Grammar Help: Affect Versus Effect

by Liz Bureman | 41 comments

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The grammar topic we'll review today is a pair of words that trip up many a writer. Maybe you've been affected by using the word effect incorrectly before too? What's the difference between affect vs. effect?

Affect Vs. Effect

Let's see if we can clear up these often mixed-up words.

Definitions of affect vs. effect

Let's begin with some quick definitions for the most common forms of affect and effect. Then we'll look at some examples to help you keep the basic rules straight.

Affect is a verb meaning to cause change to something or someone. It can also mean to impact.

Effect is a noun meaning a change that is a result of action.

They are closely related, as both are often used to describe events around change. But the basic difference is this: affect is a verb and will show action, and effect is a noun showing a result.

Here's an example:

Leroy was deeply affected by the acne medication's less-than-desirable effect on his face. He gingerly touched his cheek where the rash was the reddest.

The medication affected (verb) Leroy's face. The medication had a nasty effect (noun) on Leroy's face.

The medication affected or acted on Leroy's face. Notice how “affected” is in its past-tense verb form with that -ed ending. The nasty effect is the result of the medication.

The primary rule of thumb when it comes to affect and effect is the following:

How to Decide Whether to Use Affect or Effect

Knowing the basic guideline that affect is a noun and effect is a verb will generally get you through most sentences that might cause confusion.

Ask yourself: Am I showing action or a result? If action, use affect. If a result, use effect. Try these:

The loud noises _________ the child's calm, and he left crying.

The music had a calming ________ on the child.

Ask yourself: am I showing action or a result?

The loud noises affected the child's calm, and he left crying. (Affected means influenced, acted on.)

The music had a calming effect on the child. (Effect is the result of the music.)

The exceptions: when is effect used as a verb?

As is the case for most grammar rules, there are exceptions. The good news is that for affect and effect, they aren't common in most everyday use.

The one you might encounter is when effect is occasionally used as a verb, as a synonym for “to cause or bring about or achieve.” However, it's not as commonly used as the noun form and is still not interchangeable with “affect.”

Here's an example:

He effected change at the office with a series of policy updates, causing many employees to quit.

In this sentence, he is achieving change, not merely influencing it.

Additionally, affecting change and effecting change are not the same. Affecting change means that the change was already in progress when an external force acted on it. Effecting change means that an external force caused the change.

One last difference in use: Affectation Versus Effect

For the most part, it's pretty simple. It can get complicated when you factor in the words that are derived from affect, like affectation. But even then, this shouldn't pose too much of a challenge.

Affect basically means to influence, as used in the example above, but it also means to put forth a misleading front. An affectation is the noun form of the second definition. For example:

Jason's affectation of confidence wasn't fooling anyone who saw his shaking hands.

Jason is presenting a false front of confidence, when in reality, his nerves are getting the best of him, as displayed by his jittery hands. Let's continue this story for a bit:

An unforeseen effect of his nerves was a sudden jump in the pitch of his voice.

An effect is a result of something. The effects of Jason's nervousness are shaky hands and a high-pitched voice. Keeping effect and affect straight can be a challenge, but the more familiar you become with these words, the less likely you are to find yourself staring at your published work and wishing you had a better command of grammar rules.

Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 20 percent off: WritePractice20

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Do you have any tricks to help you remember the difference between affect and effect? Don't forget to share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section!

PRACTICE

Tell the story of Jason's nervousness. Be sure to explain what is affecting him so deeply and describe the effects of his anxiety.

Write for fifteen minutes. Post your writing of Jason's misfortunes in the practice box below and make sure you leave feedback for your fellow writers.

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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

41 Comments

  1. Mark Almand

    Here’s a trick that helps me remember which is the noun and which is the verb. I know that “effect” in “special effect” is spelled with an “e,” and it’s a noun.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Good one Mark. I like that.

  2. Mark Almand

    Here’s a trick that helps me remember which is the noun and which is the verb. I know that “effect” in “special effect” is spelled with an “e,” and it’s a noun.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Good one Mark. I like that.

  3. Porter Anderson

    Liz, what about when something “effects a change,” as in bringing it about? Then “effect” is a verb, not a noun. Correct?

