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Problem or trouble? Affect or effect?

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Students often confuse problem/trouble and affect/effect. Read these extracts from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (CALD) and the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary (CLD).

trouble or problem?

Problem means ‘a situation that causes difficulties and that needs to be dealt with’. You can talk about a problem or problems.

Tell me what the problem is.
He’s having a few problems at work.

Trouble means ‘problems. Difficulties or worries and is used to talk about problems in a more general way. Trouble is almost always uncountable, so do not use the determiner a before it.

We had some trouble while we were on holiday.

affect or effect?

Affect is a verb which means ‘to cause a change’.

Pollution seriously affects the environment.

Use the noun effect to talk about the change, reaction or result caused by something.

Global warming is one of the effects of pollution.

Questions

  • 1 Which word, ‘trouble’ or ‘problem’, can you make plural?
  • 2 Which doesn’t use the word ‘a’ before it?
  • 3 Which word would you use when talking about a difficulty you want to work on or solve?
  • 4 Which word might you use for something which worries you but you won’t take any action?
  • 5 Which word is a noun and which is a verb?

Answers
1 problems 2 trouble 3 problem 4 trouble 5 noun – effect; verb – affect

Exercise 1
Underline the correct word in sentences 1-4.

  • 1 They may have some problems / troubles, but usually they accept them.
  • 2 They notice only the things that cause them a problem / trouble.
  • 3 Feelings of disorientation and anxiety no longer affect / effect them.
  • 4 These feelings may have the affect / effect of people rejecting the new culture.

Exercise 2
Five of these sentences contain a mistake. Find and correct the mistakes.

  • 1 Many students’ studies are effected by difficulties with languages. affected
  • 2 Overseas students have accommodation problems.
  • 3 Modern lifestyles have an affect on our health.
  • 4 Other countries effect our customs.
  • 5 Immigrants have an affect on the local economy.
  • 6 Most children can deal with their own troubles.

Answers
1 2 problem 3 affect 4 effect
2 correct 3 affect effect 4 effect affect 5 affect effect 6 troubles problems

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