Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Common Mistakes in Syntax

Rein – reign – rain

Everybody knows what rain is: water falling from the sky. It’s rein and reign that sometimes confuse people.

A rein, then, is the strap you hold in your hand to control your horse. To rein in a horse is to pull back on the reins, thereby either slowing or stopping the horse. To rein in your passions is to damp them down, to control them.

Reign is synonymous with rule. A monarch reigns. The reign of Queen Victoria was some sixty years.

Wreck – wreak – reek

To wreck is to ruin. Mommy, he knocked down my blocks and wrecked my tower!

Wreck can also be a noun: My dentist has survived a terrible car wreck.

To wreak (pronounced “reek”) is to drive, punish, or avenge. It is usually used in the phrase, “to wreak havoc", havoc being wide and general destruction, devastation; great confusion and disorder. The soldiers wreaked havoc upon their enemies means they brought disaster upon them.

To reek literally means to emit smoke or vapor but we usually use its second meaning, to give off or become permeated with a strong, sometimes offensive, odor. He was reeking of alcohol. The ballroom reeked of marijuana.

Effect – affect

Effect is a noun. His silliness had the effect of discrediting him. The effect of the magician’s illusion was astonishing.

Affect is usually a verb. Nothing she does can affect me any more.

Affect can be a noun, but usually in psychotherapy lingo. The patient had flat affect means she showed no emotions or feelings, lacked animation.


It’s often pronounced “congradulations” in America, but both that pronunciation and that spelling are incorrect. Spell it with a “t” and spit out that “t” so it almost sounds like, “Cun—gratch—you—LAY—shunz.”


Mimi said...

I love this. Thank you for this important reminder.