Everything English

Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)


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Category : Common Mistakes

“Who” versus “Whom”

Another word pair that often creates confusion for writers is “who” and “whom.” To properly learn which one to use, we first must clearly understand the difference between the subject and the object of a sentence. Basically, the subject is the one taking the action, and the object is the one that is the recipient of that action. For example, if Johnny hits Billy, Johnny is doing the hitting and is thus the subject, whereas Billy is being hit and is thus the object.

Now, let’s move on to “who” and “whom.” Both of these words are interrogative pronouns, i.e., pronouns used to ask questions. “Who” is a subjective interrogative pronoun. In other words, “who” is used as the subject of a sentence when asking a question. For example, “Who won the race?” “Whom” is an objective interrogative pronoun. In other words, “whom” is used as the object of a sentence or a preposition when asking a question. For example, “Whom did you beat in your race?” In this instance, you see that we are asking about the object of the sentence, i.e., the person who was beat.

To simplify things a bit, think of our first example. Who hit whom? Johnny hit Billy. Hopefully, you will now be able to confidently use “who” and “whom” in your writing.

“Affect” versus “Effect”

Writers are often confused by the similar word pair “affect” and “effect.” Yet, a simple rule will help you determine which one to properly use in almost every situation. Generally speaking, “affect” is typically used as a verb meaning “to influence, act on, or cause a change in.” For example, “the early frost affected the yields of the crops.” In contrast, “effect” is typically used as noun meaning “a result or consequence.” For example, “the effects of the early frost on the crops were quite remarkable.”

My little trick for remembering which word to use in the right situation is to remember the phrase “cause and effect.” This reminds me that “effect” is usually used as a noun as is the case in this phrase, and by process of elimination, “affect” is usually used as a verb.

Following this general guideline will help you to use the two words appropriately in almost every circumstance. However, I would be remiss if I did not highlight the exceptions to this guideline. For example, in psychology, “affect” can be used as a noun meaning “an expressed feeling or emotion.” However, this use is very specific to the field of psychology. Also, “effect” can occasionally be used as a verb to mean “bring about or accomplish.” For example, “new legislation is expected to effect change in the way campaign money is used.” Despite these exceptions, the previous guideline will help you confidently use these two often confused words with more confidence.

For the Sake of Consistency

Some “rules” of writing are up for debate. Indeed, certain elements are actually not hard and fast rules; rather, they are open for interpretation and choice. For example, the hotly debated “serial comma” (i.e., the comma following the “and” in a series of items) may cause grammarians considerable consternation, but in the end, the writer can choose whether to include the serial comma or not. Another example is the block or indented formatting for paragraphs. Should each new paragraph be indented, say five spaces? Or should each paragraph appear flush with the left margin and a line space included between the two paragraphs? In essence, that is up to the writer. Either is acceptable.

However, one thing remains unacceptable, i.e., inconsistency. Once you make a choice on a writing style, you should consistently use that style. If you use the serial comma once, you should use it in all appropriate situations. If you use the block format at the beginning of your document, you should use it throughout.

Another area where consistency is sometimes lacking is the choice of adhering to British writing styles and spelling conventions versus American writing styles and spelling conventions. Either is acceptable, but you must choose one and stick with it throughout your document. The use of acronyms is another example. If you choose to use an acronym, you should use in for every reference of that term throughout the document after you define the acronym in question.

Overall, consistency is quite important in the written text. Be sure that you follow the same stylistic and formatting choices that you make at the beginning of the text, including the ways in which you format headings and subheadings. This will ease the flow of your text and minimize confusion for your reader.