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September 21st, 2005

Affected and effected / commas with state names / plurals from Greek

by Barbara Wallraff

Susan Stiles, of Jarrettsville, Md., writes: “I’ve seen dozens of Hurricane Katrina stories that refer to ‘the effected area.’ Can this possibly be correct as an alternative to ‘the affected area’? In one story people who lost their vehicles in the storm were referred to as ‘effected drivers.’”

Dear Susan: Oh, no. “The effected area” and “effected drivers” are wrong, wrong, wrong. “Effect” is mainly a noun, as in “The storm had a devastating effect.” Occasionally, however, it’s used as a verb, meaning “to put into effect”: “FEMA effected such plans as it had.”
“Affect” is mainly a verb, as in “The storm severely affected coastal areas.” The adjective comes from the verb: “The affected area” means “the area that was affected.” I wish I could find -- or think up -- a simple memory aid to help keep straight which word is which. (Anyone who knows one, please write!) Worth remembering, though, is that the meanings of “affect” and “effect” don’t overlap at all. In every context, one of these words is right and the other is wrong. Effective writers -- ones who produce the effect they intend -- know the difference.

Peter Valiante, of Lebanon, N.H., writes: “When I write, for example, ‘located in the Barre, Vt., area,’ are both commas around the state name appropriate? Or only the first one?”

Dear Peter: How curious: Suddenly everyone is asking about adjectives that often modify “area.” If you don’t like to use the comma after the state’s name, you can defend your choice -- just barely -- by invoking Garner’s Modern American Usage, by Bryan A. Garner. Garner argues that the practice of using a city-plus-state place name as an adjective “should generally be resisted,” because even with just one comma it “disrupts the flow of the sentence.” He adds that two commas “make matters worse.”
But nearly all other language authorities say that if you’re going to write a phrase like “in the Barre, Vt., area,” you should put a pair of commas around “Vt.” They give that advice even while admitting the second comma is illogical. William A. Sabin, in his Gregg Reference Manual, explains the illogic like this: “Using two commas to set off (a state) name gives parenthetical treatment to an element that is not parenthetical.” Nonetheless, Sabin calls the use of two commas “a firmly entrenched convention of style” that is “not likely to change.” The same goes, by the way, for the commas in comparable phrases involving dates instead of place names -- for instance, “the Sept. 21, 2005, issue of your newspaper.”

Armand Andrle, of Eddington, Maine, writes: “Re a reply of yours in a recent column, ‘criteria’ and ‘phenomena’ are, to my knowledge, plurals of Greek words, not Latin.”

Dear Armand: Mea culpa! You -- and the other readers who pointed out my mistake -- are right. There’s some excuse for calling “phenomena” and its singular, “phenomenon,” Latin, because this word came to us from the Greek “phainomenon” by way of the Latin “phaenomenon.” But “criteria” and its singular “criterion” are directly derived from the Greek “kriterion.” The Latinized version, “criterium,” dropped out of use in English in the late 1800s.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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