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‘My husband is an army’

Akeem Lasisi; [email protected]; 08163939335

How many times have you heard some people say, ‘The man is an army’ or ‘My husband is an army’? Maybe you are even among those who speak in that manner! Or do you say or write, ‘The police has gone’? These are two of the ways in which many people wrongly use words relating to security operatives, including customs, troops and battalions.

Study the following sentences. Which are right and which are wrong?

1a. The police has described the incident as tragic.

1b. The police have described the incident as tragic.

2a. The boy’s father is an army.

2b. The boy’s father is a soldier.

3a. The army has vowed to fight back.

3b. The army have vowed to fight back.

4a. The Customs often tackles smugglers.

4b. The Customs often tackle smugglers.

The word, police, is a collective noun that should always be treated as plural. Unlike many other collective nouns that can either take singular or plural verbs, depending on the context, you use only the plural with police. As a result, the construction in sentence 1a (The police has … ) is wrong. The right thing is what you have in 1b – The police have described the incident as tragic. Consider the following too:

The police is investigating the matter. ( Wrong)

The police are investigating the matter. (Correct)

The police advises that we embrace peace. (Wrong)

The police advise that we embrace peace. (Correct)

READ: I wish I was or I wish I were?

But you must be careful when you are handling the ‘police matter’. It is not every time you see ‘police’ in a sentence that you have to go for the plural verb. If it is, for instance, used as an adjective, it is the noun that it qualifies that will determine the number of the verb it takes:

The police have started investigating the case. (Correct)

The policeman has started investigating the case. (Correct)

The police officer has started investigating the case. (Correct)

The policemen have started investigating the case. (Correct)

    The police officers have started investigating the case. (Correct)

The Nigeria Police Force is rebranding. (Correct. Here you are talking more in terms of the corporate personality of the police – the organisation.)

 Between army and soldiers

When you are focusing on an individual military officer or personnel, you talk in terms of a soldier – as you would a policeman. So, automatically, soldier attracts a singular verb:

The soldier has arrived.

My father is a soldier.

But ‘army’ refers to the entirety of the soldiers in a country. So, it is wrong to say someone is an army – as you have in 2a above. No matter how huge, strong or efficient a soldier is, you cannot refer to him as an army. Even the maverick comedian, the late Gbenga Adeboye, never called himself an army. The farthest he went was that he called himself a ‘one-man battalion’.

READ ALSO – Prepositions: Still stubborn as ever

On the other hand, you should treat army as singular or plural, based on usage. The reason is that, unlike soldier that is a singular noun, army is a collective one:

The army has vowed to defend the country. (Correct)

The army have resolved to cooperate with their boss. (Correct)

But, compare:

The U.S. Army is highly respected all over the world. (Correct)

The Nigerian army leads the fight against Boko Haram. (Correct)

This leads us to another category that a lot of people still mishandle. This is ‘customs’. Once it does not come as The Customs Service or The Customs officer, the verb that follows it should be the plural. That is the tradition in the British English that we follow in Nigeria.

The Customs works. (Wrong)

The Customs work. (Correct)

The Customs says it has arrested another man. (Wrong)

The Customs say it has arrested another man. (Correct)

To elaborate on this, I want to refer to a memo by the language controller at The PUNCH, Mr. Seth Akintoye, who, as I noted about two weeks ago, offers valuable advice on our activities in this English Class. An issue had arisen a couple of days back, necessitating an exposition on the verb form to use with The Customs. I quote from a piece he wrote on it:

Should Customs take a plural verb?

Akintoye writes, “In British (UK) English, The word customs, like the police, is treated as a plural.

Let us see the examples used by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary:

  1. The Customs have seized large quantities of smuggled heroin.
  2. French Customs have arrested two men.

“We should note, however, that North American English uses a singular verb with customs in this meaning. But there is an exception: where the Nigeria Customs Service is spelled out in a story or headline, it takes a singular verb:

  1. The Nigeria Customs Service has impounded 440 rifles at the Lagos port (correct)
  2. The Nigeria Customs Service have impounded 440 rifles at the Lagos port (wrong)

In ii above, the NCS (customs) is seen as an institution.

This same thing applies to the police:

  1. Police have arrested three suspects in connection with the killing of Senator Solomon Adekire (correct)
  2. The Nigeria Police Force is recruiting next week (correct).

iii. The Nigeria Police Force are recruiting next week (wrong).”

Answers to last week’s assignment

They want to … the system.

