Affect and Effect

Commonly Confused Words

The words affect and effect are often confused because they sound alike and have related meanings.

Definitions

Affect is usually a verb meaning to influence, produce a change, or pretend to be feeling something. 

Effect is usually a noun meaning result or consequence. The noun effect also means a particular look or sound created to imitate something (as in "the effect of flying").  When used as a verb, effect means to cause.

 

Note: If you're in a professional field related to psychology or psychiatry, you're probably familiar with a special use of affect (with stress on the first syllable) as a noun meaning "an expressed or observed emotional response." However, this technical term seldom appears in everyday (non-technical) writing.

Also see the usage notes below.

Examples

  • Volcanoes can temporarily affect the atmosphere.
     
  • "He wanted to dream of the woman who was to be his wife, to think out lines for noble poems or make plans that would affect his career. Much to his surprise his mind refused to do anything of the sort."
    (Sherwood Anderson, "The Other Woman." The Little Review, 1920)
     
  • "Arkansas summer mornings have a feathering effect on stone reality."
    (Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name. Random House, 1974)
     
  • If you want to effect change in Washington, you have to vote.
     
  • "Orville and Wilbur Wright may have built what was in effect a flying bicycle, but the only way we know what it's like to ride one is through the mediation of film. When E.T. and Elliott achieve liftoff and pedal into the sky, the effect is transporting and strangely moving."
    (A.O. Scott, "The Art of Flying in the Movies." The New York Times Magazine, December 10, 2015)
     
  • "Despite differences in their effects on animals, a wide range of animal diseases have the potential to affect producers and consumers in some very similar ways."
    (Kenneth H. Mathews, "Economic Effects of Major Livestock Diseases Outbreaks," 2003)
     
  • "Social life is imbued with affect. Every interaction with others can influence our emotional state, and affect in turn plays an important role in the way we form judgments and behave in strategic social situations."
    (J.P. Forgas and C.A. Smith, "Affect and Emotion." The Sage Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. by M.A. Hogg and J. Cooper. Sage, 2003)  


    Corrections

    • "In a table entitled Excessive vitamin intake, which accompanied the article, Watchdogs to set limits on vitamin intake (page 7, August 30), it was said that boron 'might effect reproduction.' No such miracle supplement is yet on the market. 'Affect' was the intended word."
      (Corrections and Clarifications, The Guardian [UK], September 3, 2002)
       
    • "Exhortations in Guardian Style have had little effect on the number of mistakes; the level of mistakes has been little affected by our exhortations; we hope to effect a change in this."
      (David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style. Guardian Books, 2010)


    Usage Notes

    • "Confusion concerning the use of these two words stems from the fact that anything that affects something else has an effect on it.

      "However, the verb meanings of the two words differ widely. Perhaps one way to determine proper usage is to think of to affect as meaning to bring about partial results; to effect as meaning to achieve complete results. 'The cost of the farm program affects all our pocketbooks'; 'Arbitration was necessary to effect a settlement of the strike.'

      "There is, of course, another meaning to the verb affect: to pretend or feign something in order to influence: 'She affected a passion for sports because she loved college weekends.'

      "Effect is the only one of these words in common use as a noun; affect (noun) is used only in psychology."
      (William and Mary Morris, Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage. Harper & Row, 1975)
       
    • Affect, Effect, . . . or Impact?
      "I assume writers and editors, in a bit of language laziness, have given up on trying to use the words affect and effect correctly, in favor of accepting the word impact as a substitute for both, thus diluting the previous meaning of impact. . . .

      "What people want to mean when they use impact as a verb (a usage that many revile) might be better expressed by the verb affect: A affects B. The noun similar in meaning to the noun impact is effect: A has an effect on B. A mnemonic might be: The action is affect; the end result is effect."
      (Barbara Wallraff, Word Court. Harcourt, 2000)


    Practice

    (a) Artificial sweeteners may _____ the brain's perception of sugars.

    (b) Large doses of artificial sweeteners may have an adverse _____ on people.

    (c) Low lying clouds have a cooling _____ on the atmosphere.



    (d) "Flint River water was so corrosive that it was leaching away lead in older pipes and contaminating the water. The health consequences of this may _____ children, in particular, for the rest of their lives."
    (Matt Latimer, "Republicans Ignore a Poisoned City." The New York Times, January 21, 2016)

    (e) "It is time to _____ a revolution in female manners—time to restore to them their lost dignity—and make them, as a part of the human species, labor by reforming themselves to reform the world."
    (Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Affect and Effect

    (a) Artificial sweeteners may affect the brain's perception of sugars.

    (b) Large doses of artificial sweeteners may have an adverse effect on people.

    (c) Low lying clouds have a cooling effect on the atmosphere.

    (d) "Flint River water was so corrosive that it was leaching away lead in older pipes and contaminating the water. The health consequences of this may affect children, in particular, for the rest of their lives."
    (Matt Latimer, "Republicans Ignore a Poisoned City." The New York Times, January 21, 2016)

    (e) "It is time to effect  a revolution in female manners—time to restore to them their lost dignity—and make them, as a part of the human species, labor by reforming themselves to reform the world."
    (Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792)

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Affect and Effect." ThoughtCo, Sep. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/affect-and-effect-1692642. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, September 13). Affect and Effect. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/affect-and-effect-1692642 Nordquist, Richard. "Affect and Effect." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/affect-and-effect-1692642 (accessed September 24, 2017).