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Affect vs. Effect and Other Confusing Grammar Bits

Do you ever find yourself looking up the difference between “affect,” and “effect” every time you need to use one of them? Yeah, me too. So, I’ve compiled a list of handy-dandy grammar tips to help you out! You can thank me later.

Affect or Effect

Are you using it as a verb (affect) or a noun (effect)? As a quick recap: a verb is an action and a noun is a person/place/thing/state/quality.

For example: If I throw a pie in your face, you are affected by my actions. Your pie-face is the effect of my pie throwing. Because I performed the action of throwing pie, I use the verb affect. The result of my action is the effect—the state of your pie covered face.

Affect and effect are different parts of speech, but they sound almost identical. Sound-alike pairs like affect vs. effect are known homophones. Bear/bare, here/hear, write/right, and sight/site are other examples. Check out this Grammarly post for more insight on affect versus effect.

Who or That?

Maybe I’m just a grammar snob, but it bothers me when someone says, “She’s the woman that works at the coffee shop,” instead of “She’s the woman who works at the coffee shop.”

According to Grammar Girl either option is technically correct, but "Using that when you are talking about a person makes them seem less than human. I always think of my friend who would only refer to his new stepmother as the woman that married my father. He was clearly trying to indicate his animosity and you wouldn't want to do that accidentally.” No, no you would not. So, use “who” when referring to people.


The following phrases are redundant, ie. unnecessary. Stop using them, and you'll seem like the brightest bulb the proverbial box of 60 watt, soft white, LED light bulbs.

Advance notice: Notice is always given in advance. Just use “notice.” For example: “I gave my boss my two-weeks’ notice.” NOT, “I gave my boss two-weeks advance notice.” See the difference?

At the present time: Say “at present” or “at this time.”

Close proximity: This one really makes me cringe. Proximity literally means, “close by” so it doesn’t need to be qualified with “close.”

Collaborate together: I see this one at work a lot, especially when a new partnership is being announced or a company is merging. Collaborate means working with others, which implies togetherness. Just use “collaborate."

Completely unanimous: If there is one thing unanimous means, it’s complete agreement. So just, don’t.

End result: Again, I hear this one in the workplace far too often. The result of an action occurs at the end of the action. Result=end. Don’t say both.

Extra bonus: A bonus is extra. You’re not expecting it, so you don’t need to use that extra word. A bonus is exciting enough all on its own.

Major breakthrough: Another workplace no-no. Breakthroughs are major, that’s why they don’t happen often, and why they’re so monuments, i.e. major.

New beginning: Beginnings are always new, young grasshopper. Just say, “beginning.”

Past history: You don’t need a degree to know that all history occurs in the past.

Positive improvement: Are any improvements negative? Checking for a friend.

Repeat again: If a song is on repeat, you hear it again and again. Thus, there is no need to say, “again.”

Serious crisis: I actually heard this on a medical television show. I’m just going to guess that if I were bleeding out, I’d be in a crisis, not a “serious” crisis. Touché?

Totally unique: This one is a bit tough, because people have come to say “totally” to emphasize something. You don’t need to, you really don’t. You are a "unique flower," not a “totally unique” flower.

Unexpected surprise: That surprise birthday party was unexpected, wasn’t it? Because it was a surprise. Funny how that works. You don’t expect someone to mug you, so that too is simply a “surprise,” albeit not a very good one.

Unintended mistake: Mistakes are by nature unintentional. If whatever you did was intentional, it was just a bad decision, not a mistake.

On Accident vs. By Accident

I had a college linguistics professor who lived to correct our use of “on accident," asserting that “by accident" is technically correct. However, this article explains that both version are correct, though you may hear “by accident" more often from those over 40 because language is necessarily ambiguous and changes over time.

Incomplete comparisons

Incomplete comparisons happen all the time, usually when a writer is trying to assert that something is better than something else. For example, "Our car model is better, faster, stronger." Faster/stronger/better than what?!? Using incomplete comparisons is lazy and easy. Identifying and articulating which car model is slower/weaker takes time, research, and work, but provides important clarity for the reader.

Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier happens when a descriptive phrase doesn't apply to the noun (person/place/thing) that immediately follows it. For example, "Hungry, the leftover pizza was devoured." In this sentence, the single-word adjective "hungry" is the dangling modifier. But the sentence does not answer the question of who was hungry-it seems that the pizza itself might be hungry. All this sentence needs is a subject, such as "Hungry, we devoured the leftover pizza." Dangling modifiers result in unclear, clunky sentences.

Passive Voice

Passive voice is a bit hard to explain, but here goes. When the object of a sentence is placed at the beginning of a sentence instead of at the end, passive voice occurs. For example, "Action on the bill is being considered by the committee." Using too much active voice weighs down your writing and can cloud the meaning of sentences. The more concise, active voice version of the example would be, "The committee is considering action on the bill." Check out this post from Grammar Girl for a full run-down on active versus passive voice.

Referring to a Brand/Entity as "They"

One of my business writing teachers once told me that "a business is not plural, so stop using 'they' to describe it." He made a good point. A business is not a person, therefore, a business is an "it." The discrepancy may be small but important. " For example, "To keep up with their changing customer base, Taco Bell began offering vegan options." This sounds fine, but a more accurate sentence would be, "To keep up with its changing customer base, Taco Bell began offering vegan options."

That’s all for today! Let me know what grammar hookups you face.


Sarah Rose

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