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Tricky Words

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Updated on Oct 9, 2013

affect vs. effect

Affect is usually used as a verb, meaning to change or influence. (I was deeply affected by his heartfelt speech.) Affect can also mean to put on or pretend (She affected a sophisticated manner for the big presentation.)

Effect is usually used as a noun, meaning a change that has been caused by something. (My efforts to move the boulder had no effect whatsoever.)

As a verb, “to effect” means to make something happen (The new CEO effected enormous change in her first three months on the job.)

As a noun (rare), affect is closely related to “affection,” and means outward show of emotion.

TIP: The safest bet is to use affect as a verb and effect as a noun. One easy way to remember this is to connect EFFect with EFFort, another noun.

between vs. among

Use “between” for two things, and “among” for more than two.

Between the two of us vs. among the three of us

imply vs. infer

“To imply” means to suggest. Are you implying that I ate the last piece of pie?

“To infer” means to interpret or conclude from evidence. I inferred that she wanted to play my guitar because she praised it so highly.

importantly

“Importantly” is an adverb.

  • Wrong: Perhaps most importantly, I need cookies!
  • Right: Perhaps most important, I need cookies!
  • Right: He importantly declared his intention to save the world.

less vs. fewer

Use “fewer” for countable things.

  • Fewer baked potatoes vs. less mashed potatoes
  • Fewer snowflakes vs. less snow
  • Fewer grains of sand vs. less sand

lie vs. lay

“Lie” does not take a direct object — so use “lie” when the thing is resting by itself, or lying itself down.

  • The dog lies on his bed.
  • The napkins lie on the table.
  • The eggs have been lying in the nest for three days.
  • The golf ball has a promising lie.

Use “lay” with a direct object, meaning “to place or deposit (something)”

  • The dog lays his head on the pillow.
  • I laid the napkins on the table.
  • The hen is laying eggs.
  • She laid six of them last week.

principle vs. principal

“Principle” means rule or guideline.

“Principal” means the most important person or thing. As an adjective, it means “most important.”

TIP: The principal of the school is your PAL.

prospective vs. perspective

“Prospective” is an adjective meaning “expecting to become something in the future.”

  • prospective tenants
  • prospective students

“Perspective” is a noun meaning “point of view.”

  • Hang-gliding gave Hannah a whole new perspective on her neighborhood.
  • The course on architecture featured multiple perspectives on working in extreme climates.

rise vs. raise

“Rise” doesn’t take a direct object — so use rise when the thing is going up by itself.

  • The bread rises.
  • He rises with the sun every morning.

Use “raise” with a direct object.

  • He raised his head.
  • The yeast raises the surface of the bread.
  • The gambler raised the stakes.
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