dictionary and thesaurus

Another update to our Glossary of Confusing Words. This time we have two pairs of words, and some explanation about how to tell the difference between them.

1) Effect/Affect

There are a lot of English words that even confuse native English speakers, and effect/affect is a great example.

The most common way they are distinguished is that "affect" is most often used as a verb and "effect" is most often used as a noun.  So you would have:

"The medicine had an effect very quickly."

(If you have a word like a, an or the in front of it, you know it's a noun)

"The rain affected our enjoyment of the picnic."

(Affected is a synonym for influenced)

But here's where it gets a little confusing.  Both words have lesser-used forms as well.  "Effect" can also be used as a verb meaning "to cause" or "to bring about," and "affect" can also be used as a verb meaning "to pretend" or "to put on."  So you could have:

"We need to effect a new policy to deal with this situation."

(The policy needs to be brought about)

"He affected a British accent, even though he's American."

(He put on a British accent he doesn't normally have)

2) Story/History

The person who suggested these words also gave a great example of their use:

I read a story about the history of [A]merican [I]ndians.

A story is a tale or a narrative, and can be fiction or non-fiction. History is an aggregate of past events, usually relating to a particular important person, place or time period.

The distinction can be a bit fuzzy sometimes, and I could say to someone "I'll tell you the story of New York" or "I'll tell you the history of New York" and mean the same thing. But even though in some languages the two words have the same translation (for example, "histoire" in French), in English there is a distinction.

By the way, you may have noticed that not all the words we define on the blog end up on the actual Glossary of Confusing Words page. That page is specifically for words that you would come across when applying to a U.S. college or university. But we love helping out with all these other types of words too. So hopefully the current system of defining them in blog posts is working for you. And check out the actual Glossary page for help with words you might find on college websites or applications.

Have a word to submit for our Glossary of Confusing Words (college-related or not)? Let us know using the form below or in the comments section. Make sure to tell us why you thought it was confusing or why it might be confusing to others! And if you already submitted a word and we haven't defined it yet, don't worry, it's coming. We've got a long queue!