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How To Know the Difference Between Its/It's and Effect/Affect

I have to admit that these two still get me to pull out my hair when I am writing. The first one I think I finally have down, but I still have to literally stop and think about whether or not to add an apostrophe. The second one I am afeared that I will never get it right. Even looking it up, I still get it wrong sometimes. I wonder why the English language is just so crazy and sometimes makes absolutely no sense.

Its and It's

I am always amazed how many people get its and it’s wrong. But the only reason they do so is because of the craziness of the English language. We all learn real early on that to have something belong to you, to be your possession, you put in an apostrophe before the ‘s’: the girl’s bike; the boy’s book; John’s dinner. That shows the reader that the object (bike, book and dinner) belongs to its respective noun/pronoun (girl, boy, John). Simple…but wait a minute. Look back to that previous sentence. How come the possessive pronoun its did not have an apostrophe? Wow, did I blow it in my own post? Why, when you are using the pronoun it, does the same possessive apostrophe rule not apply?

Bottom line? Contrary to every other situation, there is never an apostrophe when you are using its in the possessive form: its bike; its book; its dinner. In fact, the only time you ever use an apostrophe with its is when it’s a contraction of the verb form of it is. It’s time to go. It’s Miller time (sorry, that dates me). It’s always good to know the difference between its and it’s. Sometimes you just have to learn the rules in the English language without them making a whole lot of sense. Tedious but necessary if you are to be a good writer.

Effect and Affect

The one that really gets me is the difference between effect and affect. The only way I can try to even have a chance at remembering which one to use is to think in terms of one as being a noun (effect) and the other as being a verb (affect). When you affect something you ultimately will have an effect on it. He was so affected by her story that it created a lasting and profound effect on him. (And yes, for those wordsmiths out there, affect can be a noun and effect can be a verb, but not normally so nothing to worry about). Someone once suggested a mnemonic device to help me remember the difference. Affect is an action word and both action and affect start with the letter A, although that may be more trouble than it is worth. It's hard enough remembering the rule let alone a mnemonic device to remember the rule!

Why are little things like this so important in writing? The truth is that as writers, whether writing a simple blog post or a 300 page book, we are judged by our writing. Taking simple steps to learn how to write better will always reflect a better impression on your reader.

What are language intricacies that you struggle with?

Reader Comments (22)

Candace, as a matter of fact I do. Thanks the erudite explanation.

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Cavitt

Great explanation of two very common writing mistakes. We are judged by the way we speak and the way we write whether we like it or not.

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMerlyn Sanchez

I try to use good English at all times when writing. Sometimes I'm in a hurry and I write as I speak though. Which sometimes leads to not quite making sense as I meant it.
What I struggle with is English and American pronounciations and spellings. I am getting so confused now that I an never remember if schedule is skedule or shedule here and when I write words like apologize - I can never remember if it's apologise or apologize here. I also got pulled up by an English friend for using 'learnt' as she says that Americans only used learned.
Oh heavens! It's all so confusing. And then I have to think about which is English when I write to my brit friends.... Also I have to think when speaking and writing to my AuPairs - do they speak English English or American English! Having moved so much I just tend to use whichever comes first now :)
Thanks for your post Candace- I always enjoy.
Louise Edington

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLouise Edington

I have the same problem when it comes to its/it's. I don't remember if someone told be this or if I just do it on my own, but tell me if I'm right. I use it's with an apostrophe if I can read the sentence or phrase, to use your example, It's Miller Time. If I can read it like - It is Miller Time, then I add the apostrophe. Is that right?


September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Maffeo

I don't think there is any logical explanation concerning the inconsistencies of the English language, and the whole affect/effect thing has always been a challenge to me as well. Like you, being told that one was a noun and the other a verb, has helped me. But even then, sometimes the context of what I am writing makes me insecure about which one to use. I agree, too, that it is important to use the correct words when we write as (fairly or not) we can lose credibility when we choose incorrectly.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonna McCord

It's so good to see this clearly set out.

As a new writer, I was GREATLY embarrassed to have a manuscript returned from an editor with all my apostrophe "esses" circled. At least I was consistent in my incorrect use!

