English usage | Sunday Observer

English usage

5 February, 2023

This is a guide to help learners to communicate easily in both speech and writing through a better understanding of the English language.

If and when
Sometimes students ask whether they can use both ‘if and when’ together in a sentence. Here is a sentence from a published report:
We can expect a reduction in income tax if and when the Conservatives return to power.
In the above sentence you can use either ‘if’ or ‘when’ correctly. According to grammarians, the use of both ‘if’ and ‘when’ should be avoided.
Ill / sick
Most students use ‘ill’ and ‘sick’ indiscriminately. They have to be used carefully.
‘Ill’ means ‘suffering from a disease or not feeling well.’
Amanda cannot go to school as she is ill.
The Government is putting up a hospital for the terminally ill.
‘Ill’ also means ‘bad or harmful.’
Rex was unable to join the navy because of ill health.
When you meet a person, you may ask, “What’s wrong? Are you ill?”
Susan became ill after eating oysters.
You look really ill.
‘Sick’ means ‘suffering from a disease or illness’
My mother is very sick.
At the last minute she got sick and could not attend school.
If you are sick, the food in your stomach comes up through your mouth. In other words, you vomit. If you are sick, you are going to vomit.
‘Sick’ is the term used when speaking of a sick person, sick list, sick benefits, sick leave and in idiomatic phrases such as ‘to go sick.’
Illegal / unlawful
‘Illegal’ means ‘not allowed by the law.’
Three men were involved in illegal activities.
‘Unlawful’ means ‘not legal.’
The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing.
Illegitimate / illicit
‘Illegitimate’ means ‘born to parents who are not married’ as in illegitimate children.
‘Illicit’ means ‘not allowed by the law or rules or strongly disapproved of by society.’
He was involved in the illicit trade in stolen cattle.
Illegible / unreadable
‘Illegible’ means ‘difficult or impossible to read.’
The doctor’s handwriting was totally illegible.
If someone’s expression or face is unreadable, you cannot tell what they are thinking.
Similarly, an unreadable book or piece of writing is difficult to read because it is boring or complicated. Unreadable writing is so untidy that you cannot read it.

Illicit / elicit
These two words are sometimes confused because they sound alike.
‘Illicit’ means ‘not permitted by law or authorised.’
‘Elicit’ means ‘to draw, bring out or to evoke.’
Sometimes the police will be able to elicit the truth about someone’s illicit activities.
An image means ‘the opinion people have of a person, organisation, or product or the way a person or organisation seems to be to the public.’
Attempts are being made to improve the image of the police.
‘Image’ also means ‘a picture that you have in your mind, especially about what someone or something is like or the way they look.’
I had no visual image of my friend as I had never met her.
A scandal can damage a politician’s image.
Imaginary / imaginative
‘Imaginary’ means ‘not real, but produced from pictures or ideas.’
Eva played an imaginary violin as she listened to the song.
‘Imaginative’ means ‘containing new and interesting ideas.’
The mayor has come up with an imaginative solution to the garbage problem.
Imbue / infuse
‘Imbue’ means ‘to make someone or something have a quality, idea or emotion very strongly.’
His philosophical writings are imbued with religious belief.
‘Infuse’ means ‘to fill something or somebody with a particular feeling or quality.’
R.K. Narayan’s books are infused with humour and wisdom.