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Tips on Word Usage

• Affect or Effect?
• Imply or Infer?
• It's or Its?
• That or Who or Whom?
• Who or WhomWhoever or Whomever?

Affect or Effect?

Copyright © 2007–2017 Lynette M. Smith

The most common uses of these two words are illustrated in this sentence:

You affect [verb meaning change] people when you have an effect [noun meaning impact] upon them.

Rarely, affect can be used as a noun to describe the mannerism or behavior pattern of a person. (As a noun, it's pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable.) This noun version of affect is used most often by psychiatrists to describe the mannerisms of their patients or subjects. However, others might legitimately use the noun version of affect as well:

The exotic dancer had a pronounced affect [mannerism] to her walk as she left the room.

Sometimes effect is used as a verb meaning bring about. (As a verb, the first syllable is pronounced by most people as a long e rather than an uh sound, but emphasis is still on the second syllable.) Here's an example of this usage:

We knew that if we all worked together, we could effect [bring about] a change in our system of government.

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Imply or Infer?

Copyright © 2007–2017 Lynette M. Smith

To imply is to give an impression:

The remark you are about to make will imply to the jury that Dolores stole the money.

To infer is to draw a conclusion based on the words or actions of another:

I infer from your rudeness to me at dinner this evening that you will not ask me out again.

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It's or Its?

Copyright © 2000–2017 Lynette M. Smith

The only possible meaning of it's is the contraction for it is. The apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter i.

It's a long way to Tipperary.

If that isn't the meaning you intend, then use its, which is a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to it, instead. Note: Pronouns never use apostrophes to show possession.

Its collar was starting to chaff its skin beneath the fur.

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That or Who or Whom?

Copyright © 2001–2017 Lynette M. Smith

When referring to humans, use who or whom in such contexts as these:

Mary was the person who crossed the street just now.

For whom does the bell toll?

When referring to animals or inanimate objects, use that:

The gazelle was the animal that narrowly escaped the lion.

The dog that left a present in your front yard is my pet.

The Melville classic was the book that caused such a sensation.

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Who or WhomWhoever or Whomever?

Copyright © 2001–2017 Lynette M. Smith

Trying to decide which of these words to use in a sentence can be a real challenge. Here's a helpful tip to determine which is correct:

Substitute he or him or else they or them for the word in question.

  • If the substituted word that sounds more natural in the sentence contains an m (i.e., him or them), use whom or whomever.
  • If the word that sounds more natural does not contain an m (i.e., he or they), use who or whoever.

You'll be right every time and be a big hit at parties! (Okay, okay, just kidding about the parties.)

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