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English Lesson 19: Correct Use of A.M. and P.M. for Time

August 2nd, 2008

am-pm-clock.jpgOver the past few weeks, I have been receiving several search queries about the “correct use of am and pm” or similar variants. Although I already know about standard time conventions, I have always wondered about whether or not there are any established grammatical rules for writing the 12-hour clock designations. After spending at least three hours researching this earlier today, it appears that there is no single hard-and-fast rule for expressing a.m. or p.m. when referring to time. The majority of the grammar-based sites that I encountered listed several variants. Some used capital letters or periods while others did not, but most of these sources agreed that all of these variants were acceptable as long as your usage remains consistent throughout your writing.

Eventually I ran across the Associated Press Stylebook guidelines, which state that for journalistic copy we should use the lowercase letter with period format and write the abbreviations as a.m. and p.m. without spaces between the letters or periods. When expressing an actual time, there is one space between the numerical value and the abbreviation, so for example three o’clock in the afternoon would be written as 3 p.m. Since we bloggers (at least those of us who are serious about our work) often like to think of ourselves as journalists, it’s probably a good idea for me to stick the AP standards on this when writing articles. However, for informal writing it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

Meanwhile, there were two other questions that came up frequently in searches regarding proper time expression. Here are the answers to these:

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English Lesson 18: Correct Use of Passed and Past

July 19th, 2008

passed-past-english-usage.jpgLast night I received a query from a searcher at Ask.com who wanted to know about the correct use of passed and past. Since I had already included this pair of homophones in my list of future post ideas, I might as well use this one for the current week. I have seen people confuse these words on web page copy enough to justify writing up a short tutorial on this so that webmasters can get past the relatively mundane task of worrying about grammar errors and can instead concentrate on the really fun things like monetizing their websites and blazing their own trails to economic freedom.

The usage of passed is relatively easy to explain; it is simply the past or past participle form of pass. Although pass can be used as a noun, the past tense form passed is always used as a verb. Generally speaking, it means to move beyond, to proceed, to transfer something from one person to another, or to gain an acceptable outcome. Here are some example sentences:

  1. The quarterback passed the ball to the wide receiver.
  2. We passed several cars on the way to our destination.
  3. The students passed their exams while the legislature passed more laws.
  4. Google AdSense will release payment to publishers after their earnings have passed the $100 mark.

Meanwhile, the word past has a few different uses. When used as a noun or adjective, it refers to something that has already happened, is no longer current, and has become a part of history. If the word is used as an adverb or a preposition, it carries the connotation of moving beyond something. For example, if you walk past something, you have traveled beyond it. If we stay awake past midnight, we have moved beyond that point in time and into the next day. Again, here are some example sentences:

  1. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana
  2. During the past few days, I have begun implementing AdSense units on selected pages of my website.
  3. My Clickbank earnings moved past the $100 threshold and triggered another check payment, thanks in part to my page on bum marketing techniques.
  4. Due to the current schedule of events, I have had to stay awake past midnight to finish this blog post.

Now we come to the fun part of finding examples of incorrect usage from various web pages and supplying the needed corrections.

Incorrect: I’ve Moved Passed Falling In Love to Pure Obsession With This Product! — title of a product review article written by “Catherine” at Epinions.com

Correct: I’ve Moved Past Falling In Love to Pure Obsession With This Product!

Incorrect: There probably isn’t much you will be able to do since you have went passed the cooling off period. — user “greenbrucelee” at CertForums.co.uk

Correct: There probably isn’t much you will be able to do since you have gone past the cooling off period.

Incorrect: i called dishnetwork already but of course they past the buck to discovery channel. — user “esxsctt” at Yahoo Answers

Correct: I called Dish Network already, but of course they passed the buck to Discovery Channel.

Incorrect: I past the ball to Andrew and he shot at the goal and he made it! — Taylor & Alexa’s Weblog at blog.penwellfamily.com

Correct: After I passed the ball to Andrew, he shot at the goal and made it!

Quick Summary: If you are moving beyond something AND using the word as a verb, use passed. If you are NOT using the word as a verb, use past.


