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The verb 'to qualify', with its participial adjective qualified and the abstract noun qualification, has many meanings. All come from the basic etymology of 'to do with a quality'. Some are very positive; some are negative; some are neutral. One or two may be worth comment in this guide.

  • In terms of careers, a qualification is most often "A document attesting that a person is qualified" (OED, meaning 6 b.). But 'to be qualified', or 'to qualify', for a particular payment, job or privilege does not always require paper proof. People with white hair are not usually asked for proof of their age when they buy alcoholic drinks in the UK (it is assumed that they qulify), although people who look younger than the legal minimum age (18) may be asked to prove that they are in fact old enough. Most voters are not asked for 'proof of age' when they register to vote, also at 18 years of age.
  • In academic writing, to qualify a statement or argument is to reduce its strength, or absolute quality. "To modify (a statement, opinion, etc.) by any limitation or reservation; to make less strong or positive" (OED, meaning 7). OED gives the example "An avowal, which he qualifies by a subtle after-thought", from the Contemp. Rev. XLIII. 49 of 1883.
  • This leads to a technical term in accountancy, and some similar professions. If an auditor is asked to certify that a set of company accounts gives a true and honest picture, she may qualify the accounts. More technically:, "If the auditor is not convinced that the accounts reflect the true state of the company's affairs, then he will ‘qualify’ the auditor's report accordingly." (T. Lundberg (1985) Starting in Business iv. 54, cited in OED). OED also cites 1924 Kohler & Pettengill (1924) Princ. Auditing (1925) xiv. 161 "Insertions in the certificate indicating a limited scope in the examination are called qualifications.
  • For a technical term in grammar, see Qualify in grammar.