Grammar Tips: Affect vs. Effect

25 Jan

As we learned last year, when we discussed Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs, there are an estimated 1,025,109 words in the English language and this can result in some confusion when choosing the correct word to use. Homophones are words that sound alike but that are spelled differently and have different meanings. Today, we will discuss two common homophones: affect and effect. Although these words may sound alike and seem like they are interchangeable, it is important to understand how each is used in order to make sure we use them correctly.

As we can see from the video, the homophones affect and effect can be used in a variety of different ways. This is likely why it can be confusing to choose which word to use! There are a few different tricks that we can use to ensure we choose correctly. Let’s break it down.

The Most Common Uses 

While affect and effect can both be used in a variety of ways, they do have common uses. This means that, although both words have more than one use, they will be used in one way most of the time. Remembering this can help us when deciding which word to use.

Affect is most commonly used as a verb. This means that it is usually an action. The standard definition of affect is “to influence or make a difference to.” For example: The winter storm produced ten inches of snow, affecting road conditions throughout the city. 

Effect is most commonly used as a noun. This means that it is usually functioning as a thing, as nouns are typically people, places, or things. The standard definition of effect is “a result or an influence.” For example: The effects of the snowstorm lasted for several days. 

Uncommon Uses 

Affect and effect both have uncommon uses, and this is where it can get confusing. While affect is most commonly used as a verb and effect is most commonly used as a noun, affect can also be used as a noun and effect can be used as a verb.

Affect is very rarely used as a noun, and the use of affect as a noun is almost entirely reserved for psychological jargon. In this case, affect is defined as “an emotional state as contrasted to a cognition.” For example: Being stuck inside for two days left Susannah with a depressed affect

Effect is also rarely used as a verb, and the use of effect as a verb is most commonly found in formal contexts, such as written reports. When used as a verb, effect is defined as “to bring something about as a result.” For example: The city’s lack of snow plows effected a meeting at the town hall. 

Things To Remember 

While both affect and effect can be used as nouns and verbs, affect is most commonly used as a verb and effect is most commonly used as a noun. As the video points out, when using affect as a verb, we can think of using the words “act on” instead. At the same time, when using effect as a noun, we can think of it as “a result.” This is an easy way to remember the common use of each word as well as a short definition.

Are you ready to test your knowledge of affect and effect? Take this quiz and find out! Do you have grammar questions? Do you need help with a written task or assignment? Send us an email or schedule an appointment in the Writing Center for assistance! We’re always happy to help!

© Alyssa Ryan 


Grammar Tips: Unpack Your Adjectives

12 Jan

In writing, it is often important to be as clear and concise as possible, so that we can effectively communicate our point. Well, then how do we make sure that we are accurately describing, detailing, or relaying information to our readers? One way to do this is by mastering the use of adjectives. Adjectives are words that that describe or modify another person or thing in a sentence.

Adjectives describe nouns by answering one of three questions: What kind is it? How many are there? Which one is it? An adjective can consist of a single word, a phrase, or a clause. The articles – a, an, and the – are also adjectives. Clearly, there are many adjectives and ways to use them. It is important to understand how to use these adjectives in conjunction with our nouns and verbs to build clear, concise sentences. Let’s unpack some adjectives and see what they do:

Got home from camping last spring. Saw people places and things. We had barely arrived, friends asked us to describe the people, places, and every last thing. So we unpacked our adjectives. 

I unpacked “frustrating” first. Reached in and found the word “worst”. Then I picked “soggy”, and next I picked “foggy”, and then I was ready to tell them my tale because I unpacked my adjectives. 

From the beginning of the song, we can tell that our narrator went on a camping trip. If we understand that nouns and verbs establish who is doing what in this example, then we can easily use our three questions to identify our adjectives. It is also important to understand that adjectives nearly always appear immediately before the noun or noun phrase that they modify. Let’s take a look at describing the camping trip:

What kind is it?

What kind of camping trip was it? It was frustrating. What was frustrating? The camping trip. In this case, the narrator is using the word frustrating to describe how they felt about their camping experience. The camping trip was also soggy and foggy, and the narrator says it was the worst. All of these words are adjectives, and the narrator is using them to describe the camping trip. By using these words, the narrator can communicate their feelings and experience with their audience. The audience has the details necessary to effectively picture the narrator’s experience. Let’s keep going:

Adjectives are often used to help us compare things, to say how thin, how fat, how short, how tall. Girls who are tall can get taller, boys who are small can get smaller, ’til one is the tallest and the other’s the smallest of all.

We hiked along without care, then we ran into a bear. He was a hairy bear. He was a scary bear. We beat a hasty retreat from his lair and described him with adjectives. 

