Your vs you’re


– A local girl rejecting an SAF employee

The girl should first learn the difference between “you’re” and ‘your’, and then about relative pronouns, before assuming that the chap in the army has no ambition.

“You’re” is a contraction of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ is a possessive pronoun.

In the second sentence, ‘who’ should replace ‘that’ as the correct relative pronoun, grammatical trends notwithstanding.

As for prose style, ‘for your life’ is redundant because it is indicated in the sentence that the ambition or lack of it, is related to the man: “…you probably don’t have much ambition…”.

The man is better off without this illiterate girl.


Self-grown edible gardens

Spectra Secondary School has an edible learning garden for students to self-grow produce. They also organise a Farmers’ Market at the end of the term to sell their self-grown produce to raise funds for the needy students. Check it out!

– Ministry of Education Singapore, on one of its Facebook feeds

This is the first time in my life that I read of a garden that can be eaten: would it not be clearer to write ‘vegetable-and-fruit garden’ instead?

Besides, what is the difference between students’ ‘self-growing’ their produce and ‘growing’ their produce? The word ‘self’ is one flagrant redundancy that careful writers ought to avoid.

A ‘role model’ is a ‘model’

The phrase ‘role model’ is tautological because ‘role’ is redundant. A ‘role model’ is just a ‘model’, so why add the word ‘role’ when it means the same thing without it?

The English word ‘model’ in the Oxford English Dictionary has several meanings, one among which refers to a person or thing ‘regarded as an excellent example of a specified quality’ (source).

Eg. Our late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was a model for temperance and frugality, if not compassion.

Offensive to logic

It may be linguistically fashionable to use ‘they’ and ‘them’ as gender-neutral singular pronouns, e.g. ‘Every teacher in that school is given the autonomy to use the curriculum as they see fit’, but I am still going to be pedantic and deplore its use.

It is insulting and offensive to logic to substitute a plural pronoun for a singular subject.

If ‘he or she’ is perceived as too clumsy, use ‘he’. The male pronoun has traditionally been the gender-neutral pronoun of choice.

No one except mad feminists would mind the usage.

What is a ‘sneek peak’?

Get a sneek peak of the refurbished WWII bunker with your child before the official opening to learn a piece of Singapore’s history together!

Ministry of Education Singapore, on one of its Facebook feeds

Rare is the occasion when the Facebook feed of so acclaimed an education ministry as Singapore’s is managed by a muppet: one orthographical error is pardonable; two is appalling.

‘Sneek peak’? What is that?

Behaving like tossers and berks

Singapore is a secular country.

We are not only Christians but also Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Jains and ‘Nones’, among others.

If the Muslims and Jews were to take offence with the many food stalls and supermarkets that sell pork, if the Taoists and Hindus and Jains were to take offence with the many food stalls and supermarkets that sell beef, if the Jews were to be offended with the rest of the world who go out, shop or work on Saturdays, if the rest of the world were to take offence with the Christians who always seem to try to proselytise and whose sermons tend to ‘denigrate’ other religions; civil society will cease to exist.

As a Protestant Christian I am ashamed of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) who even bother to express their ‘concern’ about Madonna. I am ashamed of Archbishop William Goh of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, who did the same.

Would Jesus of Nazareth do the same if he were alive today?

What is so difficult about trying to live and let live? To give and take? To live at peace with one another?

It is problematic these days to call oneself a ‘Christian’ because doing so carries the risk of others’ lumping the person with the likes of Lawrence Khong, Kong Hee, Pat Robertson, and the entire gang of conservative Evangelical crackpots.

Lord have mercy on us. We are behaving like tossers and berks. 


As much as Roman Catholics are exhorted not to support ‘those who denigrate religion’, the same standard should be applied to homosexual and transgender people having the right not to support those who ‘denigrate’ their personhood.

It would be of disinterest to me if Archbishop William Goh had simply discouraged Roman Catholics from attending Madonna’s concert and left it at that. In a first-world society we have the choice not to read, watch or listen to anything with which we disagree. But he was, on the contrary, crying for censorship. He wanted assurance from the government that Madonna would cut sections of her performance that was supposedly offensive to Christians.

Would he accept the same from the LGBTI community in Singapore? People like him should refrain from ‘denigrating’ the personhood of homosexual and transgender people. Otherwise, he should be censored too, should he not? ‘Apostle’ Lawrence Khong and his loony band of conservative Evangelical Christians should be stopped from harrassing the Pink Dot event every June. Homilies and sermons of priests and pastors across Singapore should be handed in to the authorities first before they are allowed to be preached on the pulpits. They should be prohibited from ‘insulting’ and ‘offending’ the sensibilities of the LGBTI community. 

For the record I am a Christian. I try my best to follow the Way of Jesus. But I also know that I am living in the 21st and not the 10th century and that there are more people in Singapore who are not Christian. This means that I have to live and let live, agree to disagree, accept that there are different people with different views and lifestyles in this country. If I find something insulting to my religion, why should I call for its ban? I just ignore or do not participate in it.

