Frequently Confused Words on the SAT and ACT: Part 2


In an earlier post, we introduced the topic of frequently confused words, which you will encounter on both the SAT and the ACT.

As mentioned previously, ACT English exclusively tests words which either sound like a pronoun form or are pronoun forms themselves. SAT Writing and Language tests these words too, but also more broadly tests some common homophones that aren’t pronouns.

Today, we’ll discuss two more common pronoun form mistakes and go over the non-pronoun homophone pair that is perhaps the most likely to appear on the SAT.

1. Whose and Who’s

“Whose” is a pronoun form, indicating the possessive of the pronoun “who,” and is often used in a question when the person in possession of something is unknown, as in, “Whose recipe did you use to make this?”

You can also use “whose” in statements that aren’t questions—this applies to both singular people, as in the Wallace Stevens poem “The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad,” and groups, as in, “I have many friends whose parents are bakers.”

“Who’s,” meanwhile, is the short form of “who is.” As with other contractions, if “who’s” gives you trouble, say the long form of it to yourself whenever you see it.

“Who’s” is also frequently used in questions, as in, “Who’s your favorite chef?” However, it can also be used in non-question statements like “She’s a lawyer who’s familiar with civil law.”

Unlike “whose,” though, you can’t use “who’s” for plural subjects; instead, use “who are,” as in, “I have no friends who are candlestick makers.”

2. Your and You’re

“Your” is the possessive form of the pronoun “you.” Use “your” when discussing something possessed by someone you’re talking to directly, as in, “I enjoyed listening to your performance.”

“You’re,” on the other hand, is a contraction of “you are.” As with all of the contractions we’ve discussed in this series, remember it by associating the long form with it each time you see it.

“You’re” is used in cases of direct address, as in, “You’re the winner of this year’s contest.”

3. Affect and Effect

Don’t feel bad if get tripped up by this duo, as they’re perhaps the most frequently confused pair of words in English.

The word “affect” almost always acts as a verb, indicating that something has made an impact upon something else. For example, you’d use “affect” in a sentence like “These policies will negatively affect public health.” You can always mentally switch out “affect” with “impact” when you see it, as they’re quite similar.

“Effect,” on the other hand, usually act as a noun; an effect is the result of something (thus the concept of “cause and effect”). For instance, you’d use “effect” in “Their new policy had a negative effect.”

To stress the difference between the two words once more, consider this sentence using both: “Their attempt to affect public health had a negative effect.”

Note that another meaning of “affect” means to “pretend” or “pose” or “fake”; you’d use “affect” in a sentence like “John likes to affect a worldly, cynical attitude.”

Finally, there are other meanings for “affect” that you might encounter in college classes such as philosophy, psychology, literature, or related disciplines; while the specific definitions may differ, they all broadly refer to the experience of emotion (as in Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition causing people to feel worse at specific times of the year).

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