Awful for priests to think they are infallible in their English


SEE if you feel the same way as parishioner Jose Oliveros about the conceit of some priests that they can’t go wrong in their English grammar. Here’s what he wrote me recently:

“May I request your comments on these announcements being made at our parish church: (a) before the start of the Mass, ‘Welcome to our Eucharistic celebration as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity… etc.’; and (b) before the final blessing, ‘You are invited to attend the (event)… etc.’ and ‘The free medical check-up (or whatever it is) is on a first come, first serve basis.’

“To me, that first sentence is redundant and should be rephrased as “Welcome to our Eucharistic celebration on this Feast of the Holy Trinity…etc.’; and in the second sentence, ‘to attend’ can be deleted because when you invite, you expect those invited to attend.

“I have called the attention of the people concerned in our parish about these glaring errors but they said that they cannot change what our parish priest had written. (Reminds me of Pontius Pilate when requested by the Pharisees and Scribes to change the inscription on the Cross of Jesus from ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews – INRI’ to ‘This man claims to be the king of the Jews.’ Pilate’s reply: ‘What I have written, stays written.’)

“Another thing: ‘First come, first serve’ should be ‘First come, first served’ because the complete phrase is ‘First to come, first to be served.’ This is what our high school English teachers taught us. Unfortunately, the same error appears on a tarpaulin streamer of a local college that, ironically, is encouraging its students to use correct English.”

My reply to Mr. Oliveros:
Yes, you’re right about the faulty English grammar and usage of your parish priest and local college, and your corrections are absolutely correct:

1. The statement “Welcome to our Eucharistic celebration as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity” is indeed redundant so it’s a wonder why the staff of your parish priest have not succeeded in making him correct the faulty usage. He should realize that converting the noun “celebration” into the verb “celebrate” doesn’t eliminate the redundancy, for the action of celebrating the particular feast is already subsumed by the noun “celebration” that precedes it.

So don’t hesitate to let your parish priest know that I have endorsed your revision. If he still persists in acting like Pontius Pilate and doesn’t correct the error of his ways, I suggest you appeal to a higher religious authority like Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who assuredly knows his English, as well as his theology.

2. Yes, it’s likewise advisable to apply the redundancy rule to the phrase “to attend” when the parish priest announces that, say, “You are invited to attend our seminar on the perils of premarital sex.” It will be much clearer and more concise to drop the verb “attend” and say “You are invited to our seminar on the perils of premarital sex.” I think your parish priest will much more quickly see the wisdom in applying the redundancy rule here, so there should be no need to bring this matter up to a higher ecclesiastical authority.

3. As to the parallel construction “First come, first serve,” you’re right that it’s grammatically faulty. Being an ellipted or streamlined form of “First to come, first to be served,” it should indeed take the form “First come, first served.” The elliptical form of the active-voice infinitive “to come” drops the function word “to” and becomes the bare infinitive “come,” while the elliptical form of the passive-voice infinitive form “to be served” drops both the function word “to” and the auxiliary verb “be” and becomes the past participle “served.”

Let’s pray that everybody says “Amen” to the above grammar prescriptions.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at @J8Carillo.


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  1. Jerry Ocampo on

    Mr. Oliveros:

    Even if what you say is true, that the priest refused to correct his grammar, comparing him to Pontius Pilate is, in my opinion, a judgment overkill. Most importantly, how do you know that the priest did refuse to correct his grammar? You only assumed this, and you hastily came out with your unfortunate simile. I don’t begrudge you your right to be incensed by grammatical errors from people but I don’t think the priest deserve to be treated thus.

  2. Priests commit mistakes too. Not all of them studied English grammar or English literature extensively. Sometimes they are also very busy. That’s the they have secretaries to correct grammatical errors of the Parish Bulletin before publishing. To accuse the priest of being like Pontius Pilate is wrong as most of the priests are open for corrections. Parishioners who are very good in English grammar construction should offer their time to help their priests….

