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Real Words that Work

By Patricia Davies, President, Patricia Davies Communications
Sorting Out GPS Blocks
GPS matters (grammar, punctuation, spelling) normally appear at the end of this column, however, at this time of resolutions and new beginnings I’ve decided to confess a GPS failing. 
I have now looked up the difference between “affect” and “effect” approximately 813 times. The answer never sticks and I know I will consult page 10 of Grammar for Smart People for the 814th time when the situation comes up again. And I will read as if I have never seen it before that affect is almost always used as a verb that means “to influence” or “to have an impact on”. Okay, so I could say about the theatre production I saw last night: “The play affected me deeply.” 
On the other hand, “effect” is both a noun and a verb. As a noun it means a “result”: “The play had a profound effect on me.” Or it could refer to stuff: “The play used some special effects.” As a verb it means “to produce or bring about a result”: “The play effected a change in the direction of drama.”
As a footnote, people who use affect as a noun (“The lead actor’s affect was somber.”) are either psychologists or pretentious or maybe both. 
No one ever said that English was easy. I feel the 814th round coming up.
Where to look up GPS questions
Grammar for Smart People by Barry Tarshis is one of the best resources I know to help the GPS-challenged sort out their blocks. 
Others include: 
  • Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty (very approachable)
  • Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (figuring out punctuation)
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) (an incredibly rich resource)
  • Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians (authoritative and humorous)

Patricia Davies is an award-winning writer and editor, an Endorsed Education Provider (EEP™) with IIBA®, and a regular panelist on the IIBA “Being a BA: Effective Communication” webinar. Do you have a writing question? Please email to and we’ll try to address it in a future column or webinar.