  1. centralise (b) centralized (c) centralised (d) centralize
  2. Is it true that the exam was …

(a) counciled (b) counseled (c) cancelled (d) canceled

  1. The boy has … the bell.

(a) rung (b) rang (c) ringed (d) ranged

Those who got all the answers right

Enakhimion Benjamin, Kafar Adewale, Ibadan; Dare Olufade, Owo, Ondo State; Karosi Agbonlahor, Titilope Odupaye, Ajayi Mark,  Oladipo Isaac, Olasoji Lynda, Ilorin; Peter Inyang, Uyo; Gani Oladipo, Adegboyega Michael, Lagos;  Folasade Oluwashola, Akeem Akande, Warri; Amaka Blessing, Olawale Ayodeji, Ikorodu;  Saleh BG, Sangodare Ayinla, Shao, Kwara State; Issa Qosim, Ibadan; Yekeen Mutiu, Ibadan; Ugochukwu Godfrey, Titilola Ilori, Lagos; Ajayi Oluseye, Ihekwoaba Ndidi,Ola Osikoya,  Taiwo Ekunode, Sango-Ota, Ogun State;Clara Oluyoyin Ajai, Olutayo Olu, Salako  Nicholas Osunde, Odegbemi Bolaji, Arokoyo Sylvester,  Ilorin;  Timothy Olufayo, Ibadan; Oladimeji Sunday, Lagos; Adeyemi  Olaniyi, Ademola Adedokun, Taiwo, Ilorin;  Yinka Alli-Owe, Sam Ade, Wole Ogunsade, Imesi-Ile; Ibukunoluwa Johnson, Gift Utruru, A. B. Adejumo, Iseyin, Oyo State; Mudashiru Adisa, Lagos; Elijah Johnson.

Others who also did well

Joseph  Adetola, Sulaimon Baleeqs, Foluke Ogunsanya, Akinola Rasa, Junita Chima, Ogaga John, Oladipo Bukola, Ayomika Oluwatimehin, Akinwa Orimisan, Ajayi Oluwaranti, Ironkwe Alozie, Ademola Adeniyi, Ogunyemi Mary, Olugosi Olusola, Yonnie Ajagun, Aremu Afolabi, Taiwo Akinyemi, Adegoke Olugbenga, Ikusika Tokttnbo, Ayobami Mayor, Tijani Amidu, Joseph Adetola, Owadokun Ibironke, Dare Adediran, Adunjo Samuel, Muoka Johnny, J. A. Biakinogho, Halimat Awonuga, Aransiola OLuwole, Abduwakil Asafa, Daramola Raphel,  Adebayo Julius, Folarin B.A., Ajibola Joseph, T. O. Odugbesan; Ajanaku Feyisara, Roseline John, Adebayo Mariam, Alabi Abel, Olugbenga Adu, Fasooto Ademola, Jegede Adeyinka, Uzoma Victoria, Oluyole Yemisi, Sylvanus Aburime, Toyin Oyewoga, Japhlet B. V., Olabisi Ojutalayo, Akanmu Taiwo, Oluseyi Ogundele, Chris Thompson, Obanla Adejoke, Titus Osita, Tolu Agbeluyi, Hussainat Dawuda, Tony Unogu, Olaofe Olaode, Kolwole Olaitan, Onaga Oluchi, Rotimi Oyedele, Adeleke Taiwo, Orogun Femi, Segun Idowu, Kolawole Kareem, Ola Ayokule, Okocha Charles, Grace Akindele, Taye Sanni, Bello Sola, Dare-Abasi Etoh, Sewoniku Abraham, Padonu Esther, Oladipupo Olanrewaju, Ibukun Emmanuel, Bolaji Akala, Kemi Adeniji, Alfred Okemute, Ahisu Celestine, Gabriel Sunday, Ngwu Uchenna, Phinomena Mfon, Effiong Archibong, Abiodun Oladipo, Adebayo Abdumajeed, Nofisat Folarin, Tayo Hunpe, Olanrewaju Olaitan, Salaudeen Azeezat, Adekoya Nike, Olaoye Ifeoluewa, Ojukotimi Ariyo, Kella Kelechi-Uloh, Raji Samuel, Raji Alaba, John Emmanuel and Semilore I.


  1. How many … are guarding the minister’s house?

(a) police (b) soldiers (c) armies (d)policeman

  1. The customs now … guns. (a) carry (b) (carries (c)has (d) shoots
  2. Last year, he was the master of … at the event.

 (a) ceremonies (b) ceremony (c) ceremonial

  (d) ceremonials

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