Tag Archives: grammar rules

Effectively Using Affect

Do you know how long it took me to write that title? Too long. Why? Because in spite of my confidence with 95% of English grammar, I am absolutely INCAPABLE of dealing with the difference between Affect and Effect. I’ve looked it up approximately 1000 times and each time I think “yes. right. easy.” and then it comes time to put it into practice and I’m dead in the water. So this post has two purposes…

1) Seeking Help

Anyone got a nice easy, reliable way to tell these two pesky words apart? Grammar Girl has this to say, but somehow that doesn’t seem to stick well in my head in times of trouble!

2) Recording the Differences

Failing the above (in which case I’ll update this post, give you credit and sail off into the proverbial sunset happy), I feel like it might help to at least note the right usage here.

EFFECT (noun)

Usually when you want a noun, it’s Effect. The effects of something, in effect something and even sort of verby phrases like “come into effect” and “take effect”, because the word itself is still a noun.

AFFECT (verb)

Usually when you want a verb, it’s Affect. How will A affect B? A affected B in this way, etc.

So far, it ought to be so good. And Grammar Girl points out that if you just treated the words in this way, you’d be right 90% of the time and therefore can afford to just do that. Which you’d think I’d manage and get over myself. But I cannot bring myself to keep the bathwater of that last 10% in order to save the baby of the 90%, so I stumble through life using whichever feels right and usually getting it wrong. Lesson in life, I suspect. My problem is, there are exceptions and, I’m afraid, I need to know and deal with them too. Here they are:

EFFECT (verb)

Used as in: “The person effected a change”.

Now, reading and studying this I can see that this is subtly of different from affect (verb). Effected is more … active, Affected is more passive. But in the heat of the writing moment, I just find this completely flummoxing. Two verbs? Meaning roughly the same thing? ARGHHH…

AFFECT (noun)

 Affect (noun) is a term in psychology to mean the appearance of emotion eg She took the news with a flat affect. This one’s easier to ignore. Apparently we need it because we can’t know whether there’s an actual effect (noun) because we don’t know what the person is thinking. Or something. Anyway, I’ve looked this up in a couple of places and I think even I don’t feel the need to worry about it. By the way, “He affected a display of emotion” – to mean that someone put on a display that didn’t match their real feelings, which is probably linked to this, is still Affect (verb), just another meaning of it.



Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

Jumping off of a couple points

Two nations, divided by a common language. I’m not sure where Canada fits into that, and I’m not sure if what I’m about to describe is a North American thing, a Canadian one or just a new development in the great life of the language (in which case, shudder). Anyway, it’s wrong according to the grammar rules I was taught, and therefore worthy of a post.

The word “of” is a preposition. If you streamlined language to the extreme, it could probably go. We’ve already found one way to get rid of it in English which the French lack. We say Elmo’s Blog; they say The Blog of Elmo. But mercifully we haven’t got rid of of entirely. We just harbour some people who misuse it.

Couple needs of

It makes me grind my teeth when someone says “a couple [noun]”. Colloquially, “couple of” can be shortened, but the replacement is “coupla”, not “couple”. You can, of course, say “a couple” and stop: I think they are a couple or I’ll have a couple.

But couple + [noun] needs of in the middle. I’ll have a couple of those, for example.

Out needs of

Again, there are plenty of examples when out can be used without of. eg I’m going out.

But out + [noun] needs of in the middle. I’m looking out of the window or He jumped out of the car.


I’m sorry if this is confusing. It doesn’t make any sense to me either, but it’s the rules (Addendum: An eagle-eyed reader has caught me at my own game there. Those (pl) are (pl) the rules (pl). Too right. Or “Them’s the rules if we’re being colloquial). The speed limits in this country don’t make any sense to me either, but if I break them, I expect to get a ticket. Well, consider this post to be the limit signs.

Although you jump out OF a car if you’re inside it, if you are for some crazy reason sitting on the roof, you jump off it. No of.

This one doesn’t suffer from the same exceptions as the two above. In fact, you can probably do a find/replace on your documents to nuke this. The only time I can imagine of legitimately following off without some punctuation in between is if off is being used in a compound noun, for example “The switching off of the lights”. And that’s a pretty weird bit of phrasing anyway!



Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

Should Grammar Rules Rule?

Last week, I happened upon Stephen Fry’s rant about grammar pedants, linked on Kindred Spirit’s blog. It’s subtitled “He doesn’t go the way you’d think”, but in case, like me, you have no preconceptions about which way he’d go, I’ll summarise for you: he thinks people should embrace language and stop getting hung up on other people’s use of it and so-called “correctness”.