  3. Justaskingseriously on

    Jose Oliveros writes that he called the attention of people concerned. He was told that they “cannot change what our parish priest had written.” It is obvious that it did not matter to him that the one person concerned was the priest himself. And yet he did not call his attention directly. And he was quick to think of the priest like some Pontius Pilate. The columnist is evern quicker to make his column a generalized statement about priests arrogating infallibility. And commenter “r” is no less righteous in generalizing.

    American novelist, William Faulkner, accepted his nobel prize in 1950. He wrote about the American South during the depression of the 1930’s. His novels are full of grammatical errors. In his acceptance speech he zeroed in on what really matters: matters of the heart. Yes, the heart. Not the punctuation or the redundancies. A writer who lacks “heart” can indeed be heartless.

    I wonder how many writers have been honored with a nobel prize for being judgmental? Is “judgmental” even a correct word, you might ask? Correct or not, judgmental is what the two Jose’s and “r” are.

    • Jose A. Oliveros on

      If you are really “asking seriously” why can’t you use your true name and reveal your true identity. I hate people who love to comment but hide behind a pseudonym.

    • Justaskingseriously on

      What is hateful about a person who just wants to focus on the message and not on the messenger? Do you hate the message or the messenger? What do you achieve — or for that matter — what does anybody achieve or gain from hating the messenger?

      Asking seriously is about sharing concerns with everyone regardless of name dropping. Internet freedom is as much about global concerns as personal growth. Never mind personal aggrandizement. There is just too much of that.

      If truth hurts, then so be it. Truth also nurtures towards freeing people from selfishness for those who accept truth for what it is. For those who hide behind their insecurities, it is time to man up. The world is not for perfect people. Those who hide behind their insecurities are those who love to gossip, step on other people, glory in other people’s infirmities and misfortunes. For what? So you can boast of your perfect grammar?

      Saint John the Baptist was one of the prophets sent as messengers. What did John the Baptist say when the the One who sent him finally showed up? John’s disciples were selfishly concerned about people flocking to follow Jesus instead of their master, John. “He must increase and I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Jesus is the Ultimate Message.

      You too can be His messenger if you can let go of your ego.

      Lest anybody misunderstand me, I am for perfect grammar. Anybody trying to follow rules is commendable. Grammar rules, as any other rules or laws in life, are for a more polite and decent society. But no rule in life is meant to denigrate anyone for failing to follow for whatever reason.

  4. Jerry Ocampo on

    To compare a Catholic priest to Pontius Pilate just because his English is not perfect? Aren’t we a bit harsh?

    • Jose A. Oliveros on

      It is not the priest’s faulty grammar I was referring to but the refusal to correct it.

    • Jerry, I think the issue is not the imperfect English grammar of that particular priest; as we all know, nobody’s perfect. It’s that priest’s apparently obstinate refusal to be corrected in his English grammar, or, going by what the parish staff told Mr. Oliveros, his reputation of not allowing lesser mortals to even suggest that his English grammar could be faulty. In that context, I think it’s not unduly harsh for Mr. Oliveros to have called my attention to it and to make that depreciatory comparison with Pontius Pilate.

  5. Hi Professor Carillo:

    Just to reiterate, which is preferred: “both [all] parties are directed to submit their RESPECTIVE MEMORANDUM or RESPECTIVE MEMORANDA. Thank you.

    • It looks like you missed my reply to this question as posted in my column last week, so here it is:

      Jose A. Carillo says:
      June 7, 2015 at 8:48 am

      Hi, tritorns, please just address me as “Joe” or “Mr.” because I don’t have a doctorate.

      Since “respective” means particular or separate items attributed to or possessed by a number of entities, the noun modified by that adjective necessarily should always be plural. So the correct construction of the sentence that you presented is “ALL the parties are ordered to submit their RESPECTIVE MEMORANDA.”

      You may check it out by clicking this link:

  6. I was part of a team creating a newsletter for a US military camp and one section is publishing articles submitted by a Roman Catholic priest. The grammar was so awful that i cannot have it published without having to rewrite every single sentence. I was tempted to publish his contribution unedited but readers are foreigners and Filipinos alike. Yes, priests do commit a lot of English grammar sins!