On their camping trip, the narrator ran into a bear. What kind of bear was it? It was a hairy bear and it was a scary bear. In this case, the narrator is using adjectives to clearly describe their subject, the hairyscary bear. They are also using adjectives to answer another question:

Which one is it? 

Which bear did the narrator run away from? The hairyscary bear with a lair. In this case, our adjectives are being used to identify the exact bear from the story (as opposed to hairless, happy bears without lairs). This use of adjectives can also help us describe subjects as a means of comparing them. As the song even says, adjectives can help us communicate “how thin, how fat, how short, [and] how tall”, and this allows us to compare and contrast subjects. For example:

Mary is tall. Sarah is taller than Mary. Angela is the tallest girl in the class. 

Who is taller, Mary or Sarah? We know from our adjectives that Sarah is taller than Mary. Which girl is the tallest? Again, we can see from our adjectives that Angela is the tallest girl in the class. In this case, we are using adjectives to express degrees of modification as a means of comparing the girls with one another. The degrees of comparison are categorized as comparative and superlativeComparative adjectives are used for comparing two things, while superlative adjectives are used for comparing three or more things. The initial adjective, in this case, is known as a positive adjective. Let’s break it down:

  • Positive: Tall
  • Comparative: Taller
  • Superlative: Tallest

Most adjectives can be transformed into comparative adjectives by adding -er to the end of the word. Similarly, most adjectives can be transformed into superlative adjectives by adding -est to the end of the word. It is important to avoid making comparatives or superlatives out of adjectives that already express an extreme of comparison (for example: unique). And like many things in the English language, there are also irregular comparatives and superlatives. For example:

  • Positive: Good
  • Comparative: Better
  • Superlative: Best

These adjectives function in the same way as our tall, taller, tallest example, as they are used as degrees of comparison. They are irregular because the form of the word is different from the standard format; we wouldn’t say “gooder” or “goodest”. It is also important to make sure that you do not use the word “more” with a comparative (-er) adjective, or the word “most” with a superlative (-est) adjective. It is improper to say that someone is “more taller” or the “most best”.

Now, we have one question left: How many are there? 

Numerical quantities can also function as adjectives. In this case, the numbers describe how many of a thing we are dealing with, and this can provide additional detail and insight for our audience. Let’s look at an example:

The mountainous pillow fort, which included seven pillows from the couch and two from Jamie’s bed, was the best fort Jamie ever built. 

Let’s start with our question: How many pillows are there? We can see from the sentence that there are seven pillows from the couch and two pillows from Jamie’s bed, which gives us a total of nine pillows. What other details can we find in this sentence? Well, what kind of a pillow fort was it? It was a mountainous pillow fort. And which pillow was it? It was the best pillow fort Jamie ever built.

Now that you have a basic understanding of adjectives, are you ready to test your knowledge? Try your hand at this quiz and see how many adjectives you can identify. As always, if you have any questions about adjectives, grammar, or any other writing element, please feel free to send us an email or schedule an appointment in the Writing Center! We’re always happy to help!

© Alyssa Ryan 

Grammar Tips: Conjunction Junction

5 Jan

A conjunction is a word used to connect clauses or sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause. Conjunctions are an important part of sentence construction because they help us connect ideas, but they can also help us avoid things like run-on sentences. Let’s learn a little bit more about conjunctions!

There are three different kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, subordinate conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions. They all have different meanings and uses.

Coordinating conjunctions are the most common form of conjunctions and they are used to join things together. The conjunctions described in the Schoolhouse Rock video are coordinating conjunctions. Some examples include:

  • And: Adds one thing to another
    • Ex. Angela went to the movies and the mall.
  • Or: Presents an alternative or a choice
    • Ex. Do you want milk or water?
  • But: Shows contrast
    • Ex. I want to see the movie, but I don’t have time. 
  • So: Indicates effect, result, or consequence
    • Ex. Ben needs to study, so he’s going to the library. 
  • Yet: Introduces a contrasting idea that follows a preceding idea
    • Ex. Sarah always hurries, yet she is always late.

Subordinate conjunctions are often the most difficult to recognize because they always introduce a dependent clause. The clauses can go in any order, but in either order, the first word of the dependent (or subordinate) clause is the subordinating conjunction. Here are some examples from popular culture:

  • After: “You’ll only want me after you’ve gone.” 
  • Although: Although I’ve been here before, he’s just too hard to ignore.”
  • As long as: “I don’t care who you are as long as you love me.”
  • Because: “I’m everything I am because you loved me.”
  • If: If you leave me now, you’ll take away the biggest part of me.”
  • Once: Once you pop, you just can’t stop.”
  • Since: “I’ll never be the same since I fell for you.”
  • Unless: “We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.”
  • When: When I see you smile, I can face the world.”