English Lesson 17: Correct Use of Site, Cite, and Sight

July 12th, 2008

sight-site-cite-sign-error.jpgThis group of homonyms is an issue that I have wanted to cover for several weeks. There are few things that give me that “fingernails on the chalkboard” feeling more than seeing someone spam a forum or email address by advertising their “web sight”. Now that I have worked through most of the others on my list, I hope to provide some enlightenment for people who are still misusing these words and unwittingly displaying their ignorance all over the Internet.

First of all, sight primarily refers to the ability to see or the act of seeing, that is, actually looking at something with your eyes. It is sometimes used in the more figurative sense of having a mental vision or focus. This word does not have anything to do with websites or references to academic sources. For example:

  1. After nearly a month at sea, we sighted land and looked for a place to dock our ships.
  2. The Republican Party has long ago lost sight of its purported philosophy of reducing the size of government and increasing individual liberty.

If the word is spelled as site, however, this can refer to a web site (a place on the Internet), or to a physical location where something is situated (such as a building or historical monument). For example:

  1. When considering whether or not to purchase real estate for investment purposes, it is a good idea to inspect the site first so that you can make an honest assessment of the property’s real value.
  2. Karlonia.com is a web site dedicated to increasing the personal and economic freedom of people throughout the world.

Finally, cite is a verb that means to quote or refer to another source as an authority or example. If used in a strictly legal context, it can also mean to summon before a court of law. For example:

  1. While it is easy for students to cite Wikipedia as a reference, for academic papers it is generally recommended that they use more scholarly or less controversial sources of information.
  2. It is common for attorneys to cite previously decided cases as legal precedent in the interest of gaining a favorable ruling for their clients.

Now we can look at examples of incorrect usage from other web pages:

Incorrect: This web sight will be updated regularly right up until Christmas. — message from the site owner of TravelingDogs.com/xmas

Correct: This web site will be updated regularly right up until Christmas.

Incorrect: Using information you find from other sources can make your site even more valuable, just make sure you site your sources and that your original works make up the majority of the information on your site. — Renee C. Quinn, “Making Your Website Better”, published at ipwatchdog.com

Correct: Using information you find from other sources can make your site even more valuable; just make sure you cite your sources and that your original works make up the majority of the information on your site.

Incorrect: Do carrots really improve your eye site or is that myth? — question asked by user “dwdrums” at askville.amazon.com

Correct: Do carrots really improve your eyesight or is that a myth?

Incorrect: Do you have any suggestions for what you would like to see here or on my web cite? — Daniel Mann at always-reforming.blogspot.com

Correct: Do you have any suggestions for what you would like to see here or on my web site?

Quick Summary: Sight is what you do with your eyes, cite is what you do with your sources, and site is a place where you try to make money on the Internet.


English Lesson 16: Correct Use of A and An

July 5th, 2008

a-an-english-grammar.jpgTrying to figure out whether to use the indefinite article a or an before a noun can be tricky for inexperienced English users. Many people seem to think that you should use a before a consonant and an before a vowel, but it is not quite that simple. The actual rule is that a is used before a consonant sound and an before a vowel sound — these do not always match up with the letter itself! For example, one of the most common mistakes I have been seeing recently is the use of “a hour” instead of “an hour”. The latter is correct because the word hour actually begins with an o (vowel) sound; the h is silent. Conversely, we would say “a Ouija board” instead of “an Ouija board” because Ouija is pronounced with a w (consonant) sound.

This rule also extends to acronyms. For example, I have lost count of the number of times that I have cringed whenever I see someone write “a HYIP” on a forum or blog. This should be written “an HYIP” because the letter H is pronounced with an a (vowel) sound. However, if we were to write the acronym out we would write “a High Yield Investment Program” because the consonant h sound is now being pronounced as part of the word high.

