Author's Note:

I actually wrote this chapter almost a year ago. But Fictionpress had once again changed its formatting and has seemingly lost its ability to alter the format online. So I got frustrated with trying to make it all look nice... and then forgot that I hadn't posted it! Anyhow, sorry for a delay that was even longer than I'd intended it!

I STILL haven't sorted out how to add horizontal lines to separate sections. If anyone knows, please tell me! I'm more than a little confused.

- Ruatha


Three chapters and several years back (God, I'm old), I wrote a section on common homophones (words that sound the same but mean different things). I've had a couple of people suggest that I write another chapter on different homophones since then, and I've finally gotten off my butt and started writing it. Here goes!


This first pair of words is one that I see misused frequently. They're spelled similarly, but worse, they're pronounced very similarly in at least American English. Allow me to clarify the difference.

THEN is used when you're talking about time. It's easy to remember this, since it's spelled so similarly to the word "when". If you can ask the question, "When did that happen?" meaningfully, then you probably need to use "then".

THAN is used when you're comparing two things. Unless you're talking about something being "earlier than" or "later than" something else, this will not have anything to do with time.

A few examples:

– Michelle loved sailboats more than anything else. –

– She loved the rigging of them, then the launching and sailing, and even the take-down at the end. –

– Some people teased her, saying she was more fish than human. –

– But then, she willingly admitted to being a bit of a geek, so it didn't really bother her much. –

Note that the final example doesn't really fit well with the two definitions above. In this case, "then" is being used in a colloquial manner – sort of like saying, "Yeah, well, you know." The word "than" will NEVER be used in this manner, so it should be pretty easy to figure out which to use.


This is another of my pet Peeves. He's a pretty big fellow, too. I don't know what it is, but when I see a sentence with one too many or one too few "o"s in lose/loose, I start to... well, lose it! So, please, help me keep my cool by avoiding any misuses of these words. I've already... well, got a few screws loose as is!

LOSE is the word that means "the opposite of winning" or "something that's not found." Come to think about it, both of these meanings really define the same thing: the disappearance of something you used to own (or hope to own). If you lose a toy, that's obvious. If you lose a game, the thing that's disappeared is the chance for victory. (I'd never really looked so hard at this word before. It's amazing the connections that exist in languages, once you really start thinking about why words mean what they do!)

But anyhow, a few examples:

– Carmen had to move quickly, so as not to lose her place in line. –

– Her team could lose the whole scavenger hunt if she didn't get this signature! –

– Carmen would do just about anything not to lose face in front of Andrew again. –

LOOSE is the word that means "the opposite of tight". It is also occasionally used as a verb ("to loose") which means to let something slacken (to make it the opposite of tight). But 95 percent of the time, it's used as an adjective.

– The Elvis impersonator held the pen loosely as he signed Carmen's card. –

– Once he was done, Carmen ran back to the car and loosed an excited squeal. They had won! –

The tricky part about these words is that they are occasionally used within the same sentence or paragraph of each other. For example, it's easy to think about a story where something like this might happen:

– Michelle loosed the boat from its mooring. As she worked the last rope loose, it slipped from her hands. She dove into the water after it, since she did not want to lose that rope."

If you end up writing about something getting "loose" and then getting "lost", just remember to take it slowly when you edit, because that's a situation where it'll really be easy to... well, lose your way with the grammar! (And, in case anyone failed to notice, my Peeve concerning this subject is utterly unrelated to my ability to pun on it.)


This is one of the few homophones that actually bothers me. No, I don't just mean that seeing it misused bothers me, but that I've (once in a while and just for giggles, of course) misused it myself. I hope that, upon editing, I've caught all the screw ups, but I'm sure that's not true. I'm not quite sure why it bothers me so much, since I know the rule and understand it, but every now and then I look at my writing and see that an a-ffect has slipped in where an e-ffect should be, or vice versa. (Fortunately, since I know I do it all the time, I'm very good at double checking any time I see an affect/effect. Knowing your habits is very helpful, for a writer, even when those habits are wrong.)

Unlike the above two words, "affect" and "effect" have strongly-related meanings. This makes them trickier to distinguish, but I'll do my best!

AFFECT is always a verb (except apparently in some esoteric psychology terminology, according to the online dictionary). Unfortunately, "effect" can also be a verb, so that's not always a whole lot of help. "Affect" means to "make something happen" or sometimes "to pretend that something happened." Some examples:

– Everything we do affects other people. –

– When someone near us screams, we can affect not to notice, but it'll be a lie. –

EFFECT can either be a verb meaning "to cause, to make happen," or a noun meaning "something produced by a cause, something created by the actions of something or someone else." We're most accustomed to hearing the latter use (Ms. Fix from sixth grade was forever talking about "cause and effect"!), but the verb form isn't uncommon either. The thing that's always seemed strange about these words to me is that the phrase "to effect an effect" actually makes SENSE! Whatever English teacher created this word must have really wanted some job security, because he defined a word to both mean "to cause" and to mean "to be caused by"! Sheesh! Honestly, English is a dreadfully screwed up language sometimes.

But yes, here are some examples for you. And don't worry – I triple checked them, so I'm at least 98 percent certain I didn't screw them up!

– The cause of a scream might be unknown, but its effect is fairly predictable: heads turning, people running, maybe even others screaming. –

– The girl's yells effected her escape: when her attacker turned to answer the bystanders' questions, she could run away. –

– Luckily for her, loud noises have the effect of attracting a lot of attention quickly. –

There are a couple of other, less common definitions for "effect" too. In science, it's used when talking about specific laws or principles, as in "the Doppler effect" or "relativistic effects" (this is really just an expansion of the previous definition, though). Also, you can talk about "special effects" or "three-dimensional effects".

And, as the dictionary reminds me, there are several common phrases involving "effect" (but never "affect"!):

"for effect" – to make an impression, but not serve any other purpose.

– Sometimes authors just use big words for effect, which in my opinion, doesn't improve their writing any. –

"in effect" – two meanings: "for all practical purposes" or "basically", and "in operation"

– In effect, using big words unnecessarily proves only that a writer is a show-off. –

– But some writers seem to have plans, in effect, to run through the whole dictionary without repeating any words longer than five letters! –

Ugh. Okay, I obviously haven't written one of these grammar reviews in a while. Trying to force the necessary words and phrases (in the desired tense) into a coherent story-line was a bit tough. What do you think? Does the tale seem a little too affected to you? Could I affect your learning significantly if I used more or better examples? Or are there few true effects of choosing different examples? Maybe next time I'll try more, just for effect.

Okay, okay, I'll stop the pain now, I promise! And I'm rather proud of myself. In all the affect/effect examples, I only typed one wrong, the first time! (I think...) That's not bad for me.

Good luck! And just remember: grammar DOES have an effect on how people look on your work! How well you write may affect your future! ;-P