Affect vs. Effect: How to Choose the Right Word

Which one to choose (mostly) depends on whether it's a verb or a noun

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"Affect" and "effect" can be difficult to keep straight. But they're not interchangeable, so it's necessary to learn the difference.

Their main distinction is in the way they're most commonly used: "Affect" is most often used as a verb, whereas "effect" is most often used as a noun. (And of course, there are exceptions—this is English, after all.) But if you can't remember which is which, there's also a trick you can use.

How to Use "Affect"

"Affect," the verb, with the stress on the second syllable, is based on a Latin word that means to act on, have influence on, or do something to. The (transitive) verb is the more common form.

The verb "affect" can also mean to make a pretense of. Someone with a fake upper-class accent has affected it and would be said to have an affectation.

How to Use "Effect"

"Effect" is an English noun based on a Latin word that means to work out or accomplish. The English noun "effect" normally means results, although sometimes it means household goods, such as when you're talking about someone's estate. It can also be used in the context of an impression or noting when something new begins.

Examples

Let's look at some examples of the most common usages ("affect" as a verb and "effect" as a noun), using the different definitions.

Affect

  • Verb, to influence: Alcohol affects the liver.
  • Verb, to pretend: The actor is affecting a Southern accent on stage—or trying to at least.

Effect

  • Noun, results: The effects of inflation include a reduction in discretionary spending.
  • Noun, into operation: The new rule goes into effect next month.
  • Noun, impression: That spooky sound was made totally for effect.
  • Noun, goods: The adult children met to decide how to divide up their parents' effects.

Exceptions to the Norm

As with most everything in English, there are exceptions to the norm. In the case of "affect" and "effect," the exceptions to the most common usage would be using "effect" as a verb and "affect" as a noun.

The (transitive) verb "effect" means to make happen, to bring about, to cause, or to accomplish.

  • He effected a settlement to the negotiations.
  • Congress effected changes to the law.

"Effect" as a verb is more common than "affect" as a noun, which is used in psychological jargon. The noun "affect," with stress on the first syllable, means a mental state.

  • The patient had a particular affect that the doctor noted.

How to Remember the Difference

Remembering the difference for most usages of "affect" and "effect" can be as easy as remembering which is the verb or which is the noun and plugging the right one into the sentence based on usage.

Or follow these steps to decide which one to use:

  1. Is it a (transitive) verb or a noun?
  2. If a noun,
  3. Is it psychological jargon?
  4. If it's psychological jargon, it may be "affect," with an "a."
  5. If it's not psychological jargon, it's "effect," with an "e."
  6. If it's a verb, is it closer in meaning to accomplish or to bring about, or is it closer to influence?
  7. If it's a verb meaning to bring about, it's "effect," with an "e," unless it's an affectation.
  8. If it's a verb meaning influence, it's "affect," with an "a."

If you need a rule to remember on the fly for the most common usage ("affect" as a verb and "effect" as a noun), remember that there will always be an "a" involved. You'll either "affect" something, or there will be "an effect."

Sources

  • “Affect | Definition of Affect in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/affect.
  • “Effect | Definition of Effect in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/effect.
  • Purdue Writing Lab. “Spelling: Common Words That Sound Alike // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab, owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/grammar/spelling_common_words_that_sound_alike.html.