Acronyms: A vs. An Usage Before A Given Letter

Because this rule can be tricky, especially for people who are hearing impaired and therefore may be unaccustomed to hearing what the letters sound like, I have attempted to clarify things below by first listing all of the letters that are initially spoken with a vowel sound and therefore require an before them if the letter is used in an acronym. All other letters are initially spoken with a consonant sound and will require a; these are listed in the second line below:

If the acronym begins with these letters, use an: A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S, X

If the acronym begins with these letters, use a: B, C, D, G, J, K, P, Q, T, U, V, W, Y, Z

For example, we would write an FBI agent, an SEO, and an LP member, but we would write a YMCA member, a QC inspector, and a USB port. Now we can look at some examples from the Internet where a and an have been used incorrectly:

Incorrect: New teeth in a hour is worth smiling about — headline of an online newspaper article at living.scotsman.com

Correct: New teeth in an hour is worth smiling about

Incorrect: I’m a idiot for buying this book! — reviewer “Kimberly” at search.barnesandnoble.com

Correct: I’m an idiot for buying this book!

Incorrect: Our Engineering and Technical division is currently working with a leading producer of steel related products in Plymouth, MN which has an immediate need for an Quality Technician. — job posting at aol.careerbuilder.com

Correct: Our Engineering and Technical division is currently working with a leading producer of steel related products in Plymouth, MN which has an immediate need for a Quality Technician.

Incorrect: I certify that I am an United States resident licensed to practice law in Wisconsin, and that all of the information I have provided is true. — Notary Public application for Wisconsin attorneys

Correct: I certify that I am a United States resident licensed to practice law in Wisconsin, and that all of the information I have provided is true.

Quick Summary: If in doubt about whether to use a or an, simply pronounce the word that is to appear after the article. If the first sound pronounced is a vowel, use an; otherwise, use a.


English Lesson 15: Correct Use of A Lot, Alot, and Allot

June 28th, 2008

a-lot-alot-allot.jpgMany people use a lot, alot, or even allot to indicate a large number or quantity of something. In this article, I will attempt to unravel the apparent confusion over which one of these expressions should be used in a particular instance. I will also explain the differences between formal and informal usages regarding these concepts.

To begin with, there is no such word as alot - it is not even in the dictionary, and the few credible online sources that address its usage indicate that it is considered substandard or nonstandard English. Interestingly, I discovered earlier today that there is actually a town in India called Alot (capitalized), but this is a proper noun and has nothing to do with the general concept of “a lot”. Therefore, unless you’re referring to the town, alot should never be used in written English.

Meanwhile, a lot is an informal expression that is commonly used to mean “a large number”, “a large quantity”, or occasionally “often”. It is one of those phrases that is usually acceptable in spoken conversation but should not be used in any type of formal writing or journalism. If you’re writing anything formal or semi-formal, it is better to use the words much, many, or often in place of a lot depending on the context of the sentence. As a general guide, use many if what you are referring to can be counted as separate units, much if it cannot. Use often if you simply mean “frequently”. Here are some examples to illustrate the proper usage:

  1. We import a lot of oil from Saudi Arabia. (informal)
  2. We import much oil from Saudi Arabia. (formal, standard)



  3. We import a lot of barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. (informal, rather awkward)
  4. We import many barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. (standard, much better)



  5. We seem to import oil a lot from Saudi Arabia. (informal)
  6. We seem to import oil often from Saudi Arabia. (standard)

Finally, although the word allot is sometimes used as a misspelling of a lot, it actually means to allocate, apportion, or parcel out. It is always used as a verb. For example:

  1. The market research company chooses to allot five dollars to every member who qualifies and successfully completes its surveys.
  2. The United States Constitution provides that we allot two senators for each state so that they have some measure of equal representation in Congress.

Now we can look at examples of incorrect vs. correct usage:

Incorrect: Do you spend alot of time changing between numerous profiles? — Yahoo Answers question, posted by “Twigs”

Correct: Do you spend a lot of time changing between numerous profiles?

Incorrect: My cat used to do this alot. Its no problem at all. She probably likes you alot. Yahoo Answers response by “lightworker27″

Correct: My cat used to do this often. It is not a problem; she probably likes you very much.

Incorrect: If you alot a certain amount for one thing that you really don’t spend as much on monthly, alot the money to something that you are always falling short on. — Yahoo Answers response by “Dave O”

Correct: If you allot a certain amount for one thing that you really don’t spend as much on monthly, then allot the money to an an item in your budget for which you always seem to have insufficient funds.