If I do not fancy Adam Lambert’s music or on-stage antics, I simply would not attend his concert. If I do not like Madonna and her pole-dancing nuns, I am free not to buy tickets to her concert.

If this is not religious deep-throating and rape, I do not know what is.

Parental guidance is advised

‘Parental guidance is advised’: many parents do not take heed to this cliche seen on many a television or cinema screen before a film, and probably so because of their work schedules.

Sex education in the home is about talking to your children about sex and when I say ‘sex’ I do not mean sperm and eggs but erect penises and vaginas.

This may or may not disenchant them from the forbidden fruit of sex but I would prefer their knowing how sexual intercourse ‘looks like’ from me, instead of a pornographic film or worse, sexual exploration with partners.

My wife and I have already told our children that they have ‘come about’ because I ‘put’ my penis into Mama’s vagina to allow the sperm to later enter the egg.

We will leave the process of sexual arousal to when my children enter puberty. It is also important never to demonise masturbation, as would most parents in general, in Singapore.

Babies and toddlers do explore their genitals and ‘play’ with them, albeit without sexual understanding and knowledge. Prepubescent children fondle their genitals too and many masturbate even to orgasm, male ejaculate notwithstanding.

It is normal and a need physiologically for boys to masturbate because of a build-up of sperm in the testes, exacerbated by a sudden increase in testosterone during puberty. Everything will seem to be about sex and even though he will not tell you, he can be ‘as horny as hell’, pardon the theological pun.

By allowing him to share his sexual feelings and frustrations, it enables him to release some of the tension, even if it is only emotionally. It is worse isn’t it, if he were to release this sexual tension with a partner?

In short, be there for your children. Learn not to judge: I am telling myself too, and listen. Put yourself in their shoes.

Be the best friend to them. Strive to be that first person with whom your child will share his problems and feelings instead of his friends.

Adolescent mischief would then be very unlikely and even if it occurs, it will either be short-lived or more easily solved or helped.


It’s cruel not to teach children grammar…Pupils (or students as they are mysteriously called) are not taught such rules of spelling as may exist and certainly are not tested on them. As for adverbs, subjects, objects or clauses, let alone such fabulous monsters as subjunctives, children are left in sublime ignorance of them…At its worst, educational theory that rejects grammar does so because of a mad idea that children are noble savages better left to authenticity and the composition of rap lyrics. That way lies the scrapheap and jail. Grammar sets them free. No one would think it a kindness to give a teenager a car without teaching her to drive, and that includes the rules of the road.

– Dot Wordsworth, columnist at The Spectator

We are only being pragmatic

The cheek of Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to accuse the youth in this country of lacking idealism (source): it was the late Lee Kuan Yew who set the example for being ruthlessly pragmatic in his politics at the expense of idealism. He was a left-leaning idealist before he came to power and did a 180-degree-turn to the right when he became Prime Minister.

The late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam was a fiery idealist for human and civil rights. Lee thought it was all nonsense.

Dr Chee Soon Juan and his Singapore Democratic Party are also stiff-necked idealists for human and civil rights. Seventy per cent of Singaporeans think that their policies are idealistic but impractical. Western liberal nonsense, they say.

Yes, Singaporeans have learnt well from the late dictator. We have lost all hope for a more socially just Singapore. Hey, we are only being pragmatic.

Matters most

Of all school disciplines English language matters most. Clarity, confidence, communication are the bedrock of every other endeavour in education and in life: from physics to marketing, from engineering to law. Neglecting, downgrading and generally dumbing standards is a greater cruelty to children than anything visited on them by a clumsy exam board…It is wicked not to emphasise the difference between chatty street slang and formal, universally understood, clarity and correctness.

Libby Purves

Rights and prudence

Sexual intercourse without the consent of all the parties involved is rape, regardless of the sex or identity of the perpetrator.

A spouse can commit rape. A woman can commit rape.

A woman in a public house may express willingness to have sex with a man but if she changes her mind in the hotel room, or at the very last second when the man is about to penetrate her; it becomes non-consensual and is therefore rape if the man does not heed her refusal, however last-minute or fickle it might seem.

An adult in a first-world society is free to do whatever he wants as long as no physical or emotional harm is done to any other person, within limits of the law in that particular land.

This means a woman, in this case the rape victim, has the right to stay over at a man’s house for a drink, regardless of the time or circumstance. It was not her fault that she chose to go over to a friend’s house alone. It was not her fault that with only two other people in the house, both men, she chose to consume alcohol and get drunk. If the men then chose to rape her, harm her, it was their fault and their responsibility as adults to face the consequences.

Having said that, as a parent, it will be very human for me to warn my daughter of the possible dangers of getting drunk in the presence of men, or that the revealing attire on them might attract unwanted attention.

It is a matter of course that women have every right to wear and do whatever they want. It is also a matter of course that as a parent my concern for my daughters would somehow give me no choice but to feel that they should have at least been more prudent.


