More Red Flags

by Cherie Tucker

In Sheridan’s play The Rivals, there is the delightful Mrs. Malaprop, who hilariously uses the not-quite-right words to express herself and lent her name to that mix-up.  My favorite is “He is the very pine-apple of politeness!” (for pinnacle, in case you didn’t get it).  The innocently used wrong word causes the reader to cringe and breaks the spell you are trying to cast with your writing.  Here are a few to be aware of and some tips for remembering which is which:

·         Affect/effect

Affect is a verb; it is the action (keep the a’s together).  Mt. St. Helens’ eruption affected our state in many different ways.
Effect is a noun; it is the result of an action (keep the e’s together).   A positive effect of the eruption was all the lovely ash for the glass blowers.

·         Anxious/eager  Both of these words describe how you might anticipate something, but the main difference is the element of fear in the word anxious. Look at the difference in notes from your child’s teacher:  “We are eager to talk to you about Jimmy’s progress” versus “We are anxious to talk to you about Jimmy’s progress.”  The first one suggests a happy surprise; the second doesn’t.

·         Fewer/less Fewer refers to numbers of things; less refers to volume.  You have fewer calories, but less fat.  There are fewerglasses, so you pour less wine.  

·         Good/well  

Good is an adjective that describes things, actual things, made-up things, imaginary things, but things (also called nouns).  You can have a goodjob, a good  friend, a    good cup of coffee.
Well is an adverb that tells how something was done.  He played well.  It’s going well.  He did wellon the test.  The team is batting well finally.
You can be good or well if someone says “How are you?” but if someone says, “How’s is going?” IT CAN’T GO GOOD.   Things go well or not so well.  And if someone    says, “How ya doin’?” and you reply, “I’m doin’ good,” you have just said you are into charity work, which might be the case.  If not, just say you’re doing great, and we’ll all feel better.

·         Imply/infer  The speaker (with a p) makes an implication (also with a p); the listener takes that information in and makes a conclusion about what was said. These words are often confused by the speaker, who might say, “Are you inferring that I’m stupid?” To which the listener might respond, “Why, yes.”

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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