As an ELA/SAT tutor and member of multiple kidlit writing groups, I’ve noticed certain words cause more vexation than others. Worry no more! My goal is to clear your confusion, and I promise not to quiz you. To keep this digestible, the word list has been split into two separate posts (with Part 2 to air on March 23rd). As an added bonus, all supporting excerpts come from books I highly recommend.
Vexing Vocabulary Part 1 includes the following words:
ME, MYSELF, & I LESS/FEWER YOUR/YOU’RE
ITS/IT’S AFFECT/EFFECT TOWARD/TOWARDS
#1: ME, MYSELF, and I
Let’s start with ME (ha-ha):
ME is the object of desire…of your sentence, that is. This means it’s acted upon by the subject. In contrast, when I appears, it’s always the star (or subject).
This example from The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi demonstrates I as the subject and ME as the object:
- I imagine the snow traveling down the mountains behind ME, melting as it gathers speed, turning into our river. (p. 27)
Now let’s turn to MYSELF. Don’t, I repeat, don’t substitute this word for ME or I. In fact, MYSELF properly appears in sentences that also contain I (like the one below, also from The Secret Sky).
- I slip one out of the blue plastic bag for MYSELF to make the trip to Zohra’s more enjoyable. (p.18)
You’ve all heard the term accountability? Well, this is a matter of countability! Countable nouns end in S when plural. Non-countable nouns (often abstract) never change form. Countable words like glasses, chairs, apples, and students call for FEWER. Non-countable words like sand, sugar, money, music, time, and fruit call for LESS. For example, you should write FEWER bananas and LESS fruit, FEWER calories and LESS fat.
From Ignite by Kaitlyn Davis, here’s an example for LESS:
- …something she had planned to do when the conversation was LESS heated (p. 243)
Instead of a sentence for FEWER…
YOUR means belonging to you, while YOU’RE is the contraction for YOU+ARE. When in doubt which one to use, break the contraction apart and substitute YOU ARE into your sentence. If it sounds right, then YOU’RE is correct. Try that with Mr. Grinch, and you’ll see that YOU ARE works. Both examples below hail from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
- “By the way, you’ve never told me YOUR real name.” (p. 63)
VERIFICATION: “… you’ve never told YOU ARE real name.” Does it work? NO! YOUR is correct, as YOUR name belongs to you.
- “If YOU’RE looking for a snowbound private investigator, you’ve got the right number.” (p.71)
VERIFICATION: “If YOU ARE looking for snowbound private investigator…” Does it work? YES! YOU’RE is correct.
These words may look simple, but they’re frequently confused. ITS means belonging to it, with IT referring to an inanimate object or any animal that isn’t a pet. IT’S = IT+IS.
For ITS, here’s my example:
- I need to replace my favorite book because ITS cover is ripped.
If you replace ITS with IT IS, you will see that it doesn’t fit. And to repeat the logic from YOUR vs YOU’RE, if IT IS doesn’t fit in your sentence, neither does IT’S.
Now let’s examine the title of Josh Funk’s book, It’s Not Jack and Beanstalk:
If Josh had opted to break apart the contraction, the title would’ve become IT IS Not Jack and Beanstalk. Is that grammatically correct? YES! Does that sound right for this picture book title? NO! This brings me to an important point about contraction use…
Contractions are more natural and impart a casual, familiar vibe to speech, dialogue, and prose. In contrast, talking and writing without contractions is more formal. Be conscious about which form is most appropriate for each of your characters and be consistent. The exception is when a character makes an emphatic point. Here’s my example: “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times: it is NOT safe to skate on thin ice!”
Roll up your sleeves and grab a cup of coffee, because this one’s a real wing-dinger. To paraphrase grammarly.com, “AFFECT starts with A for Action,” and VERBS provide the action in our sentences. AFFECT is a VERB meaning impacted, changed, or disturbed. Examples come from Starstruck by Brenda Hiatt, with the first one illustrating proper usage of AFFECTED.
- Rigel had seemed to be nearly as AFFECTED as I was by that surprise kiss. (p. 96)
In contrast, EFFECT is usually a NOUN that means a result, consequence, or impression. This quote shows EFFECT used as a NOUN:
- I didn’t mention the weird EFFECT he had on me. (p. 9)
Got it? Great! Now for the exception to the rule: EFFECT can be also be used as a VERB meaning to bring about a change or solution. Here’s my example:
- The door-to-door campaign aimed to EFFECT change in leadership.
TRANSLATION: The door-to-door campaign aimed to bring about a change in leadership.
What if I used AFFECT in that sentence instead?
- The door-to-door campaign aimed to AFFECT change in leadership.
TRANSLATION: The change in leadership already occurred, but the campaign aimed to alter it in some fashion.
Are you still with me? There’s one more way AFFECT can be used – as a NOUN meaning emotional response, demeanor, or observable behavior. This isn’t something you would expect to hear or say in typical conversation. Instead, a psychiatrist might use AFFECT this way to describe a patient under observation. Here’s my example:
- His AFFECT is deeply troubling, as he hasn’t spoken in days.
If you live and write across the pond, TOWARDS is for you. But in the USA, TOWARD is the standard choice. From Angelfall (Penryn & The End of Days book 1) by Susan Ee, here’s a properly used example:
- Another larger feather floats down lazily TOWARD my head. (p. 8)
Thus ends Part 1 of Vexing Vocabulary. I hope you found my explanations clear and helpful! Contenders for Part 2 include LIE/LAY, GOOD/WELL, EVERYDAY/EVERY DAY, and more. I’m open to suggestions, so please let me know which words vex YOU the most!
I leave you (for now) with a list of helpful grammar resources:
Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty.
Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D.
www.grammarly.com and its blog
Commonly Confused Commas – my post from February 2017