Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Affect/Effect Disorder

I was just reading a delightful post by Call Me Cate about people with whom she works who use... let's just call it "creative grammar."

I began to write a comment, then immediately opened a new window so I could type this, because let me tell you, grammar is soooo one of my buttons, and I thought you'd appreciate my shoving this tripe down your throat sharing my thoughts with you. I'll be the first to say that I don't always get the laid/lays/lying thing right (just ask my mom) but I've grown up around proper grammar. My mother is an editor, two of my aunts are English teachers, my favorite teacher in high school was my English teacher, and in college I minored in... wait for it... English.

So yeah a lot of writing, and proper sentence structure. More full disclosure: when my Mom was up at 4:30am writing the conclusion while I slept on a nearby chair helping me finish my English papers, she wasn't exactly taking the time to explain to me what a gerund was. I still couldn't tell you. But, short of a phrase subtlely using laid/lays/lying improperly, I can spot a badly written sentence at 50 paces and have it fixed before you can figure out the whole laid/lays/lying problem anyway.

Now, proper grammar does not a millionaire make (unless you sell a lot of how-to-write books). It does not make you more good looking, and doesn't give you funny stories to tell at parties unless you hobnob with other word geeks literati. But proper grammar can often be the cherry on top when you're at a job interview, trying to get a book published, or just trying to avoid making your literate friends' heads explode. So here is a very short list of some of my favorites, in no particular order:
  • Homonyms: Those are two words that are spelled and pronounced exactly the same but are different words. Plane and Plane... one is a flat and level surface, and one is a verb that means to glide or soar.
  • Homophones: These are words that sound alike but are not spelled alike. Plane and Plain.One is a flat surface, and the other is fairly uninteresting-looking.
  • Homographs: These are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. Try this one: "Yesterday I read the book you told me to read." Go ahead, say it out loud. You'll get it.
  • The Affect/Effect Disorder: Beware of words that are really really close in both spelling and pronunciation but are different words, like affect and effect. The first causes the second. The weather affected my sinuses, the effect of which was a headcold.
  • You/Your/You're Outta Here!: Three different words, people. "You're so sweet, I can't believe you gave me your favorite purse."
  • Laid/Lays/Lying down on the job: Yes this is my achilles heel, but if I think hard enough, I can figure it out. You lay something down, you yourself lie down. If you are laying yourself down to sleep (praying the Lord your soul to keep) then your body is actually the object in the sentence that you are laying down. But if you say "I'm gonna go lay down," a superior grammatically-enhanced person will ask you what you are going to lay down, and possibly where.
I could go on. My favoritest English teacher Mr. Lester gave us a list of close to 200 rules for writing proper papers. I may not follow them all the time, but believe me, it helps me be a better person. Or something. :)


  1. I can appreciate this post. I consider myself a decent writer and get upset about things like when people say, "if you have any questions please contact myself...", but I couldn't tell you what a gerund is or a past participle or, ... is "pluperfect" even a word?

    Anyway, thanks for the little reminders here, I hope they stick for a little while in my nonsticky brain.

    (visiting from SITS)

    - Margaret

  2. Excellent lesson in grammar! It's nice to meet a fellow SITS writer!

  3. Shit. Same achilles heel. And I'm an editor! But like you, I know it when I see it. And my Strunk and White's is always nearby. Didn't you just love 'Eats, Shoots, and Leaves?"
    Stopping by from SITS......

  4. I had an easier time with grammar once I got to college and began taking journalism classes. It just seemed to be much more tightly was my kind of writing. It provided a foundation that I'm building on today with my fiction.

  5. I'm pretty sure you would hate my blog!!! I think GRAMMAR is my Achilles Heel. I will never know the difference between than and then. I will continue to misspell every word that has more 'then' one syllable. I will misquote and say things our of context inappropriately.

    I am TERRIBLE at English.

    That being said... I read you post and hope that I am a bit smarter for it. :)

    Many blessings-

  6. My Dad was an English teacher so spelling and grammar were simply engrained from the get-go.

  7. As a high school English & Journalism teacher, I still don't get it all, but improper grammer sure grates on me! Thanks so much for this post. Happy Sunday...

    Dropping the Bomb

  8. This post is a bit like that English-lesson scene in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off', but actually informative. Not that I didn't know such things before, it's just nice to see people actually giving a shit about attention to detail without being punctuative Hitlers.


An Extraordinary Comment just for me? Hooray!

When you comment, I get an email. Then I hit "reply." If your email says "noreply-comment" I get sad. Check out this tutorial and set yourself up so I can write back to you!