Affect vs. Effect and Other Words You Should Never Confuse

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A few months ago, we posted about some common grammar mistakes that will drive your readers crazy. The thing about grammar is that, while some rules are becoming more relaxed because of texting and email, people who know grammar rules will still judge you if you make mistakes. At least I will. My opinion might not matter to you, but your boss’ probably does. Plus, those of us in PR are often trading words with journalists, and you better believe they are judging you for every mistake you make.

In the interest of helping you look every bit as intelligent as you undoubtedly are, here are a few more lessons for working with words.

Affect vs. effect

Seriously people, it’s 2018 and you are still confusing these words. We see it all the time, which is maddening because it is not that hard. Affect has three meanings, but the vast majority of the time, it’s a transitive verb used to talk about how one thing will change or influence something else. For example, “the rain will affect the football game.”

Meanwhile, effect is the result. The vast majority of the time it is a noun. Think about the phrase cause and effect. There is a cause and a result, the effect.

Occasionally you’ll see effect used as a noun when talking about someone’s belongings, or personal effects. Once in a while, you’ll see effect used as a verb for bringing about change, but those are rare and quite specific cases.

When you’re confused about these two words, just remember that usually affect is a verb that means to change, and effect is a noun meaning the result of the change. Affect causes effect.

Comprise vs. compose

This is another tricky one simply because of how often these words are confused with each other and used as synonyms, which they are not. Consist means to consist or be composed of. Compose means to make up the parts of. Parts make up, or compose, the whole, and the whole comprises the parts.

Clear as mud? You can think of it this way: The players compose the team. The team is composed of the players. The team comprises the players.

Since vs. because

Here’s another example of a rule that has become more or less obsolete because of common usage. Traditionally, and according to my high school grammar teacher, there was a difference between since and because. Because indicated the cause or reason for something. Since meant from a certain time in the past until the present or after a certain past time.

Today, they have become interchangeable. Since can be a reference to time as well as a conjunction, and because of this dual meaning, you have to be careful so you don’t confuse your reader. Avoid any ambiguity about whether you are using since to refer to time or reasoning. When in doubt, use because to avoid any confusion.

Mute vs. moot

Let there be no confusion here. These are two different words with two clearly different meanings. They are less homonyms than affect and effect. They do not have opposite, confusing meanings like compose and comprise. They are two different words. Mute means silent. There’s a button for it on your TV remote. Moot is an adjective that means something is of no importance. A moot point is of no importance. A mute point is not a thing.

I hope that clears up any confusion.

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