Affect vs. Effect: The Difference a Letter Can Make
When using the words “affect” and “effect,” many people confuse the two and end up choosing the wrong form. They can be difficult to differentiate. After all, both words look similar when printed, and most people pronounce both words in such a way that they sound like the same word. While “affect” is more commonly used as a verb, and “effect” is more commonly used as a noun, both words have noun and verb forms that can be used in certain situations. Context provides the key. “Affect” and “effect,” however, mean different things in both verb and noun forms. Knowing this can help someone choose which one to use in a sentence. The following offers some guidelines for knowing when to use “affect” vs. “effect.”
Affect: Definition “Affect” means simply to change, to act on, to influence or to attack. “Affect” alters something. For example, a woman might be deciding between two pairs of pants at the store, when a salesperson points out that one pair is on sale. The woman might think, “The sale affects my decision.” In this case, “affect” means “influence.” It’s a set of circumstances that alters the situation. If you can replace the verb in the sentence with another altering verb, like “influence” or “change,” then you can safely use “affect” correctly.
Affect: Verb Form In order to understand “affect” as a verb, one should pay close attention to context. As established, “affect” is most often used as a verb, though it does have a noun form (see below). If the verb form of “affect” indicates change, then it will be easier to identify the correct usage in a sentence.
- That game will affect the way he views his team.
- This storm affects the whole weekend.
- Having a child affected her outlook.
In the second and third sentences, “affect” is conjugated just as a normal verb would be in a normal sentence by using “affects” and “affected” to indicate subject-verb agreement and tense, respectively. In each sentence, “affect” could be replaced by the following words, respectively: alter, influences and changed. “Affect” means to have an impact on something. Knowing this will simplify its usage.
Affect: Noun Form In rare situations, “affect” can be used as a noun. In this case, “affect” means a state of emotion. A psychologist might say, “The man suffered from an unknown affect.” In fact, psychology and psychiatry are the only professions that still make regular use of “affect” as a noun because “affect” as a noun indicates an emotional or psychological state, or affectation. Dictionaries consider “affect” as a noun obsolete. Still, it’s important to know when this could appear as a noun to avoid confusion.
Effect: Definition “Effect” as a noun means several different things:
- “something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence”
- “power to produce results; efficacy; force; validity; influence”
- “the state of being operative or functional; operation or execution; accomplishment or fulfillment”
- “a mental or emotional impression produced”
- “meaning or sense; purpose or intention”
Effect: Noun Form In general, while it may be hard to pinpoint an exact, concise definition of “effect” as a noun, the rule of thumb is that “effect” happens while “affect” performs the happening. For example, in an earlier sentence, the woman was affected by her baby. Someone might then say, “That baby had a positive effect on her mother.” The woman was affected by her child, and the effect was good. In this case, “effect” could be replaced with the word “result.” “Effect” means an outcome of some kind in this sense. Other common ways to use “effect” as a noun include as a general statement of intent, as with the last definition bullet point. A man might dictate a letter to his secretary by saying, “Put in a note about the Johnson order or something to that effect.” In this case, “effect” is being used as a placeholder for an intended emotion. The manager intends for the recipient of this letter to understand something about the Johnson order, the “something” being represented by “effect” at the secretary’s discretion. This can be a tricky use of the word “effect,” but it is a common one so understanding its use is important to understanding English grammar. Unfortunately, there is no way to concisely describe each individual use of the word “effect” as a noun, but a good way to think about it is in relation to a result or indication of something else. Here are other ways to use “effect” as a noun, as indicated in the aforementioned definition points:
- That employee had a poor effect on the company. (power to produce results)
- The sale had no effect on business for the day. (state of being operative)
- His mother’s death produced an unusual effect in him. (mental state caused by emotional response)
Using “effect” as a noun can be confusing, but knowing the difference between it and “affect” makes a huge difference in the English language.
Effect: Verb Form Like “affect,” “effect” can also be used as a verb. In this case, “effect” means to bring about a change or result, to influence. One might say, “That politician has the ability to effect reform.” In this case, “effect” indicates influence, that the politician has the ability to enact or bring about change. Unlike “affect,” which also means to influence or change, in this situation, “effect” means ownership of the change that’s happening. Take note of the difference:
- He effected a new program to increase literacy.
- The literacy program affected him.
The difference between the two sentences might seem minor, but they do matter. In the first one, the person brought about a new literacy program; he took responsibility for its outcome. In the second, the change happened as a result of something else. These are minor but important distinctions. “Effect” as a noun means to bring about some sort of change or result.
Summary Differentiating between “affect” and “effect” can be a challenge. Both words have noun and verb forms, and they sound similar. However, as a general rule of thumb, “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. While in special circumstances each may be used as a noun or verb, this rule generally applies to most situations. “Affect” results in “effect.” Knowing the difference takes time and practice. These are two words in the English language with which many people struggle. While they may seem confusing based on the given definitions and examples, in reality, distinguishing between “affect” and “effect” is easier than trying to pinpoint all the definitions for each word. Knowing that “effect” has several definitions will improve grammar and diction skills, but knowing its difference in relation to “affect” will be more helpful in everyday life. The distinction between the two matters more than knowing every single way in which they’re used. Context clues will help differentiate between which word to use, and over time, it becomes easier to distinguish between “affect” and “effect.”
Quiz Choose which word belongs in the blanks:
1. That speech really __________ my decision to vote for him. a. effected b. affected
2. He had a positive __________ on voter turnout. a. effect b. affect
3. I can’t believe he is __________ me so much! a. effecting b. affecting
4. Do the sales results really __________ the outcome? a. effect b. affect
5. Please explain to him that I can’t go fishing, or something to that __________. a. effect b. affect
6. The __________ of the artwork was so strong that she couldn’t move. a. effect b. affect
7. The doctor reported that his patent’s lack of __________ was due to a psychological disorder. a. effect b. affect
Answers, in order: b, a, b, b, a, a, b