Affect vs. Effect: How to Choose the Right Word

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

When writing, selecting the precise words to convey your intended meaning is crucial. Among the many common stumbling blocks writers encounter, one particular pair of words in the English language often leads to confusion is “affect” and “effect.”

It’s easy to see why “affect” and “effect” are commonly confused words. They sound similar, they both are used as nouns and verbs, and their meanings are somewhat related. However, these two words have different spellings, meanings, and applications, and it’s essential to get them right for clarity and correct grammar.

Difference between affect and effect

To navigate the usage of affect and effect precisely, it is essential to understand their definitions in order to use the correct word in an accurate context. Below are some examples.

Affect

Although it also has a noun form, you are most likely to use “affect” as a verb. As an action word, “affect” denotes the act of influencing or causing a change in something or someone.

Sunlight affects plant growth.
Money can affect an election.
Try not to let your emotions affect your decision.

Affect can also mean putting on a false appearance or pretending. It is synonymous with “feign.”

Even though he knew about the party, he affected surprised.
She affected an Italian accent.
To blend in, she affected an ostentatious air.

And finally, the noun form of affect means the observable manifestations of a state or emotion. This form is rarely used outside of medical situations.

The patient had the flat affect of a zombie.

Effect

The term “effect” is most commonly used as a noun to refer to the result or consequence of an activity.

The coach’s halftime pep talk had a significant effect on morale.
It was the result of cause and effect.
You should feel the effect of the medicine in 20 minutes.

It can also mean the result of creating an impression.

The film had great special effects.
The accent had an effect on the audience.
Her smile had the desired effect.

Another common use is to denote the state of being operative.

The agreement will take effect next month.

Verb form of effect

English is a confusing language, so it may not come as a surprise that effect also has a verb form. It signifies bringing about a result and is most commonly used next to words like “change,” “solution,” and “result.”

The candidate wants to effect change in legislation.
The compromise effected a solution.

Although this form of effect seems very similar to the standard form of affect, the best way to keep them straight is to remember that effect has to do with impacting a change in the object, not impacting the object itself. For example, “Sunlight affects plant growth,” versus “The amount of sunlight can effect change in plant growth.”

The most common use of affect

Affect is mostly used as a verb when describing the act of influencing or producing a change. Consider these examples to illustrate its proper usage.

The inspiring documentary affected me deeply, provoking me to take action.
The sudden loss of her job affected her emotional well-being.
The new policy is expected to affect the entire organization.

The most common use of effect

Remember, effect is mostly used as a noun, referring to the result or consequence of an action. Here are examples that demonstrate its correct usage:

Regular exercise has positive effects on overall health.
The company’s cost-cutting measures had a significant effect on profitability.
The medication had a calming effect on her anxiety.

Tips to remember the different use of affect vs. effect

Understanding the difference between affect and effect is paramount for writers seeking to convey their ideas accurately. By mastering the nuances of these words and employing them correctly, you can enhance the clarity and impact of your writing. The following tips will help you use the correct word in your writing consistently.

Mnemonic devices

Mnemonic devices are memory aids that can help you recall information. To remember the distinction between affect and effect, create an association between each word and another term that shares a similar starting letter. For example, connect “affect” with “action” as both start with an “a,” reinforcing that affect is a verb related to influencing or causing change.

Similarly, associate “effect” with “end result” because they both begin with an “e,” emphasizing that effect is a noun referring to the consequence or result. “Cause and effect” is a common phrase that will help you remember the use of effect.

Read extensively

Reading extensively exposes you to diverse writing styles, genres, and contexts. As you encounter affect and effect in various literary works, consider how authors employ these words. Observe the specific contexts in which they use affect and effect and take note of their subtle distinctions. By immersing yourself in different reading materials, you will develop a natural sense of when to use affect and effect appropriately.

Proofread and revise

Proofread and revise: Proofreading is an essential step in the writing process. When proofreading your work, specifically check for instances where you may have inadvertently used the wrong word or where the meaning of a sentence may be altered due to incorrect usage. It is also beneficial to seek feedback from peers or consider professional book editing services, such as BookBaby’s line editing and copy editing services, to ensure your manuscript is polished and error-free.

The importance of editing

You may think that using Grammarly or a spell check tool will catch any grammar errors or mistakes you make regarding affect and effect. However, that is not always the case. In this very document, for example, my Word spellcheck keeps trying to tell me that I’m misusing the noun form of affect.

Plus, every writer has some words they inevitably struggle to remember to use correctly (“lie” vs. “lay” anyone?). You may not even realize you are using the wrong word, which is why it is imperative that you hire a professional editor to proof your manuscript before publication.

Remember: Choose your words wisely to have a lasting effect on your readers!

BookBaby Editing Services

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I have to think long and carefully about this: remember that effect has to do with impacting a change in the object, not impacting the object itself. For example, “Sunlight affects plant growth,” versus “The amount of sunlight can effect change in plant growth.” I see what you are talking about, but where exactly is the line? I am fascinated by how fast English is now changing, mostly due to mass media and social networks. I try to be flexible, but I still grit my teeth when a TV announcer misuses “less”. I have less vocabulary, because there are fewer and fewer words that are not being somehow misused.

  2. Ooops, This was interesting, but I have a small bone to pick with you. The only part of speech that can be the object of anything, since it technically IS and object or thing, is a noun. “Surprised is either a verb in past tense or an adjective. Adjectives cannot have objects, since an object is the thing upon which something has an effect, such as a writer denting a very nice article by using an adjective in the form of a past participle as an object of a verb, i.e. a direct object. I am not affecting surprise, because my surprise is genuine. I do hope this is not instantly public. I do not mean to be mean, but I am an EFL/ESL and writing teacher and a grammar Nazi. I teach descriptive grammar, except when teaching academic writing. Then they have to be much more formal.

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