Correlative conjunctions function as “tag-team” conjunctions. Correlative conjunctions come in pairs and you have to use both of them in different places in a sentence in order to make them work. They are named because they work together (co-) and relate one sentence element to another. Some examples include:

  • As/As: Golf isn’t as interesting as football.
  • As many/As: There are as many chairs as there are students.
  • Both/And: Sam ordered both the couch and the matching pillows.
  • Either/Or: We’ll either go to the movies or the bookstore.
  • Neither/Nor: Tina wants neither the spaghetti nor the chicken.
  • No sooner/Than: I’d no sooner sing than dance. 
  • Rather/Than: Chris would rather lift weights than do yoga. 

Are you ready to test your skills with conjunctions? Click here for a basic quiz. If you have any questions or would like additional assistance with conjunctions, grammar, or any other writing task, please schedule an appointment in the Writing Center!

© Alyssa Ryan

Writing Tips: Winter Review!

9 Dec

Winter Break is upon us! Although the end of the semester means turning in final papers and projects, completing final exams, and leaving the college for a few weeks of rest, the break can also be a great time to practice our skills and work on problem areas. In this day and age, writers commonly struggle with various “Word Crimes” involving grammar, the basics of writing, and the elements of style, and Winter Break is a great time for a writing review!

Let’s review some of the common “Word Crimes”! Click on the link to review these topics more in-depth, with examples and exercises.

Think you have mastered the basics? Test your grammar skills now! If you are still struggling with your writing and communication, please visit the Writing Center! Schedule an appointment today!

© Alyssa Ryan

Overcoming Writer’s Block and Writing Procrastination

11 Nov

Writer’s Block and Procrastination often go hand in hand. While Writer’s Block is commonly thought of as an emotional or psychological barrier that prevents you from completing a written task, it is often caused by some of the same elements that accompany procrastination. In fact, the terms Writer’s Block and Writing Procrastination typically refer to the same thing! Check out this Taylor Swift parody on Procrastinating to see if you can relate!

So what causes Writing Procrastination? Well, if you view writing as frustrating, time-consuming, or otherwise challenging, you may easily develop writing procrastination. In these situations, you use writing procrastination to side-step or postpone writing that you know you must complete. This can also happen if you feel intimidated by an assignment, unsure of where to begin, or insecure in your writing.

Are you a Procrastinator?

As Dr. Boice, Professor of Psychology at SUNY Stony Brook notes, procrastinators tend to work constantly, but they may delay high priority tasks (like major writing assignments) in favor of completing low priority tasks. This often means that procrastinators must binge-work to accomplish high priority tasks by their deadlines. As noted in Dr. Boice’s study, there are a few characteristics that you can look for to determine if you are a procrastinator:

  • I feel busy and rushed in life (or in school/when completing an assignment).
  • I am more concerned with the final product than the process of completing the work.
  • Even though I am concerned with the final product, I can’t seem to get to work on the most essential activities needed to complete the assignment. (For writing assignments, this could include researching your topic or constructing an outline!)
  • I am concerned with and sometimes anxious about what others will think of my work.
  • I believe I need to write when I am inspired and study when I am in the mood.
  • I do not plan correctly for when and how I will complete an assignment.
  • I do not manage my time well; I may have a whole week to complete an assignment, but the time gets away from me.
  • I feel annoyed by the pressure to be orderly and on time.
  • I tend to work in binges, putting in two or more hours per work session, as opposed to working regularly.
  • I don’t seek information or feedback from peers or instructors very often.

So you’re a procrastinator. What now? 

Do you suffer from writing procrastination? It’s okay – all hope is not lost. Understanding that you are a writing procrastinator and that you are more prone to encountering Writer’s Block is the first step in identifying strategies that can help you address the issue and complete your assignments in a timely manner!

  1. Slow down! Think about what you need to do and construct a plan for completing it. It is often beneficial to use a planner or scheduler to track your commitments and to plan time for writing papers. This will also allow you to plan time to revise your assignment or visit the Writing Center or your instructor for assistance!
  2. If you can, try to work in brief, daily sessions. If you have a longer assignment, try to plan out 30-60 minutes each day for brainstorming, drafting, and revising the assignment. This can make a mundane or intimidating task a bit easier to manage!
  3. Begin before you feel ready. Using Brainstorming Techniques can help you to get started. Unsure of where to begin? Try constructing your Thesis Statement. (Thesis statements should offer a clear picture of where you are going in the assignment, but they can be problematic!)
  4. Take a break! Whether the work is finished or not, taking a little bit of time away from it can actually help you generate the push that you need to complete the assignment.
  5. Manage your emotions and moderate your criticism. Unconfident writers will often critique their work as they go; this can create writing procrastination and result in serious Writer’s Block. Instead, understand that your writing is a work in progress. Give yourself time to generate and articulate your ideas before you begin revising them!

