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Word Pair Confusions…Clarified?

by Kimberly on August 30, 2012 · 2 comments

I vividly remember the first time I stared at a word, trying to figure out whether I had, in fact, spelled it correctly. It was high school and the word was…


That’s right. “What.” For whatever reason, I was looking at “what” and it looked wrong. I could not figure out what was happening with “what” and thought for sure I was going crazy.

Since then, I’ve never forgotten how to spell “what,” but there are a couple of word pairs that I always seem to have to look up. I do a lot of writing—blogging, scholarly, documentation, and otherwise—and seem to come across these words frequently. Two pairs of words in particular trip me up.

In sharing these with you, I’m hoping that (1) I’m not the only one who struggles with certain words sometimes, and (2) that if I write them out here, it will help clarify the difference in my mind so I don’t have to look them up every single time I use them.

(As I share these definitions and distinctions, keep in mind that I’m only using the definitions most relevant to the clinical, scholarly, and professional writing I do.)

Word Pair #1: Effect v. Affect

Effect (n): Something that follows an antecedent, i.e. a cause

The Effect of Music Listening on X Treatment Outcome

We anticipate that creating this license will have little effect on the cost of therapy services.

The singing exercises seemed to have an effect on the client’s vocal range.

Effect (v): To cause or come into being in a direct way (Tip: the key word here is “direct.” See if the sentence still has the same meaning you intend if you write “a direct effect on.”)

That song seemed to have an effect on the mood of all the group members, as indicated by smiles, clapping, foot tapping, and increased eye contact.

Affect (n): a set of observable behaviors, mostly facial, that indicate a subjective feeling

The client had a flat facial affect.

The therapist is very aware of her affect and body language during sessions.

Affect (v): To produce an effect on, to influence a person’s mind or feelings (Tip: this is a more generalized meaning than the verb “effect.” Substitute “influence” for “affect” to see if you are using the correct word. If you mean the verb “effect,” it won’t sound quite right.)

The rhythmic cue affected his gait parameters.

The music playing in the hallway affected the mood of the entire wing.

Word Pair #2: Ensure v. Insure

Ensure (v): To make certain, to guarantee

Creating a music therapy license will ensure that our citizens have access to a quality treatment option.

Expanding this music therapy program will ensure that more of our patients will benefit from this treatment option.

Insure (v): To make certain by taking necessary precautions (“Precautions” is the key word as it is closely tied to the idea of “insurance.” You “insure” against something you DON’T want to happen.)

They hoped that their new health insurance plan would insure that they could access all the therapies they needed.

I hope all this studying insures that I get a job after I graduate.

Special thanks to for their help with these definitions.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa September 9, 2012 at 11:01 am

Thank you for taking the time to research and write this in such a clear manner! I thought I had cleared up my confusion with these words during undergrad/internship. However, I was dignosed & treated for a brain tumor during my second year of professional practice. I assumed that my word mix-up was due to my medical condition. I’ve searched for easy ways to remember the correct use of these words & your post is the first one that seems to stick in my head! The substitute words were the biggest help for me. I’ll be sure to follow your blog from here on out. Thanks again! 🙂

Kimberly September 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm

How wonderful to hear, Lisa! Thanks for letting me know! Another great resource I have found that explains the nuances of grammar and the English language in a very accessible way is Grammar Girl. Best of luck to you! ~Kimberly

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