But neither Mr Fry nor any of the other anti-pedants are going to stop me trying to spread a bit of “proper” grammar through this blog’s Thursday posts. Because there are times when one needs to know the rules, and even when one ought to follow them.

At 4.44ish, he admits that there’s a place for formal language in the same way that there is a place for formal clothing – in interview scenarios, for example. And you can’t put on a suit if you haven’t got one. Casual language is fine … great even. I use it all the time (“imma” is one of my new favourite words) and I firmly believe that English should be a living language. Shakespeare, whom none could accuse of being less than linguistically excellent, made up words and messed with grammar right, left and centre and, ultimately, all language was newly-minted by someone at some time or another. I’ll tell you what’s conventional, you can choose when and whether to follow the rules, OK?

Also, many of the readers of this blog are writers. Just after 1:50, Stephen Fry mentions a famous line from Oscar Wilde’s covering note to his publishers: “I shall leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches,” he said. Fry suggests that this admission of frailty by such a “lord of language” lets we lesser mortals off the hook with regard to correctness. Great, but I submit that until we reach the heady heights of international acclaim attained by Messrs Fry and Wilde, we had better not expect publishers to give a second glance to a manuscript littered with inaccuracies and errors.


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

For Who The Bell Tolls

There are powerful arguments against using “whom” in modern writing. It’s archaic and it tends to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in most places. But there’s a theory that you have to know how to do things right before you can decide not to. It worked for people like Joyce and Picasso, so it should work for us too.

Whom is the genitive or the ablative or something. I don’t actually know – that’s the sort of thing you learn if you study Latin, and all I can remember is “Caecilius est in horto,” which won’t get us very far. Anyway, we don’t need the proper word for it, just the proper usage.

The Trick (Questions)

Most of the times you could use whom are questions. “To whom did you give the last piece of cake?” for example, or “She was shot by whom?”

The trick to distinguish “who” questions from “whom” questions is to imagine a full answer using he / him*. If the answer uses “he” then the question should have “who”; “him” means you should use “whom”. In the above examples:

“To WHOM did you give the last piece of cake?” = “I gave the last piece of cake to HIM”

“She was shot by WHOM?” = “He was shot by HIM”

By contrast, “WHO shot her?” = “HE shot her.”

Be careful, though. When answering questions, especially when giving a one word answer, we often switch the sentence around. For example, if you were at a police line-up having witnessed a murder and the Detective said “Who shot her?”, you might well point to the perpetrator and say “It was him!” or simply “Him!”. So when using this trick, make the answer a full sentence using the same word order as the question.

Non-Question Uses

Outside questions, you should just be able to do a direct replacement (he for who; him for whom). It will make for a slightly clumsy sentence, but of course you are not going to leave it with he / him, you are just temporarily using the substitution to check your word choice. A bit like we did with Advice and Practice .

“It was Jeremy who shot her” = “It was Jeremy, he shot her”.

“And God, by whom all things were made” = “And God, by him all things were made”.


*Footnote: Those who are bothered by gender issues will note I’ve gone masculine here. Yes, that means you will sometimes be using he/him for a female or non-gendered individual. If you prefer, she/her works for this trick, but I like he/him because the letter m reminds us that him is the substitute for whom.


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

Practise makes Perfect

Another grammatical point to add to my previous rants. Do check out the riders here if you’re planning to shoot me down in flames. On this particular post, North American readers may wish to look away – like all my posts, this one concerns British English. We all know you guys like getting our language wrong!

But in the UK, practice and practise are different words, as are licence and license. And, there are rules about which to use when.

Practice and Licence are nouns.

Practise and License are verbs.

As with all the rules I’ve been addressing in this series, it’s a simple rule and you’d think we could follow it. But we can’t. In the heat of the moment, we struggle; we write “practicing” and “licenced”, both of which can’t possibly be words, and we then we type about our “Driver’s License” and “Doctor’s Practise”, which might be all very well in America, but aren’t right in England.

A rule like that isn’t easy to remember. So here’s a version which is:

People don’t generally struggle with the spelling of Advice and Advise, because they are pronounced differently. You don’t need to change your pronunciation of License or Practise, but you can use this to help you remember the spellings.

Advice,  like Practice and Licence, is a noun.

Advise, like Practise and License, is a verb.

If in doubt, try replacing the word in your sentence with advice / advise and check which one sounds right.

eg “I have been practi?ing the violin” => “I have been advising the violin” (Advicing is obviously wrong).

eg2 “Did you bring your licen?e?” => “Did you bring your advice?” (Advise would sound wrong here).


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing