Affect v. Effect

This one comes up a lot in nearly everything I edit. Quick tip:  you’ll almost always use affect as a verb and effect as a noun.

Affect means “to produce or have an effect upon; to produce a material influence upon or alteration in; to act upon so as to effect (cause or produce) a response.” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.)

Effect has many subtle definitions, but most often it is used to mean “an outward sign; something that inevitably follows an antecedent (as a cause or agent); an influence.”

Exceptions to the verb/noun rules. Affect, as a psychological term meaning mood or emotion, is a noun. Effect is rarely used as a verb, as the style is rather old fashioned and more formal than typically used these days, but if you use it properly, you’ll sound smart. When used as a verb, effect means “to bring about” or “make happen.” In its most common usage as a verb, affect means “having an effect or influence,” while the verb form of effect “refers to actual achievement of a final result.” (Webster’s)

Examples:

  • The new tax laws will adversely affect the rich, but will have little effect on the middle class. (Affect as a verb, with effect as a noun)
  • The weather will affect our choice of activity for the weekend. (Affect as a verb)
  • The weather will have an effect on our choice of activity for the weekend. (Effect as a noun)
  • The government effected change the moment it passed health care reform; insurance companies have to cover children regardless of pre-existing conditions. (Effect as a verb)
  • Insurance companies, doctors, and patients are all affected by the changes in health care laws. (Affect as a verb)
  • The patient’s affect was cheery, but the doctor knew it was a facade. (Affect as a noun)

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lay v. lie

Lay and lie are often incorrectly used because their meanings are so similar that people have a hard time remembering which means what. To make matters even more confusing, the past tense of lie is lay (but the past tense of lay is not lie or lied). There has been so much confusion regarding this pair of words that the dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.) has devoted an entire paragraph to the usage of lay and lie. (Note that the word lie in this case means “to recline” rather than “to tell a mistruth.”) The verb lay is used when there is a grammatical object upon which it acts, while lie is the action of the subject.

The various meanings of lay (laid, laying) fill five inches of column space in the dictionary. The most commonly used meanings, those we are addressing here, are “to put or set down,” and “to place for rest or sleep.”

Lie (lay, lain, lying) means “to recline” or “to be or to stay at rest in a horizontal position.”

Examples:

  • When you get tired, lay down that shovel and lie down in the hammock for a break. (The shovel is the object of your action [you lay down the object, in this case, the shovel].  You are the subject, and you take the action verb lie.)

Lay:

  • Lay those books on the desk in the living room. (The books are an object. “You” are the implied subject in this imperative sentence.)
  • She laid the baby in the bassinet. (The baby is the object.)
  • I was laying carpet in the hall when I realized I disliked the color I’d chosen. (The carpet is the object.)
  • Now I lay me down to sleep. (In this children’s prayer, the subject I is placing his body [me–the object] down to sleep, so lay is appropriate.)

Lie:

  • We expect the children to lie quietly during nap time, even if they don’t sleep. (Why lie instead of lay here? Because “We” are not acting upon the children, they are a second subject rather than an object of our action.)
  • The books lie on the desk in the living room. (The books are the subject in this sentence. They are taking the action of lying on the desk.)
  • The seeing-eye dog lay at the foot of her owner’s bed while he was sleeping. (Lay is the past tense of lie. Confusing, right? The dog is the subject of this past-tense sentence.)
  • Susie has lain in the hammock every afternoon this summer. (Susie is the subject, there is no object on which she is acting.)
  • I was lying in the grass when the phone rang. (I is the subject, there is no object.)
Published in: on May 24, 2009 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Its v. It’s

The rules for Its v. It’s are much like those for Your v. You’re. As I explained last week, an apostrophe does not always indicate a possessive; sometimes it indicates a contraction. And sometimes a possessive word (in particular, possessive pronouns and possessive determiners) does not have an apostrophe at all. This is true in the case of Its v. It’s.

Much like his or hers, its is a possessive pronoun that ends in the letter s but does not have an apostrophe. A possessive pronoun is used to modify a noun by showing ownership of the item named by the noun.

It’s is a contraction. A contraction is a combination or shortening of words. It’s is the contraction of the words it and is. A less-common contraction of it and is is ’tis.

Examples:

  • That painting is lovely; its frame complements it very well! (That lovely painting’s frame complements it very well!)
  • It’s so cold outside! We’d better wear gloves. (It is so cold outside! We had better wear gloves.)

Next week’s post: Their v. They’re v. There

Your v. You’re

An apostrophe does not always indicate a possessive; sometimes it indicates a contraction. And sometimes a possessive word (in particular, possessive pronouns and possessive determiners) does not have an apostrophe at all. This is true in the case of Your v. You’re

Your is a possessive (determiner) pronoun. A possessive pronoun is used to modify a noun by showing ownership of the item named with the noun.

You’re is a contraction. A contraction is a combination or shortening of words. You’re is the contraction of the words you and are

Examples:

  • Is that your new car? (Does that car belong to you?)
  • What do you think you’re doing? (What do you think you are doing?)