The oppressed usually have no access to justice.

Now the adjective faithful can be used in a similar way, requiring us to use the plural form of the verb. Please read the following sentences: 1) The faithful have their reward waiting for them in the life to come. 2) The faithful are often unaware that God and the people are noting their deeds. 3) The Islamic faithful are required to fast in the month of Ramadan. 4) The party faithful are not expected to make public statements on the sensitive issue. 5) The Christian faithful are usually unaware of the power and grace that come through prayer. 6) The faithful are here every month fasting and praying.

Please note that we have selected the plural form of the verb (are, have) in agreement with the word faithful. As we have seen, the plural form is formed when the definite article the is allowed to modify the word faithful. It is interesting, however, that the plural form can also be formed by simply adding s to the adjective so that we have: faithfuls. This form is so rare that very few dictionaries indicate its existence and the computer fails to recognize it. But it does exist.

Please read the following sentences: 1) The Islamic faithfuls are expected to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina at least once in their lifetime. 2) The party faithfuls are required to pay a certain levy annually.

And electorate? It can take either a singular or plural form of the verb. Read the following sentences: 1) The electorate are sometimes unpredictable. 2) The electorate are ignored at the peril of the politician. 3) Our democracy is coming to a point where the electorate is truly powerful. 4) Arethe Nigerianelectorate as enlightened as they should be? 5) When the electorate are bribed, the outcome of the election will distort the realities of the relative merits of the contending politicians. 6) The electorate are often manipulated by politicians.

Notice that we have freely used the singular or plural form of the verb (is, are) in relation to the noun electorate. Notice, furthermore, that we have not pluralized the noun by adding s to it. These points are worth noting. However, if, in spite of these explanations and illustrations, you still find the usage of the word confusing, why not choose the word elector whose plural form is electors? The electorate is the collective word for all the electors in a state or country or constituency.



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