Alumnus, alumna & alumni

Many people do not realise that the word ‘alumni’ is plural. The singular form for a male is ‘alumnus’ and female, ‘alumna’.



The administrators of the Ministry of Education Singapore’s Facebook Page blocked me two nights ago. They were apparently upset that I called them dullards for committing solecism after solecism in their feeds and even worse, I had apparently committed blasphemy against the holy spirit of Lee Kuan Yew by calling the current Minister of Parliament for Education, a Mr Ng, an inarticulate buffoon.

The civil service in Singapore is NOT a politically neutral space.

Improve your toddler’s vocabulary

First, it is more important to instil a passion for reading, and its corollary, the English language; than to ensure that a toddler learns more English words for the sake of his knowing more English words.

Second, it is more important for the parent to speak English that is grammatically sound and phonetically accurate, to his child, every day; than to speak in slang, e.g. Singlish, and to use standard English only during ‘teaching’ sessions. Children learn by imitation and even adults learn a new language more effectively by immersing themselves in a culture or society that uses that language. But if the people around them speak the language poorly, that is what the adult learner will pick up. It is therefore not surprising that Singaporeans in general do not speak, and write, English well. English language teachers in the primary schools are not setting the right ‘linguistic’ example by their poor speech habits.

Third, it is more effective for the parent to insert a ‘difficult’ word every now and then in his conversations with the child than to set a specific session for the learning of new words. I do this often with my children and they will tell me that they do not understand this word or that word and it becomes a teaching moment on the spot.

That said, I am neither discouraging the use of Singlish in my case nor claiming that slang is a sub-standard form of English. No, Singlish is a non-standard variant of English, not sub-standard. It is all right for Singaporeans to speak our unique slang among family members and friends. The problem is, we are also parents, and we want to teach our children standard English. The best way to do so is to avoid using non-standard forms in the home at all times. Children will have their classmates with whom to get acquainted with their local slang.

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.

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.


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