Three more cases of misused words to watch for on your application essays

July 27, 2012

While you can expound all you like on Nietzsche, Banach algebra, quantum computing or the linguistic acrobatics of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake in your college or scholarship application essay, a misuse or two of "affect" and "effect" will immediately make you look silly. How do you avoid this deplorable fate? Keep in mind all the various and regular misuses of everyday words, dodge them and search doggedly through your essay for them.

When you see an "effect" or an "affect" train your brain to immediately evaluate its correctness. Then do that for the rest of these common cases of misused words.

1. Affect and Effect. "His clumsy handling of chemicals affected the experiment" Here we can see that to affect means to influence, alter or change. As a quick tip, affect will be a verb about 90-percent of the time it's used. When it's not a verb, it's almost assuredly a noun meaning an observed state of emotion or demeanor. "Effect," on the other hand, can easily be noun or verb. "Effect" as a verb means to bring about a result - "He effected a change in the school after becoming class president." Here, he didn't just influence a change but brought one about. "Effect" as a noun can mean that result. "The effect of his becoming class president was a change in the school."

2. Nauseated and nauseous. Remember that when you are "nauseous" you are not not feeling well, rather you are making others "nauseated" by having a nauseating effect on them. So, "The admissions counselor was nauseated by the poor grammar" or "The poor grammar was as nauseous as an old diaper."

3. Irony. This is a big one. People often call things ironic that are emphatically not, but it's an understandably hazy area. Consider these tips as rules. Spoken irony is often what we think of as sarcasm - making a statement but usually meaning the opposite of the literal words. Situational irony occurs when the end result of something is different than what would be expected. For instance, it's not ironic that a truck carrying coffee beans crashed into the Starbucks. That's just coincidental. What would be ironic is if that Starbucks had just run out of beans, and so, despite the structural damage, everything turned out for the best.

Scholarship opportunities are a great help with college tuition - don't gamble your chances over a few wrong words!

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