Words from the Wise

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Month: August 2016

Impact, Affect, Effect

Impact, affect, and effect: When is the right time to use each? All three words can be either a noun or a verb, so it can get confusing when each should be used. Too often I see “impact” used when the better choice would have been either effect (noun) or affect (verb).

Confused yet? Don’t worry. This is one that frustrates even the most veteran editors. Let me see if I can make it a little simpler and take a page from my editing professor:

An impact (noun) usually creates a lot of noise, and it involves something moving that strikes (impacts) something stationary. Of course if two things are moving when they hit, then it is a collision.

Rarely do we mean “to strike a blow,” or even “to pack firmly together,” which is the other definition of the verb impact. So if you are tempted to use the word impact as a verb, stop yourself and change it to affect.

When we get into impact as a noun, my editorial highground gets a little shaky. That is because impact (noun) has wheedled its way into common usage as an acceptable word to mean “the impression of one thing on another.” Strict grammarians (like my editing prof. at Medill) would abolish the use of impact in such a context. I am a little more realistic; just be sure it is used in the correct sense:

  • (n) one thing having an effect on something else, as in
    • “the impact of technology on human evolution,”
    • “the impact of pollution on our environment,” or
    • “the impact of her environment on her personality; or
  • an immediate and strong impression, as in
    • the sermon had an impact, or
    • the President’s State-of-the-Union speech had an impact.

Most often you can substitute effect for impact when it is a noun.

Your best bet is to remember to use affect as a verb and effect as a noun. Affect as a noun is rarely used (unless you are in medicine or psychology).

Effect as a verb does not share a meaning with affect (verb); it means “to bring about” or “to bring into existence.”

TEST YOURSELF: Which word–“effect,” “affect,” or “impact?”

1. This morning’s rainfall had very little ______ on the drought.

2. We are hopeful that the heavy rains predicted for next week will ______ the drought.

3. Calcium supplements can positively ______ one’s moods.

4. Calcium supplements can have a positive ______ on one’s moods.

5. The meteor ________ left a mile-wide crater.

6. The van and the SUV ________ on 495.



1. effect (or sometimes impact)

2. affect

3. affect

4. effect (or sometimes impact)

5. impact

6. collided (that was a trick question)

Adjectives and Commas

How much is that gorgeous, black puppy in the window?

Go see the smart, young, European editor for help.

The mean, old man threw a fit.

My last post explained the order adjectives should appear before the noun they modify. The question today is, when do you put a comma between adjectives?

A good rule is if you could put the word “and” between the adjectives and not change the meaning, then you need a comma. Also, when adjectives fall into different categories (remember the correct order: determiner, quality, size, age, color, origin, material), you would not use the word and, so you do not need a comma between them.

So, looking at the sentences above…

gorgeous is a quality and black is a color, the comma is unnecessary (gorgeous black puppy)

smart is a quality, young is in reference to her age, European is in reference to her origin, the commas are unnecessary (smart young European editor)

But what about the last sentence. It could go either way. Mean and old are both qualities of the man, so the comma is necessary. But what if you had a mean old man and a nice old man (the mean old man threw a fit because the nice old man ate the last of the ice cream), then a comma between the two adjectives would be unnecessary.

Why? Because both mean and nice modify old man. Confused yet?

Let me know if I can help clarify. Ask your question in the comments below.

Order of Modifiers

Thanks to a mother—a stickler for good grammar—and a library full of reading opportunity, I learned the proper order for adjectives pretty early. It was one of those lessons I absorbed rather than actively learned.

A while back, I was editing a piece for a non-native English speaker. When she asked why I put a series of adjectives in a particular order, I was at a loss . She wasn’t questioning the correctness of my edit. She wanted to know so she wouldn’t make the same mistake. The tried-and-true explanation “because it sounds better” wasn’t good enough, so I did a little research.

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