Incorrect: I have researched allot of different ways to make money and what I found out is that most of them are scams. — “Making money From Home” page at opportunities4yousite.com

Correct: I have researched many different ways to make money and have found out that most of them are scams.

Quick Summary: Never use alot, use allot for allocations, and use a lot if you are in an informal setting. Otherwise use much, many, or often depending on the context of the sentence.


English Lesson 14: Correct Use of Lead and Led

June 14th, 2008

lead-or-be-led.jpgDuring the past week, I have encountered three separate instances of lead vs. led usage errors. Normally this would not be Earth-shattering news, but what surprised me was that in each instance, the error was contained in a public press release that was presumably vetted by professional proofreaders or copyeditors before being published. Moreover, the organizations in question — one of which was a well-known affiliate network –were large and well-established enough to be expected to follow standard English guidelines when it comes to public correspondence.

Naturally, seeing the prevalence of these errors has led (not lead) me to our next English lesson. First I will deal with the different meanings of lead:

As a verb, pronounced LEED:

  • To show the way; guide, conduct, direct, steer, or escort.
  • To proceed on a course or for a certain distance, often used in reference to roads, pathways, and the like; extend, reach, go on.
  • To be in a position of authority, take command of something, or play an executive role of some sort.
  • To pass through in a certain way, usually used in reference to a person’s life.
  • To begin with some type of introduction or preamble, often used in reference to written works; introduce, precede, preface.

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English Lesson 13: Correct Use of Roll and Role

June 7th, 2008

money-roll.jpgRecently I have been seeing the two homonyms roll and role used incorrectly on forums and message boards, so in this week’s lesson I will explain the distinctions in their meanings so that readers can avoid confusion. The word roll has many meanings - some dictionaries list more than twenty - and can be used as either a noun or a verb. In the interests of time and brevity, I will quickly review the most common, easily distinguished meanings here:

When used as a verb:

  • To move something forward along a surface by repeatedly turning it over or revolving it on its axis, as in rolling a ball across the floor or rolling a boulder down a hill.
  • To travel or move somewhere while on wheels, as in rolling down the street on a bicycle, scooter, skates, etc.
  • To wrap around into a cylindrical shape, as in “roll a cigarette” or “roll up the poster”.
  • To begin operation or movement, often used in media-related expressions such as “roll the cameras” or “roll the presses”.
  • To recur or move forward in time, as in “the days rolled along” or “January rolled around again”.
  • To lean or rock from side to side, usually used in reference to ships or airplanes.
  • To lay out, extend, or flatten something on a surface; one can roll out a ball of yarn, roll out some rope, or roll out a piece of dough.
  • In gambling or board games, to start a player’s turn by throwing one or more dice; used in the expression “roll the dice”.
  • To play a prank on or trick someone, as in “rick rolling“.

When used as a noun:

  • The act of rotating something around its axis or turning it over.
  • Something that is wound or coiled up into a cylindrical shape, such as a roll of toilet paper, a roll of tape, or a roll of cloth.
  • An official list of people’s names that belong to a certain group; a roster.
  • A small, rounded piece of bread, usually served as an accompaniment to a meal.
  • A maneuver in which an airplane makes a complete rotation about its longitudinal axis without changing direction or losing altitude.
  • In music, a series of short blows on a percussion instrument, as in a drum roll.
  • In gaming, a single throw of the dice.

For role, things are not nearly as complicated. There are only two commonly used meanings:

  • A character or part played by a performer; may be used in reference to movies, plays, or any other type of theatrical performance. It may also refer to certain types of gaming (RPG is an acronym for role-playing game).
  • A person’s expected function or behavior pattern; may be used in reference to a specific situation or the overall society.

