Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Regret About/For

Here are two examples of superfluous prepositions in Singapore English (SgE), the first from the broadsheet The Straits Times (15 February 2010) and the other from a notice at one of Singapore’s more popular museums.

In Standard English (StdE), regret as a verb is transitive, meaning it takes a direct object (underlined) and no preposition, e.g. He regretted his indecision over the sale.  Similarly, StdE would have He regretted what had happened and We regret (any) inconvenience caused where the SgE examples above have regretted about and regret for.

In SgE, the use of prepositions with (what in StdE are) transitive verbs is very common.  Typical examples include discuss about, emphasize on, source for, relook at, rework on, study/research on, partner with, demand for and request for. 

On the other hand, SgE uses some verbs transitively where in StdE they would be intransitive and require a preposition.  Hence, in SgE one may apply leave and reply him, whereas StdE would have these as apply for leave and reply to him.


David Deterding said...

One of the interesting things about superfluous prepositions is that in some ways they are simplifying the language, and maybe this reflects the direction of the evolution of World English(es).

Note that 'regret for' is fine if 'regret' is a noun; it is only non-standard usage if 'regret' is a verb. Similarly 'discuss about' -- note that 'discussion about' is fine, but in standard usage the verb 'discuss' is transitive and so is not followed by a preposition. In Singapore, however, people are often comfortable with 'about' after either 'discuss' or 'discussion'.

It seems that the developments we find in New Englishes such as that of Singapore are mostly simplifying changes; and so perhaps Singapore English is leading the way in the evolution of English around the world.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Thanks for the very interesting insights!

Incidentally, 'discuss about something' is apparently quite common among speakers of older varieties of English too. I was quite surprised when I heard an Essex friend (in his late 40s) say it, as I'd always thought it was a Singaporean thing. I've just done a Google search for the exact phrase and there were more than a million hits -- but admittedly many of them were questions asking if this usage is standard.

Perhaps 'discuss something' will eventually become formal usage.

Nighthound said...

Hi, sorry to hijack the comments page to post an unrelated question, but I couldn't find your email address on the blog itself.

I refer to the article on ST (24 Feb 2010) Home B1 "More applying for casino exclusion orders".

The article wrote "The bulk of those who want to exclude themselves from entering the casinos have university degrees..."

Looking at the pie chart in the graphics, what writer meant was that university graduates make up the largest group according to educational attainment.

However, I was under the impression that bulk refers to the majority, ie. more than 50%, which is not the case in this example.

Which interpretation is correct? Or are both usage correct?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Nighthound

I'm not entirely sure, but I think the writer was correct. According to Longman, 'bulk' means 'the main or largest part of something' -- so that would seem to apply to the graduate slice of the pie. Same for 'majority', which is defined as 'most of the people or things in a group'.

I suspect the >50% interpretation may have come from business and politics -- we speak, for example, of 'majority' stakes when they are 51% or more. This interpretation would, I think, be true only if the definition of 'bulk' had said 'the larger part' rather than 'the largest part'.

Just my two cents'.

Danny said...

Hi, how do we know whether a verb in a sentence is transitive or otherwise? In your examples, "apply for leave" and "discuss about [something]" both have direct objects, but one uses transitive verb and the other intransitive verb. Hence, I'm really not quite sure when to insert a preposition and when not to. Thanks in advance.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Danny

Verbs aren't entirely predictable, so it's always good to check with a dictionary. An intransitive verb is usually marked something like "v int." and transitive one "vt". To complicate matters, however, many verbs have different uses. "Apply" is transitive in "He applied some pressure to the wound" (no preposition), but intransitive in "He applied for leave" (with preposition). In Singapore English, however, the latter is often used transitively, i.e. without a preposition.

As for "discuss", this is transitive in standard English, but in Singapore it's very often used intransitively, with the preposition "for". That said, I've heard many British speakers say "discuss about something", so this could be an instance of language change -- i.e. "discuss" may become intransitive eventually.

Then, there are verbs that allow a choice -- "admit one's mistake" versus "admit to one's mistake" (the latter is frowned upon by purists, though).

So, it's always good to check with a dictionary.

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