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COMMONLY MISUSED ENGLISH WORDS, PHRASES, & TERMS, EDITION 18

February 24, 2022

This is “No Bullshiting,” by Harry Agina.

Greetings folks!

Long time, no NBB “Commonly Misused English Words, Phrases, and Terms.” Here’s one for you. It was incited by a common error that I watched on TV last night.

My regular fans already know that I don’t intend to belittle or insult the grammatical elites with this series, no sir, no ma’am! NBB is a blog for the masses, as well as the elites of the society, in all spheres. This series is to inform  the less privileged in English grammar, in serial titbit. However, I am also quick to add that, even the grammatical elites can learn one or two things from this kind of information exchange or sharing. And not just the NBB series, but any other of its kind. Many grammatical elites have been kind and humble to appreciate the series. They confessed to me with some good words, when they actually learned something from the previous seventeen editions of the series. The fact, really, is that no human is really, truly perfect.

I know that I have learned a few things myself, sometimes from the less grammatically knowledgeable. The idiom, “Pulling one’s leg” is, or at least used to be one of my longtime favorites. I always knew that it means to tease somebody, or deceive somebody playfully, or a practical joke. But, for a while, even as a graduate, I said “I am only pulling your legs.” I believe that I was already in graduate school when I learned the correct phrase. I learned it to be “I am pulling your leg,” singular leg, and not plural, legs.

Now, enough of the pep talk. Let’s get straight to it, folks! When you speak, do you say “I am a former footballer”? Or do you say “I was a former footballer”? Obviously, this is just one example of similar sentences. It could also be something like “I was a former Information Minister,” versus “I am a former Information Minister.” Or, “I am a former student of Oxford University” versus “I was a former student of Oxford University.” And so on, and on, and on.

I will make my comment very simple. You are a former student of Oxford University; you are a former footballer, or you are a former Information Minister are correct. So, your correct sentence in the above examples are: “I am a former footballer”; “I am a former Information Minister,” and “I am a former Oxford University student.” It can never be “I was a former Oxford University student.” Nope, you are former student until you depart this world.

We can only use the verb was if the person in question is now dead. In that case, he/she won’t be around anymore to say “I was a former minister,” anyway. The people who are still alive would now say he/she was a former minister. If the person is still alive and he/she used to be a minister, but he is no longer a minister, we cannot correctly say that he/she was a former minister. The correct grammar is “He is a former minister.” If you have ever been a student of Oxford University, and came out, you have that position of being former student forever. You can never stop being a former student of Oxford University until you die, period!!! You cannot go back in time and say something like…”I take back all the years that I spent at Oxford, I don’t wanno be former student anymore.” Nope, impossi-can’t; you’re permanently stuck with it, ’til death do you part, meeeeeeen!!!

So, you can never be grammatically and sensically correct to say I was a former student of Oxford University. The phrase, “I was a former student, or former footballer,” or anything else, is tautological (unnecessary repetition) in grammar. You are erroneously repeating the same thing twice, with different words that are exactly the same in meaning. Was and former are exactly saying the same thing, which means ‘used-to-be,’ past tense. And the only situation where it is proper, is when the person also has double past verbs (to-be), by dying. Then, in that case, the double pasts of was and former become correct. John had already stopped playing football while he was still alive (one past); so, he was already a former footballer, before he became a former human being, by dying. Now that he is dead, he is now a former footballer, as well as a former human being. Hence, John was a former footballer, probably doing something else before he died, becomes a correct sentence.

That’s all I’ve got, for now. I trust, that you trust, that I ain’t Bullshiting ya, meeeeeeen!!!

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