Still can’t write it? Schedule an appointment in the Writing Center! For more information on scheduling an appointment, check out our Writing Center FAQ. And as always, don’t procrastinate! Writing Center appointments fill up quickly, so schedule yours today!

© Alyssa Ryan 

Grammar Tips: Capitalization

8 Oct

Capitalization is the writing of a word with its first letter in uppercase and the rest of the letters in lowercase. While experienced writers are stingy with capitals, and it is best not to use them if there is any doubt, recent trends in advertising and social media have caused some issues with recognizing when to use capital letters.

As the video notes, there are a few different situations that require capitalization. While there are a few basic rules to follow, there can also be special situations that will require capitalization.

Capitalize the first word of a document and the first word after a period.

  • Ex. The first word in a sentence will be capitalized.

Always capitalize I! 

  • Ex. I am going to the movies with Joe.
  • Ex. The show I wanted to see started at 7.

Capitalize proper nouns (and adjectives derived from proper nouns).

  • Ex. the Berlin Wall
  • Ex. a Shakespearean play

Capitalize titles when they are used before names. Do not capitalize titles if they are used in place of names. 

  • Ex. President of the University John Smith
  • Ex. The president will speak at noon

Capitalize a formal title when directly addressing the person. 

  • Ex. Can I ask a question, Doctor?

Capitalize relatives’ family names when they are used before a personal name or in place of a personal name. 

  • Ex. I took Mom to the mall yesterday.
  • Ex. Did you get Aunt Jenny a birthday present?

Capitalize specific geological regions. 

  • Ex. Uncle Joe lives in the South.
  • Ex. Shane is from the Southside of Chicago.

Capitalize days of the week and months of the year. 

  • Ex. The next test is on Wednesday.
  • Ex. My birthday is in September.

While there are other situations, sticking to these rules should help! Ready to test your capitalization knowledge? Try your hand at this quiz! If you are having difficulty with capitalization or any other writing task, please schedule an appointment in the Writing Center!

© Alyssa Ryan 

National Punctuation Day

24 Sep

As it’s defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, punctuation is “the practice, action, or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts, in order to aid interpretation; division of text into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks.” We can find punctuation in nearly any text we come across, and it is often vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. In order to do this, though, it is important to be familiar with basic punctuation marks and their uses.

As LL Cool J identifies in his Punctuation Rap, there are four basic punctuation marks that most of us are familiar with: periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and commas. These are the four most commonly used punctuation marks.

  • A period (.) is used at the end of a sentence, after a mild command, after initials, and after most abbreviations.
  • A question mark (?) is used after a direct question, or when a sentence is half statement, half question.
  • An exclamation mark (!) is typically used to express strong emotion. It may be used to close questions that are meant to convey extreme emotion, and it can also be used to accompany mimetic sounds.
  • Commas (,) are complicated! A comma is used to indicate a division in a sentence, as in setting off a word, phrase, or clause, to separate items in a list, to mark off thousands in numerals, and to separate types or levels of information. There are at least 15 different ways to use commas; please click the link for a more in-depth review of these uses.

While periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and commas are the most commonly used punctuation marks, there are many other punctuation marks that come into play. These include:

  • An apostrophe (‘) is used to indicate the omission of one or more letters in a word; to indicate the possessive; or to indicate plurals of abbreviations and symbols. Do not use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or noun plurals. Click the link learn more about apostrophes and avoiding the apostrophe catastrophe!
  • Brackets ( [ ] ) are used to include explanatory words or phrases within quoted language; when quoting material to highlight the changing of a word or words; and to include parenthetical material inside existing parenthesis.
  • A colon (:) is used to mark a major division in a sentence to indicate that what follows is an elaboration, summation, or interpretation of what precedes. A colon is also used to separate groups of numbers, hours from minutes, and in constructing ratios.
  • An ellipsis (…) is used to mark an omission from a sentence.
  • Parenthesis ( ) are used to mark off an interjected explanatory or qualifying remark.
  • Quotation Marks (“) are used to indicate the beginning and end of a quotation. Please click the link to learn more about Direct Quotations and Stand-alone Quotations. Remember to include a quotation mark at the beginning of the quotation (this is an opening quotation mark) and at the end of the quotation (this is the closing quotation mark).
  • A semicolon (;) is the punctuation mark used to indicate a major division in a sentence where a more distinct separation is felt between clauses or items on a list than is indicated by a comma.

As we can see, there are many different punctuation marks, and they have many different uses. As LL Cool J reminds us, it is important to understand these uses to avoid confusion and to make sure that we are communicating appropriately. Click here to test your knowledge of punctuation marks. As always, visit our online scheduler to schedule an appointment in the Writing Center!

© Alyssa Ryan