Will be forwarding this on to a couple of my writing pals because it is just so clear.

I get muddled around when to use borrowed verses loaned in a sentence.

I am loving all of the articles that come from Our Little Books.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan is a secret Santa

I'm a bit of a word nerd and find that the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when people misuse words. However, I find I react mostly to mistakes in speech not writing. This is probably due to the fact that I never mastered the intricacies of grammar and find myself having to rely on grammar check all to often. Thanks for the grammar lessons in small doses.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarcie Newton

I love any message to people about its/it's, affect/effect, and all the other common errors. In my various former lives--copy editor, University instructor, Writing Center cordinator--I was known for my finickiness about these matters. To be honest, I fear that for the public at large these distinctions are hopelessly lost. But I love that those of us in the writing world try to carry on and promote correct usage.

I had the most wonderful 10th grade honors English teacher, Mrs. Costello, who gave us lessons on affect/effect, continual/continuous, and many such pairs of confused words. I was so lucky to have her. People who want a good reference such read Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" and Fowler's "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage."

Thanks, Candace, for carrying an important torch!

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudy Stone-Goldman

Oh are absolutely right and I know that for me word spell check is really not so helpful as it does not pick up on mistakes like the two that you mention. I think I need an editor for all my work and yes, I do love learning more about the proper use of the english language for my writing.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIrene Turner

Candace - thank you for the clarity on effect/affect. I battled its/it's to a grammatical truce but this other one has been a burr under my saddle. Now all I have to do is remember it.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKerry Hargraves

Thank you so much Candice for the clarification, this helps me a bunch! I get those two wrong a lot. My daugher posted a facebook not to long ago about the misuse of the words aw and awe! It drives her batty!

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean Bentley

I always have to go back and fix my it's to be its. it just seems that the apostrophe should be there. Re-reading the sentence I have to ask, is it "it is"? Often it isn't. Another that trips me up: principal and principle.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathyAlice

Candace - those are two easy to make mistakes... It put me in mind of a Gallagher routine about the stupidity of the English language: Gallagher Video

KathyAlice - remember, the Principal is your PAL...

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPat Zahn

Hi Candace,
I had these two down...but not sure about "who" and "whom"...when to use? I recently had my assistant send out an invitation and she had put "Your Invited!" Of course, it looked like I was the one that needed the grammar lesson...
Brandy Mychals
Split Second Perceptions

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrandy Mychals

Hi Candace,
Very insightful article and I really enjoyed reading it. English is my second language and I admit my English proficiency is limited. In to cope up my weakness I spend my spare time on reading. That's why reading an article that corrects usage errors is really helpful and enhancing.

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTamara @ firefighter costume

What I have realized lately is your blog discourages me from publishing rather than encourages me. I think that not all of us are perfect at these things, I know I am not. But if publishing is about creating a team of people that want everyone to succeed, writer, editor, fact checker, publisher, then we should be good. Your blog makes me feel incapable of doing all the "get my facts straight" and know affect or effect. I want partnership with people that realize I have something worth publishing, but from this blog I learn that is not what it's about.

Guess I will stick to speaking! I guess your blog has affected me. Or is that effected? Oh well...

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Evanston

It is very easy to know what is difference between them. It will be hard for you to know that if you are not good in speaking English.

Hmm. My problems lie more with proper conjuctions and grammer than punctuation.It's and its have never been too much trouble since the easy way to remember is that if you can put is or has after it, then the apostrophe is needed, if not, then no.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Novak

Thanks Candace. Effect/affect I get because it is noun/verb but I confess to struggling with its when it’s possessive. I’m with Brandy, could you please clear up the use of who/whom for us?

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSherryl Perry

Agree with you completly Julia. Thought it was just me because I'm not English. Stumbled upon you so I gave you the thumbs up!

September 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatarina Alexon

Heya Candace,

True, this article of yours really is helpful.I too become confused with those and I think sometimes I used them up wrongly.

November 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLas Vegas Keynote Speaker

Pneumonic...RAVEN. A=affect, V=verb, /E=effect, N=noun

August 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

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