Watch Your Word Choice: Five oh-so-avoidable blunders
The written word is no longer restricted to the writer's domain. The effect of a faux pas can have even more far-reaching consequences --embarrassing (at best) and devastating (at worst)-- on your personal reputation and professional standing. Commit these basic rules to memory, and youíre on your way to maintaining a modicum of dignity.
They're vs. There vs. Their
Continual misuse of this rule makes it a requisite for any guide. Easy-as-pie trick: they're is simply a contraction of they are, there (think: here) refers to a place and their (think: heir) indicates possession.
Right: The girls spotted their ticket to a free lunch.
Right: "They're stealing my lunch money," the boy cried.
Wrong: The teacher added there names to the detention list. [Right: The teacher added their names to the detention list posted over there where they're sitting.]
Effect vs. Affect
Almost always, affect is a verb (often meaning "to influence") and effect is a noun (often meaning "result"). Effect is only used as a verb when it means to "bring about." For example: He was able to effect change in the community.
Right: She affected a British accent.
Right: It had a charming effect on the young man.
Wrong: It affectively doomed him. [Right: It effectively doomed him.]
Then vs. Than
People often use these words interchangeably. Yet, then indicates time, while than indicates a comparison.
Right: He went further in the election than his opponent.
Right: Only then did she decide to become his avid supporter.
Wrong: Party unity looks better then discord. [Right: Party unity looks better than discord.]
i.e. vs. e.g.
These abbreviations can be cruel. Based on Latin words, i.e. means "in other words" and e.g. means "for example." So, examples are listed after e.g., while further clarification is provided by i.e.
Right: Don't forget to pick up the groceries (e.g., milk, eggs, etc.). [Reason: Milk and eggs are examples.]
Wrong: He remembered that the upcoming holiday, e.g., Christmas, is also Susan's birthday. [Reason: The upcoming holiday is Christmas, so i.e. should precede that clarifying detail.]
Right: Don't forget to say hello to your cousins, i.e., John and Anna. [Reason: Specific details that clarify a statement should follow i.e.]
Who vs. Whom
Confusion over who and whom is so widespread that whom is practically disappearing from our lexicon. For those who understand its usage, it can be very helpful in interpreting a sentenceís meaning. The difference is easy if you think about it: Who refers to the subject of a sentence. Whom refers to the object.
Right: Who stole the sandwich? [Reason: You (subject) stole the sandwich.]
Right: This is the sandwich thief about whom I told you. [Reason: I told you about the sandwich thief (object).]
Wrong: With who did you conspire? [Reason: You conspired with him (object). Whom refers to object, thus whom is correct.]
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