Writing Tools: Using ‘Majority’ Is No ‘Minor’ Problem

Writing Tools: Using ‘Majority’ Is No ‘Minor’ Problem

The storm broke just as the old man’s body was born in through the door – Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

Arup Chakraborty Updated: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 11:25 PM IST
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Writing Tools: Using ‘Majority’ Is No ‘Minor’ Problem |

The word “majority” often causes troubles to writers. When it is used in an abstract sense, it takes the singular verb; but when it is used to signify the elements making up the majority, it should be plural. A two-thirds majority is needed to amend the constitution; however, “a majority of the Lok Sabha are opposed to the amendment,” is correct.

“A majority of” can often be replaced by “most.” “Majority,” as the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) defines, “is the state or fact of being greater, superiority and greater.” According to the SOED, it also means the greater number or part; a number which is more than half the whole number, especially larger party voting together in a deliberative assembly or electoral body. The large majority of its population is Khmer, but there are substantial Chinese and Vietnamese minorities – N Chomsky Likewise, there is a problem about the employment of “a pair’ and “a couple.” Both should be treated as plural. “The couple are now living apart” is preferable to “The couple is now living apart.”

Pair or pairs?

The commoner plural is pairs rather than pair. Using two pairs is more correct than using pair – two pairs of shoes, several pairs (rather than pair) of skis. Ergo we should always use pairs in those rare cases where no number or other word precedes it to show that it is plural: for example, Pairs of socks should be pinned together. When it means “two people,” pair takes a plural verb: The happy pair are just leaving for their honeymoon. “Pair” signifies a set of two individual persons or things, especially of the same kind, that are associated with or complementary in use, purpose, opposition etc, defines SOED. I’m the Labour member and I was hoping you hadn’t yet found yourself a pair – J Archer. Theodor M Bernstein, however, says, “…after a numeral pair is not wrong, but pairs is far preferable.”

Elections or election

Many sub-editors are in the habit of writing “the assembly elections” or “Lok Sabha elections,” but the elections are not always plural. If votes for electing the members of Parliament and for the members of a state assembly are held on the same day, it is correct to say “elections.” In India, the parliamentary polls are held on their own in a single general election. Similarly, assembly polls are also held on their own in a single election in each state. The timings of holding such polls are also different. So, it is preferable to say “the MP assembly election” instead of “The MP assembly elections.” The opposition demanded an election is always preferable to the opposition demanded fresh elections. And to write “The next parliamentary elections are due in May” suggests there will be more than one Parliamentary poll in May.

False possessive

The nouns become the adjectives many a time. The plays written by Shakespeare become Shakespeare plays. The malfunctioning of a car becomes car’s malfunctioning. So, we have turned the nouns like Shakespeare and car into adjectives. Such false possessive is generally avoidable. A sentence becomes worse when someone writes “Delhi roads” instead of writing “The roads in Delhi.” Now, consider the sentence “Delhi’s roads are not in a good condition.” Few would agree with the apostrophe Delhi’s. Such use is, however, very common among journalists. Perhaps, they fail to appreciate that an “of” or an “apostrophe” cannot do the job of “in.” We should not say Bhopal’s Upper Lake or the Upper Lake of Bhopal. Therefore, it is wrong to say “city roads.”  Don’t commit this sin. The roads are in Bhopal and not of it. Similarly, the Parliament House is in Delhi and not of it. In the same way, Writers’ Building is in Kolkata and Mantralaya is in Bhopal. It is neither Kolkata Writers’ Building nor Bhopal Mantralaya.  

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