Spoken language is important as well as written. I keep trying to remember diction. One of the reasons we love a good British accent is that words are actually pronounced correctly.

– anonymous from the US

It is not the British who have the accents – it is the US, Canada, and other English speaking countries. It is always the country of origin which has the purest form of a language. All others are changed and influence through the integration of other nationalities and original languages.

– anonymous from the US

First, I assume that you are refering to Received Pronunciation (RP) by your using the phrase ‘good British accent’ because there are numerous English accents in Great Britain and the majority of them exist in England alone, excluding Scotland and Wales.

Second, by what standard can one judge whether a particular pronunciation is ‘correct’ or not? The ‘standard’ English accent of Shakespeare’s time sounds far removed from RP.

General American (AmE), however, has retained elements of an older British standard, such as rhoticity and the short vowels, which the English had discarded between the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Third, I have noticed how people in the US tend to pronounce English words by their every syllable whereas RP Speakers or those who have inherited the British system, during the days of Empire, do not.

E.g. Americans pronounce every syllable of words like ‘contemporary’ and ‘library’ whereas RP speakers tend to gloss over some bits.

Fourth, Standard US English in some sense is more phonetic — words are spelt the way they are pronounced — than Standard British English (BrE).

E.g. A word such as ‘route’ is more logically read as ‘r-out’ than ‘root’, which is precisely what Americans do compared with RP speakers. Why ‘centre’ in BrE when the word is pronounced ‘center’ in the US?

There is no such thing as a ‘gold standard’ of English but many standard Englishes in terms of oral and written: standard British English, General American, standard Australian English, standard Canadian English, standard Indian English, etc.

English as a language may have originated from the United Kingdom but across the world where English took root, it evolved. British English also evolved, and in some respects more so than US English.

So which is ‘purer’?

Having said that, I am still a stickler for BrE because it is the linguistic norm in which I was brought up and educated.

barbarous VIP

‘How VIP do we gotta get?’


The great Sir Paul McCartney was apparently turned away by the bouncers of a post-Grammy Awards party that was hosted by a rapper at a nightclub, when he made the above remark in a language that seemed to be English.

It should have been, in standard English: ‘How VIP do we have to be?’ or ‘How VIP must we be?’

PAP-esque places of learning

‘We cannot allow it because schools are neutral places for learning and not platforms for partisan politics.’

– Ministry of Education (MOE), on the Singapore Democratic Party’s request to conduct talks in schools

As much as I envisage schools to be ‘neutral places of learning’, let me put it to MOE that our schools have never been politically neutral: the ideology of our ruling party presupposes our social studies and history curricula to the extent that only one narrative of our country’s struggle for independence is taught, which is that of the PAP.

It is a matter of course that our ruling party controls the narrative arc of our history — they were the victors — and like any other triumphant political party, they frame the story to their benefit.

If Barisan Sosialis were to make up the government instead of the PAP, it is highly probable that they would do the same thing and our history books would be telling a different story.

As such, it is a falsehood that educational institutions and the civil service are non-partisan spaces. They never were and would always take the cue from whomever runs the show in this country.

A short and chubby man

Does height matter?

It does if one intends to be a flight steward.

It does if one aspires to be a popular ‘actor’ in our looks-obsessed television industry.

It does not and never has been if one is looking for a life partner.


I am a short and chubby yellow-skinned man with thin black hair atop an unflatteringly high brow with a pair of beady quintessential Chinese eyes squinting through black horn-rimmed spectacles that perch on a greasy flat nose. 
Thin unkissable lips and a protruding chin complete the nerdy look.
Er, I am not someone whom the average girl on the street calls a ‘hunk’, am I?
Fortunately for me, my wife does not like jocks: she fancies nerds.
She likes me for my intelligence, eloquence and wit. It helps that I was a debater and orator during my school days and that I apparently have a ‘beautiful’ speaking voice, or so she opines. I also wooed her in the old-fashioned, poetry-writing way.
We have now been married for 11 years, after a four-year courtship, and have four beautiful children.
There is always something about oneself of which one can be proud. Focus on that. It will boost one’s confidence for a start.
As time passes, with many experiences and lessons learnt along the way, maturity settles in, and with that usually the diminishing of these trivial insecurities.

Fewer models

I am worried for my children because there are fewer models of well-spoken and well-written English among the educated public in this country for them to emulate.

What can I do when their English language teachers in school do not pronounce words accurately in the classroom?

I can only do my part as a parent by communicating with them in English that is grammatically and phonetically sound.

Linguistic superiority of primary-school pupils

It is amusing how adults whose grasp of the English language seem appallingly poor are not able to accept that a primary-five pupil could be intellectually superior, language-wise.

Yes, a well taught primary-five pupil with high verbal intelligence, i.e. an aptitude for language or the literary arts, can write this letter about the Direct Schools Admission scheme. During my upper-primary school days, teachers often wondered if I had plagiarised portions of my compositions until the written examinations demonstrated otherwise.