English usage | Sunday Observer

English usage

10 September, 2023

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

A prefix consists of one or more syllables attached to the beginning of a word which qualify or alter its meaning in some way. Common prefixes are: anti-, co-, ex-, in-, pre-, and un-.
Aircraft: anti-aircraft
Edition: co-edition
President: ex-president
Expensive: inexpensive
War: prewar
Attractive: unattractive
A preposition shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and some other word in a sentence, clause or phrase, usually of time or place but also of means, manner and purpose. Some of the common prepositions are: in, on, at, under, before, between, for, over, by, about, and against. You have to learn how to use them correctly from a competent teacher.
Prescribe / proscribe
‘Prescribe’ means ‘to say what medicine or treatment a sick person should have.’
If this drug doesn’t work, the doctor will prescribe you something stronger.
‘Prescribe’ also means ‘to state officially what should be done in a particular situation.’
What punishment does the law prescribe for bribery?
‘Prescribed’ is an adjective meaning ‘decided by a rule.’
Students should read all the prescribed text books.
‘Prescription’ is a noun meaning ‘a piece of paper on which a doctor writes what medicine a sick person should have, so that they can get it from a pharmacy.’
The doctor wrote out a prescription for sleeping pills.
A drug that you get on prescription can only be obtained with a written order from a doctor.
‘Proscribe’ means ‘to officially say that something is not allowed to exist or be done.’
The LTTE has been proscribed by the government.
Pretence / pretension
‘Pretence’ means ‘a way of behaving which is intended to make people believe something that is not true.’
How long are you going to keep up the pretence of being ill?
Did you bring me here under false pretences?
‘Pretend’ is a verb meaning ‘to behave as if something is true when in fact you know it is not.’
Susan is not asleep – she’s just pretending.
‘Pretension’ is an attempt to seem more important, more intelligent or of a higher class than you are in.
People resented John’s pretensions to superiority.
‘Prevent’ means ‘to stop something happening or stop someone from doing something.’
The laws are intended to prevent crimes.
My knee injury may prevent me from attending school tomorrow.
In everyday English people usually say ‘stop someone from doing something’ rather than ‘prevent someone from doing something.’
The barrier is to stop people from coming in without tickets.
‘Prevention’ is a noun.
Prevention is better than cure.
Effective crime prevention should be our goal.
‘Preventive’ is an adjective used only before a noun.
Take preventive measures to avoid illness.
‘Preventable’ is another adjective.
There are many preventable diseases.
Prima facie
This Latin phrase means ‘at first appearance’ or ‘on a first impression.’
It can be used only before a noun.
It was a prima facie case of professional negligence.
Principal / principle
These two words are a rich source of confusion.
‘Principal’ means ‘chief or most important.’
Teaching is my principal source of income.
Emma is the principal character in the novel.
‘Principle’ means ‘a moral rule or belief about what is right or wrong.’
Parents and teachers try to teach children a set of principles.
Sandy is a woman of strict moral principles.
His father was a man of strong principles.
Laws should reinforce moral principles.
Someone who is principled has strong principles about what is morally right and wrong.
Programme / program
‘Programme’ is the usual English form, ‘program’ the American. The spelling ‘program’ is however used in Britain in computer technology.
‘Prohibit’ means ‘to say that an action is illegal or not allowed.’
Smoking is strictly prohibited inside the office.
We are prohibited from revealing the details.
‘Prohibition’ is the act of saying that something is illegal.
Members of Parliament voted for the prohibition of illegal firearms.