Affect and effect are easy to mix up. Here’s the short version of how to use affect vs. effect. Affect is usually a verb, and it means to impact or change. Effect is usually a noun, an effect is the result of a change. Watch out! There are certain situations and fixed phrases that break the general usage rules for these words.
Now that the basics are out of the way, the time has come to learn the intricacies of how to use affect and effect effectively. Or is it affectively? If you’re lucky, it may well be a little bit of both. (For the curious, effective would mean successful in this context. And when it comes to grammar, success is the goal.)
The Difference Between Affect and Effect
Is it affect or effect? In a nutshell, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. At least (spoiler alert!), most of the time. In the majority of cases, you’ll encounter the words as these parts of speech.
So, if A affects B, B experiences the effect of A’s action.
Imagine Ruby (A) pushes Raphael (B) into a pond. Ruby affects where Raphael is standing. Raphael being wet is the effect of Ruby’s irresistible urge to push him into a pond.
Because Ruby performed an action, that signals the use of a verb: affect. The result, or effect, of that verb is “wetness,” a noun that is probably causing Raphael a whole lot of discomfort.
Affect and effect are different parts of speech, but they sound almost identical. Sound-alike pairs like affect vs. effect are tricky because many people pronounce them as homophones, which means, well, that they sound alike. Bear/bare, here/hear, and write/right are other examples. So when it comes to writing the right word, here are the rules to help you bear the struggle.
When to Use Affect
Affect means to influence or to produce a change in something.
Examples of Affect
Note that in that last example, the men are “affected” because they are changed by the disturbing events of war, but that this change has an emotional factor, too. When a person is affected by an event, that often means that the effect is mainly on the level of emotion or psychology. More on that in the exceptions section.
When to Use Effect
Effect is a noun, and it means the result of a change. So, if an event affects your life, you will feel the event’s effect.
Examples of Effect
And here’s a twofer, just for fun:
Affect vs. Effect: How to Remember the Difference
In sum: keep your eyes on the prize. In this case, the prize is the first letter of each word. Don’t forget: “Affect” starts with A for Action—meaning it’s a verb—and with “Effect,” you can jump straight from “Cause” to “Effect” over that convenient E.
If you get that letter trick memorized, it should affect your spelling of these words immediately. In other words, make sure you spell them correctly.
Watch out for Exceptions!
Now that you’ve mastered the basic difference—effect as a noun and affect as a verb—it’s time to shake things up. In some contexts, effect is a verb and affect is a noun. Thanks a lot, English.
Effect as a Verb
Effect as a verb means to bring about. It usually shows up with nouns like “change” or “solutions.”
In other words, they wanted to bring about the effect of change—maybe by getting the government to change its policies or even step down.
If you use affect here, it would mean “to have an effect on change” or “to impact change.” Protesters who want to “affect change” would be trying to impact existing changes. That’s nice, but not as powerful as creating change, especially when there’s a corrupt government on the line.
It doesn’t have to be quite so revolutionary, either. This one is about social media:
—The Huffington Post, “Social Media as a Formidable Force for Change”
What once seemed like a trivial way to keep in touch with friends, sharing photos and jokes, has become a force for societal change, […] empowering citizens of the world to unite and effect change in a number of ways.
If this discussion about social media had to do with citizens trying to “affect change,” that would probably mean that they’re trying to speed up, slow down, or totally stop all forms of change that have to do with social media. Ironically, it might be easier to effect change with a really powerful Facebook movement than to affect the changes that are happening to society because of the widespread use of social media. Funny how that works, right?
Affect as a Noun
Affect as a noun means feeling, emotion, or specific emotional response.
Sounds like the patient was in kind of a blah mood. Not too complicated (except maybe for the patient).
—Psychology Today, “Affects, Language, and Cognition”
Understanding more about the primary innate affects and the plasticity of the brain has important clinical implications.
Say what? This is a great example of complex psychological jargon you might find in a psychology clinic or journal (like, for example, Psychology Today). It’s great if you’re studying basic feelings and brain activity—which is what this sentence is about—but if not, you’re probably safe with the knowledge that “affects” means “feelings” here.
If you think that’s a bit complicated, no hard affects. That is, no hard feelings. You probably don’t have to worry about this one too much unless you’re in the field of psychology.
But now if you come across a line about a graduation speaker having a huge affect on her audience, you can piece together whether the writer misspelled “effect” or the entire graduating class was moved to tears.
Affected as an Adjective
Well, this one comes out of left field. But affected can indeed be used as an adjective to mean pretentious, artificial, or designed to impress. It usually isn’t a compliment, and means that someone is acting stuck-up or trying to look like they’re more important than they actually are.
Note that when someone acts affected, it looks very different from when people are affected by something on an emotional level, like the soldiers above.
Here’s a literary example:
—Isaac Asimov, Foundation
‘And yet’—the regent scratched one ear gently in affected abstraction—‘I wouldn’t call myself exactly incompetent.’
See what the regent did there? His scratch is “affected” because this guy clearly knows he is not incompetent. In fact, he is very competent. He may even think he’s the most competent person around. Think of it this way: the regent’s behavior is affected by his own arrogance and sense of superiority.
What kind of effect do you think that has on the people around this guy?
Recap: When to Use Affect or Effect
Let’s recap exactly how and when to use which word.:
Use “affect” as the verb in a sentence when you’re talking about producing change or making a difference. For example, a new discovery can affect a scientific theory, and failing a test can affect someone’s mood.
Here are some synonyms of affect: alter, change, influence, modify, and impact (the verb version). That list should affect your understanding of the word. In this case, “affect” would mean “improve.”
“Effect” is a noun, and it is the outcome of an event or situation that created a change. The effect of the change can be big or small, but the fact that something changed is what makes the noun form of effect so important. For example, you can feel the effects of a cold or an earthquake, and the sun coming out can have a positive effect on your mood.
Some synonyms of effect include words like result, repercussion, consequence, outcome, aftermath, and the noun version of impact.
What makes these two little words extra tricky is that they sound pretty much identical. Yes, that’s the homophone thing we mentioned earlier. For the most part, people will pronounce affect and effect almost exactly the same. But, every once in awhile, they won’t.
If you listen closely, in some cases you’ll be able to hear a slight difference in the first syllable of the two different words. So, “effect” has a slightly stronger “eh” sound, like in “red,” while affect is pronounced a bit more lazily, as “uh-ffect.” But don’t count on those slight differences to tell one word from the other. Only a very careful enunciator will make the distinction at all, and it’s a very subtle distinction, anyway.
On top of pronunciation, there are a few other phrases and unusual uses of these two words that deserve a glance. Here goes:
- There’s a whole scholarly field called affect studies, which studies affect—the emotional kind. You can even read all about how emotion is a big, academic deal in The Affect Theory Reader.
- Personal effects is an idiom: in this case, effects essentially means belongings. Chances are, your belongings have had some effect on your wallet, closet space, or personal life. Hence, personal effects.
- Effective means successful in bringing about a desired result.
- Affective means producing affect, in the emotional sense. If The Affect Theory Reader affects how you feel about affect, that would make it an affective book.
So, if this article was affective, you were emotionally moved by learning the difference between affect and effect. If it was effective, you’ll use those words correctly from now on. It’s pretty much a win-win situation.