Common Errors – Page 1

Five Common Usage Mistakes to Avoid – Sheet 1 of 4

 #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. Here’s a quick mnemonic device: affect is an action, and those both start with A. A less common form of “affect” (pronounced AFFect) is a noun that means “emotion.”

#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” 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”).

#5) Passed vs. Past 

Granted, some verbs have held on to an old Anglo-Saxon construction that 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 known 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 ______________ people’s safety.

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