skip to content

Transkills: supporting transition to University


Affect and Effect

'Affect' is normally used as a verb. To 'affect' something means to alter or influence it. E.g. 'The relationship between science and religion in the nineteenth century was affected (i.e. altered or influenced) by the professionalisation of science'.

When it is used as a noun, 'affect' means feeling or emotion.

'Effect' is normally used as a noun. The 'effect' of something is its impact, outcome or result. E.g. 'One of the effects (i.e. results or outcomes) of the professionalization of science in the nineteenth century was a transformation of the relationship between science and religion.'

'Effects' can also mean property; someone's 'effects' are their belongings.

When it is used as a verb, 'to effect' something means to bring something about. E.g. 'The police officer effected an arrest'. 



An apostrophe indicates one of two things:

  1. A missing word or letter.
  2. Possession.

"It's raining" and "Don't do that" are examples of apostrophes indicating missing letters. "Smith's argument" and "Price's dog" are examples of possessive apostrophes. 
"Its" (meaning 'of it') is an exception; even though it is a possessive pronoun made by adding an 's', it does not have an apostrophe. This is simply to distinguish "its" (meaning 'of it') from "it's" (meaning 'it is').

When using an apostrophe to indicate possession, and the word or name already ends in "s" (perhaps because it is a plural) there are two alternatives: either put just an apostrophe after the final "s", or add an apostrophe and another "s".

So, "the argument of Dawkins" becomes either "Dawkins' argument" or "Dawkins's argument", and "the advice of Thomas" becomes either "Thomas' advice" or "Thomas's advice".

Potentially confusing cases occur when a plural word does not end in "s": e.g. "children" or "people". In these cases, the apostrophe should come before the "s", since it is a possessive "s" and not a pluralizing "s": e.g. "the children's toys", "the people's princess".

What an apostrophe does not indicate is that a word is in the plural. When making a plural, you never use an apostrophe. E.g. The plural of banana is bananas, not banana's. 


Beg the Question

A lot of people misuse the expression 'begs the question'. It does not mean 'demands that the following question be asked'.

To beg the question is to provide a supposed answer to a question that, in fact, covertly assumes the truth of the answer rather than providing an argument for it. In other words, to beg the question is to give a circular argument, i.e. an argument that tacitly includes the conclusion amongst its premises.

E.g. If I were asked to say whether God exists or not and I replied 'No, obviously not, since so many people are atheists these days', then I could be said to be begging the question. This is because one of the hidden premises of my argument was that those people who say that God does not exist are right. In other words I was covertly just assuming the truth of the proposition for which I was supposed to be providing a justification. 


Computer Analogy

When applying the analogy of computer hardware and software to the relationship between the human brain and mind, the brain is likened to the hardware (computer) and the mind is likened to the software (programme) that runs on the computer.


Criterion and Criteria

A criterion is a principle, standard, or test by which a thing is judged, assessed, or identified, or by which it is included or excluded from a given category. The plural of criterion is criteria.

E.g. 'The primary criterion for categorising a text as "Christian" is the use of distinctively Christian words and concepts.'
E.g. 'There are several criteria by which academic excellence might be judged: erudition, strength of argument, writing style, or originality.'


Darwin's The Origin of Species

Charles Darwin's famous book of 1859 on evolution by natural selection was called The Origin of Species, not The Origin of the Species. It is a book about the mechanism whereby new species come into existence in general, not a book about the origins of one species only. Darwin's 1871 book, The Descent of Man, is about the origin of just one species, the human species.


Determinate and Deterministic

'Determinate' means limited (as opposed to unlimited or unbounded), fixed, or firmly established.
'Deterministic' means strictly causal, as opposed to random or spontaneous.


E.g. and I.e.

E.g. stands for the Latin phrase exempli gratia, and means 'for example'. An example of how to use e.g. correctly: 'Some people, e.g. Thomas Huxley and Andrew Dickson White, have said that science and religion are in conflict.'

I.e. stands for the Latin phrase id est, and means 'that is to say' or 'in other words'. An example of how to use i.e. correctly: 'Darwin attacked Bell for his belief that each species had been separately and independently created (i.e. for his Creationism).'


Foreign-Language Phrases

Latin (and other foreign-language) phrases should go in italics (or be underlined if you are writing by hand).


Nonsense and Nonsensical

'Nonsense' can be used as a synonym for `totally untrue' or `completely wrong'. `Nonsensical' should not be used in this way.

'Untrue', 'false', 'incorrect' and 'mistaken' all mean roughly the same thing; they are used to indicate that a statement (which is perfectly comprehensible and sense-conveying) is wrong. 'Nonsensical' means 'does not make sense' – this is a different thing altogether.

'Evolutionary science has always been completely in harmony with all religious beliefs' is a false statement – it is wrong, mistaken, incorrect. 'Clocks my of weather completes' is nonsensical – it is gibberish, meaningless, incomprehensible.


'On behalf of' and `On the part of'

'On behalf of' means instead of, in the place of, for, or as a representative or agent of. E.g. 'The Regius Professor welcomed the undergraduate students on behalf of (as a representative or agent of) the whole Faculty.'
'On the part of' means of, by, produced by, or exhibited by.

E.g. 'It was a great show, and it was a particularly impressive performance on the part of (by) Millicent Mildew.'
E.g. 'This argument displays a tendency on the part of (of) Hume towards an empiricist understanding of the world.'
E.g. 'That was very aggressive behaviour on the part of (exhibited by) John.' 


Phenomenon and Phenomena

A phenomenon is a fact, process or event. More specific meanings include a very remarkable event, occurrence or person, or (in a philosophical context) a fact given by sense experience. The plural of phenomenon is phenomena.

E.g. 'The phenomenon [fact] that religious rituals are found in all cultures is one that sociologists and anthropologists have tried to explain in various ways.'
E.g. 'Jane was fascinated by all kinds of political phenomena [processes and events].'
E.g. `Manchester United's success is a footballing phenomenon [remarkable event].'
E.g. 'The purpose of scientific theories is to explain the phenomena [facts given by sense experience].'


Semi-colons and Colons

A semi-colon is like a big comma; it indicates a major pause or break in the sentence; it is mid-way in strength between a full stop and a comma.

A colon is what can be used as a prelude to a list, quotation, or new piece of information. A colon means something like 'here it comes'. 


That and Which

'That' and 'which' both have several different meanings and uses. The following comments apply only to instances when they are being used to introduce clauses describing what went before:

'That' is used to introduce a brief and direct qualification of the word or phrase that went before. Commas are not used to separate off qualifications introduced by ''that'.

E.g. `The house that Jack built ...' E.g. 'The book that he wrote was ...' E.g. 'The argument that he made was ...'

'Which' (or 'in which', or 'to which', or 'of which' etc.) is used to introduce a phrase between commas to qualify the word or phrase that went before. 'Which' introduces more incidental, elaborate or tangential qualifications than 'that'. Often 'which' means something like 'which, by the way, ...'.

E.g. 'The famous argument, which Hume makes particularly forcefully in his Treatise of Human Nature, is that ...'
E.g. `The chapel, in which there stands a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is...'