Now we can look at some cases where people are prone to mix up the two spellings:

Incorrect: An RPG [Roll Playing Game, not rocket propelled grenade] based on the Columbine massacre — post title of the January 13, 2007 entry at VisualConsumer.blogspot.com

Correct: An RPG (Role Playing Game, not Rocket Propelled Grenade) based on the Columbine massacre

Incorrect: Pancakes Play a Starring Roll at Gingham’s But the Supporting Cast Struggles — Title of an article by Ann Lemons at SauceMagazine.com

Correct: Pancakes Play a Starring Role at Gingham’s But the Supporting Cast Struggles

Incorrect: The seafood platter included fried clams, 2 fish fillets, maryland style crabcake and 3 jumbo fried shrimp with fries cole slaw and dinner role for a $12.99 price tag. — user “dkrizer”, attempting to write a review of Ogei’s Grill at Restaurantica.com

Correct: The seafood platter included fried clams, two fish fillets, a Maryland style crab cake, three jumbo fried shrimp, fries, coleslaw, and a dinner roll for $12.99.

Incorrect: Author Lisa Belkin opens with a confession that once, long long ago, she snitched a role of toilet paper from the restroom of the company she worked for. — Karen Burns at KarenBurnsWorkingGirl.com

Correct: Author Lisa Belkin opens with a confession that once, long long ago, she snitched a roll of toilet paper from her employer’s restroom.

As a general “thumbnail” usage guide, if you’re playing a part in something, use role. For everything else, use roll.


English Lesson 12: Correct Use of Lose and Loose

May 31st, 2008

lose-loose-english-usage.jpgDue partly to over-reliance on spell checkers, incorrect usage of both lose and loose has become common on the Internet and occasionally occurs in offline printed documents as well. Technically, the two words are not homonyms because there is a slight difference in pronunciation; the s in lose is pronounced with a z sound, while the s in loose is pronounced as we would normally expect. They also mean very different things, which is why it is important to learn the proper usage of these words so that one can avoid confusion and embarrassment. First, let us review the various meanings of lose. In all of these cases, the word is used as a verb.

  • To misplace or fail to locate something; the opposite of find
    1. She managed to lose her keys by locking them in the car.
    2. Because flash drives tend to be small, one must be careful not to lose them.
  • To suffer defeat in a contest or struggle of some kind; the opposite of win
    1. The extra time and energy expended in fighting off the Viking invasion in the north of England was a significant factor in causing the Saxons to lose the battle of Hastings to the Normans in 1066.
    2. Our team will probably lose the game, but we will still have a winning record overall.
  • To give up or relinquish with regard to quantity or value; the opposite of gain
    1. If the quarterly earnings are lower than expected, our stock could lose at least five points in afternoon trading.
    2. With regular exercise, it is possible to lose five pounds or more in a week.
  • To suffer a loss due to an unfortunate event or circumstance
    1. We may lose some of our possessions if there is a fire in the building.
    2. We could lose one of our relatives if the disease proves to be fatal.
  • To evade or elude pursuers with the intention of avoiding detection and capture
    1. The vehicle was able to lose the police by using its off-road abilities and traveling through relatively rugged terrain.
    2. After the tax resisters were able to leave the country, the government goons managed to lose them.

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English Lesson 11: Correct Use of Ad and Add

May 24th, 2008

ad-add-english-usage.jpgOne issue that few grammar guides seem to cover is the apparent confusion between the words ad and add. Although their meanings are quite different, whenever I see an instance of incorrect usage, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the writer is simply making a typographical error or truly does not know which word to use. In either case, this is an important issue to clarify for Internet marketers because these two words are often used in sales copy, and mistakes made here can turn off potential buyers and lead to lower conversion rates.

First of all, the word ad is a common abbreviation for the word “advertisement”. Ads are the basic vehicle that marketers use to generate leads, sales, and revenue. They are also used to increase public awareness of a brand and improve overall name recognition. Some examples of ads in the offline world include:

  1. classified print ads
  2. newspaper ads
  3. billboard ads
  4. leaflet ads (also called “flyers”)
  5. radio ads
  6. television ads (often referred to as “commercials”)
  7. aerial ads such as flying banners or blimps

In the field of Internet marketing, we usually do most of our advertising online in order to reach people that already have computers and know how to perform the basic functions necessary to purchase our products or sign up for our services. Some examples of online advertising include:

  1. text link ads
  2. banner ads
  3. contextual ads (advertising that is placed within the body text of web pages)
  4. email ads (may include paid-to-read or opt-in lists)
  5. pay-per-click (PPC) ads
  6. interstitial ads (advertising that is displayed in between content pages)
  7. pop-up, pop-under, fly-in, glide-in, drop-in ads (generally considered annoying)
  8. splash page ads (often used in traffic exchanges)
  9. widget ads (such as Entrecard, BlogCatalog, or Bumpzee)
  10. long copy ads (also called “pitch pages”)
  11. audio ads (may be annoying if played automatically)
  12. video ads

Meanwhile, the word add means to combine, increase, or extend something. It does NOT refer to advertising. For example, we can add two numbers together, add to our collection of referrals, or download a Firefox add-on (that is, an extension), but we cannot run an “add” in the newspaper.

Here are some examples of correct and incorrect usage:

Incorrect: Friends should one keep your add here text on adbrite adds when you opt for there network ads? — user “icare” on Digital Point forums

Correct: Friends, should one keep the “Your Ad Here” text on AdBrite ads when you opt for their network ads?

Incorrect: I started with $50.00 three weeks ago and my add has not run at all. — user “dansdesals” in AdWords Help discussion

Correct: I started with $50.00 three weeks ago and my ad has not run at all.

Incorrect: thanx for ad me to fav and to friends! — user “Druyi” at DeviantArt.com blog

Correct: Thank you for adding me to your Favorites and Friends lists.

Incorrect: Humans have lived on earth about 4000 years so if you ad them together 11000 years. — user “twaddell21″, a Jehovah’s Witness creationist displaying some massive ignorance at Yahoo answers

Correct: Humans have lived on the Earth for about 4000 years, so if you add them together it is 11000 years.

For next week, I will probably cover lose vs. loose, as I have noticed that mistakes involving these words often slip past spell checker software. Other candidates include site vs. sight vs. site, past vs. passed, and higher vs. hire.

Some people have suggested that I deal with errors involving past and past participle tenses, such as using “have went” (incorrect) instead of “have gone” (correct). Others want me to decry the use of non-words such as “irregardless” and “anyways” in order to prevent the bastardization of the English language. Eventually I want to cover all of these issues, so if your favorite pet peeve has not been addressed yet, you can cast your vote for it in the comment section.


English Lesson 10: Correct Use of Affect and Effect

May 17th, 2008

affect-effect-usage.jpgThe words affect and effect have been the source of many headaches and much confusion even among relatively experienced English users. This is understandable because the two words are very similar in pronunciation and spelling, yet have some subtle differences in meanings and usage that can be difficult to detect. Each word has one meaning that is far more common than the others, but the less common meanings are used often enough in print to create confusion for many readers. In this week’s lesson, I hope to clear things up by providing correct usage examples of the most common meanings first and then explaining some of the more esoteric or archaic usages of these words so that you can be aware of them when reading other publications.

First of all, let us begin by sorting out the different meanings of affect. The most common meaning is to influence, change, or noticeably alter something; sometimes this will apply to people and their feelings or emotions but not always. In either case this form of the word is used as a verb. For example:

  1. If you drop phenolphthalein into a clear solution with a pH greater than 8.2, it will affect the appearance of the solution by changing it to a very noticeable pink color.
  2. It is debatable whether violent movies or video games truly affect those who view them in any meaningful way.

Meanwhile, there is also a noun form of affect that is rather esoteric and used mostly in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. It refers to a person’s disposition or perceived mental state, particularly regarding outward emotions, body language, and facial expressions. For example:

  1. After treatment, the patient remained calm and showed no signs of a hostile affect.
  2. The soldiers seen on television had been carefully chosen for blandness of affect. — Norman Mailer

Finally, there is a third meaning of affect that is rarely used in casual conversation but is sometimes seen in literature. It is a verb form like the first one but with a significantly different usage. It means to emulate, imitate, or copy something, usually with the motive of displaying a façade regarding appearance or emotion.

  1. Although the Scottish princess affected a bonny disposition, she was secretly suspicious of the other faction’s emissary.
  2. In order to remain relatively inconspicuous and gather information, the spy affected the manner of an ordinary merchant.

