‘join’ and ‘attend’

Let’s talk about the word ‘join’. We use it a lot in rojak Malay … and the usage translates wrongly when used in proper English. Semua benda nak join, kan? Join webinar petang ni, join concert malam esok, join jungle trekking hujung minggu depan. When you say that in Malay, you mean something like ‘we’re going to go do this thing together with other people’. It doesn’t quite mean that in English, unfortunately. See sense 3 and 4 in the definitions here.

It’s usually used in something like this:

Aku nak pergi breakfast. Kau nak join?

Which translates to:

I want to go for breakfast. Do you want to join me? ✅

That’s fine. In this case you want your friend to go with you for breakfast. So he’s joining you; you’re going for breakfast together. The problem when it’s being used in this sense:

Ada concert malam ni. Kau nak join?

Which isn’t the way it’s used in English and ends up being incorrectly translated into something like:

There’s a concert tonight. Do you want to join the concert? ❌

Uh, no. You’re asking if your friend wants to attend the concert. Or you want your friend to join you in attending the concert. 

Do you want to attend the concert [with me]? ✅
Do you want to join me in attending the concert? ✅

(Both of which sound ridiculously formal. In everyday conversation, it would be more natural to say something like, ‘Do you want to go to the concert with me?’)

You don’t join the concert itself. It doesn’t really sound dire here since it’s just about going to a concert, so it’s no biggie, right? The problem is when it crosses over to actual writing. I’ve found the word join or even joint (which is a totally different thing—that’s not even a verb; it’s a noun) used wrongly in formal and semi-formal writing. I’ve seen email samples asking friends to ‘join a birthday party’ and articles stating that ‘a hundred students joined the writing camp’. You can join a political party. You can join Azmin’s camp if that’s your thing (but let’s not). ‘Party’ and ‘camp’ in those contexts are groups of people, not events.

The short version: you attend events, you join someone for something.

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