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Grammar Repair Shop: Tips for avoiding 4 common word goofs

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Should it be affect or effect? They're or their?

If you haven't confused these words when writing, you've probably seen others mix them up.

Here's how to make the right choice, when it comes to the following commonly confused words:

1. There/their/they're. Example: There/Their/They're meeting always runs long.

Answer: Their.

How to remember: "Their" contains "heir," to remind you that it's possessive. "There" contains "here," to remind you that it refers to place. "They're" is short for "they are," so try swapping in that longer phrase to see whether you've chosen the right word.

2. Than/then. Example: Please return this form no later than/then 7/1/06.

Answer: than.

Use "than" when showing a relationship between two things. Examples: "bigger than my last raise," "longer than three pages."

Use "then" to denote order or consequences. Examples: "First this, then that"; "if x, then y."
How to remember: Then contains an "e," just as time and consequences do.

3. Affect/effect. Example: The client's attitude didn't affect/effect the way I handled the problem.

Answer: affect.

You can use each as either a verb or a noun, which means these two words have four meanings between them. No wonder it's difficult deciding which one to use.

Usually, "affect" is used as a verb, as in the example above. And "effect" is used as a noun, as in: "When I study, the effect is that I perform better on tests."

How to remember: When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it. ("Affect" comes first because "a" precedes "e" alphabetically.)

4. Compliment/complement
. Example: My skills would really compliment/complement this project.

Answer: complement.

You can pay someone a compliment, and a free bonus is a complimentary gift, but items that go well together complement one another.

How to remember: "I" can give a compliment or a gift; something that complements completes.

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