Saturday, July 30, 2011

Affect vs. Effect

Affect and effect are frequently mixed up with one another, like breath and breathe.  Both "affect" and "effect" have multiple meanings - check out Common Errors in English Usage for their definitions along with some excellent contextual examples - but this blog post addresses only the most common usage for both.

"Affect" is a verb, and "effect" is a noun (in most cases). To affect is to "have an effect on."  "Affect" is often written when "effect" is what is meant.

Incorrect: "His parents' divorce had a profound affect on him."
Correct: "His parents' divorce had a profound effect on him."
Correct:  "His parents hadn't realized that their divorce would affect him that much."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Breath vs. Breathe

The word "breath" is often erroneously written when "breathe" is what is meant.  This is another instance where spellchecker won't catch the mistake, as both are legitimate words.  "Breathe" is the verb, the action.  "Breath" is the noun, the result of breathing.  When you breathe in, you take in a breath.  When you breathe out, you let out your breath.  (When you're doing neither, you're holding your breath!)

Both words are pluralized merely by adding an "s" at the end.  ("She breathes through her mouth."  "He was taking very deep breaths.")

When spoken, "breathe" is pronounced with a long "e" sound, as well as a soft "th" as with the word "the."  Keeping both of these points in mind can help in remembering the extra "e" at the end.  "Breath" is pronounced with a short "e" sound and a hard "th" like "think."

Incorrect: "It was so hot out, she could hardly breath."
Correct: "It was so hot out, she could hardly breathe."  "I took a deep breath before going outside."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Accept vs. Except

"Accept" and "Except" sound very similar when spoken but have two entirely different meanings.  The latter is often written in error when the former is meant.

To accept means to receive willingly ("Will you accept money for driving me to the store?") or to respond affirmatively, as with an invitation ("I will accept your offer to drive me to the store.").  Check out this page on for a complete list of definitions.

Except means excluding ("Everyone except me is going to the store.").  Several more definitions can be found here on

Incorrect: "He will not except money for driving me to the store."
Correct: "He will not accept money for driving me to the store."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Is it Aloud or Allowed?

The word allow means permit, and its past tense is "allowed," not "aloud."  The word aloud means "out loud."

Incorrect: "He is not aloud to go to the store by himself."
Correct: "He is not allowed to go to the store by himself."
Correct: "I said that aloud without meaning to."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Truly Awful: "E" is for Error

To "e" or not to "e"?  No question here.

Two words I often see misspelled are "truly" and "awful."  There is no "e" in either of these words.

True, the root word of "truly" is true, but the "e" is dropped when the -ly is added.

Incorrect: This blog post is truely aweful.
Correct: This blog post is truly awful.

Oh, well, my posts can't all be Shakespearean or poetic!  My goal is to help folks become better writers by avoiding common spelling/grammatical errors, not to have an award-winning blog.  Sometimes the simplest way is the best way.