PSLE English TOTW ~ 'Spoil' & 'Spoilt' Speak Up


'Spoil' and 'Spoilt' are seriously sore. Breaking from the ranks of commonly misused words, the embittered duo got in touch to plead their case.

Says Spoil, "Somewhere along the way, people started abusing us."

"Right," Spoilt, who by rule of grammar always makes a later entrance than Spoil, adds, "people started putting words into our mouth, so to speak."

"We'll see what we can do," we say, nodding empathetically.

Consider the following usages of the words 'spoil' and 'spoilt'.

(a) "You'll spoil the birthday surprise if you leave the dugong in the bathtub!"

(b) "Eating smelly beancurd is one thing, but eating spoilt smelly beancurd is a whole new level of foolhardiness."

(c) "Boss, I can't do any work because my computer is spoilt."

(d) "I know you dote on Stephy, but you'll really spoil her if you get her the unicorn she's been asking for."

(e) Spoiling for a fight, gung-ho Floyd kept jabbing good-natured Manny in the ribs.

The Oxford dictionary defines the verb spoil thus:

  • Diminish or destroy the value or quality of

  • Harm the character of (someone, especially a child) by being too lenient or indulgent

  • Be extremely or aggressively eager for

At first glance, all the example sentences seem to have engaged in legitimate employment of the word spoil.

That's why knowing the technical definitions is not enough when it comes to building vocabulary. When you're looking up the meaning of a word, be sure to also study the sentence examples that are usually provided alongside the definition. Those examples will give you a good idea of the contexts in which the word can be used.

To illustrate this, we turn to the definition of the word faulty: 'not working or made properly'. Going by this alone, it might seem acceptable for a doctor to say: "You'd better wear diapers because your bladder is faulty." From experience, however, we know using faulty to describe human body parts is simply not right.

So, going back to spoil/spoilt, which sentence is an example of incorrect use of the word?

For those who answered (c), give yourselves a pat on the back! That's right, spoil/spoilt is not meant to be used in relation to physical devices/equipment/appliances.

Need a replacement? Try 'damaged', 'faulty', 'malfunctioning', 'defective', etc.

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