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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Fewer v. Less

If you’ve ever been in a grocery store, you’ve seen the express line, which generally caters to shoppers with “10 items or less.” This may come as a big shock to you (or not), but 99 percent of grocery stores use improper grammar! The express line should cater to shoppers who have “10 items or fewer.”

What’s the difference? Isn’t the meaning the same? Well, to some extent, yes, in that we understand what is meant either way. Few people make a distinction between the two these days. And in a few more decades, it’s likely that the only people who will care will be editors and linguists. However, if you wish to be grammatically correct (and sound smart), you’ll keep in mind this usage rule (from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary): Less applies to non-countable things (matters of degree, value, or amount) and modifies collective nouns, mass nouns, or nouns denoting an abstract whole. Fewer applies to matters of number (quantity, or countable things) and modifies plural nouns.

Examples:

  • Shoppers can use the express lane if they have 10 items or fewer. (In this case, we use fewer because we are referring to a countable number of items.)
  • My sprained ankle hurt less after I iced the area. (In this case, we use less because we are referring to the degree of pain, a non-countable thing.)

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Published in: on July 7, 2009 at 11:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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e.g. v. i.e.

People often use i.e. and e.g. as if they are interchangeable. They are similar enough that the confusion is understandable, but they do not mean the same thing, and are not interchangeable. They do have this in common though: They must both be preceded and followed by commas. (The preceding comma can be replaced by a dash or parenthesis.)

I.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin id est, which translates to that is. The term introduces something specific to which the speaker is alluding in the preceding statement. It should be preceded and followed by a comma, as if you’d actually written that is.

E.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin exempli gratia, which translates to for example. The term introduces a generic example or examples from a group of possible choices to which the preceding statement alludes. Like i.e., e.g. should be preceded and followed by a comma, as you’d use them to set off for example if you’d actually written it out.

Examples:

  • I am going to a book signing by my favorite author, i.e., Anne McCaffrey. (I am going to a book signing by my favorite author, that is, Anne McCaffrey. In this case, I use i.e. because Anne McCaffrey is the specific author to whom I refer when I say “my favorite author”.)
  • I enjoy reading adventure stories, e.g., “Inca Gold”. (I enjoy reading adventure stories, for example, “Inca Gold”. In this case, I use e.g. because “Inca Gold” is an example of an adventure story I would read, rather than the only [specific] adventure story I’d read. I could replace “Inca Gold” with the title of a different adventure book without changing the meaning of the sentence.)

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Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 7:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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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?)