The word effect is usually used as a noun and refers to the result, consequence, or outcome of something. In fact, we could say that in order to produce an effect, something first has to be affected. The noun form of effect can also refer to the overall result of scientific phenomena such as the magnetic, photovoltaic, or greenhouse effects. Some examples:

  1. Although it is possible for global warming to occur during certain time periods, I am still skeptical about the idea that its effects would be as catastrophic as the alarmists claim.
  2. If you have ever noticed how hot the inside of a car can get when it is exposed to direct sunlight while its doors are closed, you have experienced a good example of the greenhouse effect.

Meanwhile, it is also possible for effect to be used as a verb in certain instances. This can sometimes create confusion because affect is also used as a verb. The verb form of effect means to produce, make, enforce, accomplish, bring into existence, or cause something to happen. For example:

  1. By supporting Bob Barr’s candidacy with the Libertarian Party, we hope to effect change in the dynamics of the 2008 presidential election.
  2. The new fiscal policies were designed to effect a passive income through savings and investments.

Now we can look at some examples of incorrect vs. correct usage. For simplicity’s sake (and to keep this post from becoming unbearably long) I will stick to examples of the most commonly used forms of the two words in question.

Incorrect: Most pharmaceutical drugs have both favorable and unfavorable side affects.

Correct: Most pharmaceutical drugs have both favorable and unfavorable side effects.

Incorrect: We hope that our vote totals will be high enough to effect the outcome of the election.

Correct: We hope that our vote totals will be high enough to affect the outcome of the election.

Incorrect: Putting too many annoying ads on your blog can have an unfavorable affect on the experience of its readers.

Correct: Putting too many annoying ads on your blog can have an unfavorable effect on the experience of its readers.

Incorrect: Significant changes in the value of the dollar can effect the purchasing power of Americans when they travel to foreign countries.

Correct: Significant changes in the value of the dollar can affect the purchasing power of Americans when they travel to foreign countries.

For next week, I’m thinking about covering the issue of ad vs. add. This is one that I do not see much coverage of in most of the established grammar guides, yet I have been seeing a surprisingly high number of errors related to misuse of these words recently. Compared to this week’s conundrum, it should make for a relatively short and simple post.


English Lesson 9: Correct Use of Could Have vs. Could Of

May 10th, 2008

woulda-coulda-shoulda.jpgA common mistake that inexperienced writers make when they try to compose original essays, articles, or blog posts is attempting to transcribe conversational English directly onto the printed page. This does not always work because the pronunciation of certain words and phrases can become corrupted with informal speech in ways that render them incorrect when written as standard English. A classic example of this phenomenon occurs when people write the phrase could have as “could of” or “coulda”. Similar errors occur with the phrases would have and should have.

Neither of the latter two forms (”could of” or “coulda”) is correct; these phrases should be written out as could have, would have, or should have. It is acceptable in less formal situations to use the contracted forms could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve, although for any written material that is intended for publication, I would play it safe and write out the word have separately.

Now we can look at some examples of relevant usage mistakes from other Internet sources and provide some much-needed corrections:

Incorrect: It could of been worse. You could of went back in time to when Hiroshima was bombed. — user Killy_mcgee on xkcd.com forum

Correct: It could have been worse. You could have gone back in time to when Hiroshima was bombed.

Incorrect: what if Trotski would of become the leader of the soviet union apose to Stalin? — user chillerwhale, attempting to post an interesting historical topic on BigThink.com

Correct: What if Trotsky would have become the leader of the Soviet Union as opposed to Stalin?

Incorrect: Terminator 3 Trailer (How It Should Of Been) — Actual title of a YouTube video, posted by user C2JUK

Correct: Terminator 3 Trailer (How It Should Have Been)

Incorrect: You coulda had Dinosaur dung for $1,000 — article title from the Offbeat News section of azcentral.com

Correct: You Could Have Had Dinosaur Dung for $1,000

For next week, I have tentatively scheduled coverage of affect vs. effect, which is an issue that seems to confuse many people because of the different meanings of those two words. Another contender is the usage of who vs. that when referring to either people or inanimate objects. Many people are continuing to use “that” when referring to people, which has been a source of much irritation among English teachers and grammarians.


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