Five Common Usage Mistakes to Avoid – Sheet 5 of 8
#1) Affect vs. Effect
This troublesome pair is actually four distinct words: two common ones, two rarities. The most common “affect” (pronounced ‘aFECT’) is a verb, and it means “to influence”. The most common “effect” is a noun, meaning a result. If you can keep those parts of speech in line, you’ll be OK 99% of the time. The uncommon “affect” (pronounced AFFect) is a noun that means “emotion”. The obscure verb form of “effect” means “to create” or “to cause”, or maybe you can remember that it makes something effective.
#2) Allusion vs. Illusion
An allusion is a reference to something that is better known. For example, a person might make an allusion to a recent embarrassing incident, and the title of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is an allusion to Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse…” An illusion is a semblance of reality, like seeing a mirage or a ghost. If it helps remember the difference, think of how an illusion and an illustration are both visions of things that are not real.
#3) Allude vs. Elude
We just covered this, didn’t we? An allusion is a reference to something that is better known. Allude is the verb form of allusion; when you make an allusion, you are alluding to something. Do not confuse this verb with elude, which means to escape from (like eluding the police).
#4) Illicit vs. Elicit
More criminal activity? Something illicit is something illegal. Illicit drug use, therefore, is the using of illegal drugs. Elicit is a verb, meaning “to draw forth” or “to bring out from within” like when an investigator elicits the truth from a witness, or a high-pressure situation elicits a person’s courage. The prefixes might help with this one, if you remember that the prefix il- means “not” (as in “not legal”) while the e/ex- prefix means “out” (as in “to bring out”). Also, one final usage note, elicit is only used with intangible things like “a response” or “inner strength” or “a recoil” – you do not elicit a piece of paper out of a stack, you cannot elicit a cat from a tree, you do not elicit birthday gifts into the room.
#5) Passed vs. Past
Granted, some verbs have held on to an old Anglo-Saxon construction which had “-t” create the past tense instead of “-ed”, as in slept, burnt, crept and dreamt. Past is not one of these verbs. The past tense of pass is passed. The word past means “occurring at a previous time”. Maybe you can remember that the T in past stands for Time.
Give two sentences that properly use “elicit”
Now give two sentences that properly use “illicit”
Illusion / Allusion / Allude / Elude (fill in the blanks)
After stealing the car, the thieves tried to ______________ the police.
The novel made several _______________ to the Bible and to Greek mythology.
The ghost seemed real, but it was just an _______________
We didn’t want to bring up the uncomfortable topic, but several of us tried to ___________ to it, in order to make her tell us all about it
Affect & Effect
This medication has no know side-_______________.
The award for Special ______________ goes to.
Even the slightest change in the wind can ________________ the migration paths of the monarch butterfly.
The mayor hoped that the new law would ______________ better driving.