Thursday, 21 June 2007

Affect vs Effect

To this day I have to pause and mentally sort this one out in order to get it right. As with any of the other common mistakes people make when writing, it’s taking that moment to get it right that makes the difference.

“Affect” is a verb, as in “Your ability to communicate clearly will affect your income immensely.” “Effect” is a noun, as in “The effect of a parent’s low income on a child’s future is well documented.” By thinking in terms of “the effect,” you can usually sort out which is which, because you can’t stick a “the” in front of a verb. While some people do use “effect” as a verb (“a strategy to effect a settlement”), they are usually lawyers, and you should therefore ignore them if you want to write like a human.

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I vs Me

One of my (and my Evil Twin Katherine's) pet peeves.
Xena and me are going to Athens. --> INCORRECT

This horse belongs to Xena and I. --> INCORRECT

"I" is a pronoun that must be the subject, never the object, of a verb. "Me" is a pronoun that must be the object, never the subject. (The same is true for he/him, she/her, we/us, etc.)

As a simple test, try removing Xena from the sentence. You wouldn't say "Me is going to Athens." You'd say "I am going," so say "Xena and I are going." You wouldn't say "This horse belongs to I," you'd say "This horse belongs to me," so say "This horse belongs to Xena and me."

Contrary to the belief of Katherine's friend John, "Xena and I" is not always correct.

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Practice vs Practise

In the United Kingdom, “practice” is the noun, “practise” the verb; but in the U.S. the spelling “practice” is commonly used for both, though the distinction is sometimes observed. “Practise” as a noun is, however, always wrong in both places: a doctor always has a “practice,” never a “practise.”

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We may compare with the following explanation :

Practice is a noun
For example: We need to put these ideas into practice.

Practise is a verb
For example: To learn English well you have to practise.

Both of them is correct. We have to know when we use practice and practise

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Maybe vs May be

“Maybe” is an adverb meaning “perhaps,” so if you are uncertain whether to use this word or the phrase “may be,” try substituting “perhaps”: “Maybe she forgot I said I’d meet her at six o’clock” becomes “Perhaps she forgot. . . .” When the substitution makes sense, go with one word: “maybe.” When you are wondering whether you may be waiting in the wrong cafe, you’re dealing with a verb and its auxiliary: “may be.” Two words.

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Help the problem vs Help solve the problem


People say they want to help the problem of poverty when what they really mean is that they want to help solve the problem of poverty. Poverty flourishes without any extra help, thank you. I guess I know what a “suicide help line” is, but I’d rather it were a “suicide prevention help line.” I suppose it’s too late to ask people to rename alcoholism support groups as sobriety support groups, but it’s a shoddy use of language.

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For Sale vs On Sale

If you’re selling something, it’s for sale; but if you lower the price, it goes on sale.

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Xmas vs Christmas

“Xmas” is not originally an attempt to exclude Christ from Christmas, but uses an abbreviation of the Greek spelling of the word “Christ” with the “X” representing the Greek letter chi. However, so few people know this that it is probably better not to use this popular abbreviation in religious contexts.

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