    Reply
    • epbure

      Porter, you got me. You’re definitely right on with “effect” being used as a synonym for “to cause/bring about.” It’s not as commonly used as the noun form, so that’s where my oversight was.

      However (for the rest of you reading comments), it is still not interchangeable with “affect.” Affecting change and effecting change are not the same. Affecting change means that the change was already in progress when an external force acted on it. Effecting change means that an external force caused the change.

    • Joe Bunting

      Ughhhh this is where I get confused, when to use effect as a VERB. In high school, I would sweat over this issue for hours while writing essays.

    • Dianewordsmith

      Yes! Glad someone pointed out that effect is also a transitive verb … and I love using it in that manner.

  4. Porter Anderson

    Liz, what about when something “effects a change,” as in bringing it about? Then “effect” is a verb, not a noun. Correct?

    Reply
    • Liz

      Porter, you got me. You’re definitely right on with “effect” being used as a synonym for “to cause/bring about.” It’s not as commonly used as the noun form, so that’s where my oversight was.

      However (for the rest of you reading comments), it is still not interchangeable with “affect.” Affecting change and effecting change are not the same. Affecting change means that the change was already in progress when an external force acted on it. Effecting change means that an external force caused the change.

    • Joe Bunting

      Ughhhh this is where I get confused, when to use effect as a VERB. In high school, I would sweat over this issue for hours while writing essays.

    • Dianewordsmith

      Yes! Glad someone pointed out that effect is also a transitive verb … and I love using it in that manner.

  5. Guest

    The effects of Jason’s nervousness were beginning to manifest on his face. He had tried to play it cool before his five-minute speech in front of the whole school, but as he started speaking, his false bravado suddenly began to melt away like an ice cream cone in August. Large drops of sweat began dripping down his face, on to his shirt collar. Some of the students on the front row started to chuckle nervously when they noticed a bead of sweat collecting on the tip of his nose, just hanging there. It was holding on for dear life like a kid who’s been double dog dared to jump off a tree branch hanging high over a murky swimming hole. When it finally did release its grip, it fell on to Jason’s quivering notes with a splash causing the same group of students to let out an audible, collective sigh.

    It was one of the most awkward assemblies at Jefferson High. Jason, the basketball star and Student Council president had fallen from grace and was having to publicly resign from office. He had been caught stealing money from the Student Council treasury in order to buy beer for the basketball team’s victory party on Friday night. But by Monday afternoon, Stacy Crandell, Stuco’s treasurer had noticed $100 dollars missing from the coffee can she used to keep the council’s dues collection. When she went to ask some of the other officers about it, one of them said the last time they had seen the cash can was Friday after the game when Jason was taking it out of the Stuco closet. When Stacy reported this to Principal Kimball, he decided he had better call Jason into his office Tuesday morning for an explanation.

    Jason arrived in Principal Kimball’s offices still basking in the glow of the victorious win over their rival Kennedy High. He assumed the Principal was calling him to his office to congratulate him on being named “Defensive Player of the Week.” But when Principal Kimball explained the real reason for being summoned to his office, Jason immediately lowered his head and stared at his size 13 sneakers. He didn’t have the cojones to make eye contact with one of his biggest supporters, Principal Kimball. After some excruciatingly awkward interrogation, Jason finally admitted to having “borrowed” the money for the impromptu party. He had gotten so carried away by the big win over Kennedy High he lost all reason and thoughtlessly used the money from the treasury to pay for the party. He never dreamed his careless actions would affect his reputation in such a humiliating way.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      This is so funny tdub:

      “Large drops of sweat began dripping down his face, on to his shirt collar. Some of the students on the front row started to chuckle nervously when they noticed a bead of sweat collecting on the tip of his nose, just hanging there. It was holding on for dear life like a kid who’s been double dog dared to jump off a tree branch hanging high over a murky swimming hole.”

      I LOVE how specific you are here, how you show us that drop of sweat so clearly.

      Here too: “Jason immediately lowered his head and stared at his size 13 sneakers.” That’s a great bit of detail.

      And the story itself is great. You should expand it to a short story.

  6. tdub

    The effects of Jason’s nervousness were beginning to manifest on his face. He had tried to play it cool before his five-minute speech in front of the whole school, but as he started speaking, his false bravado suddenly began to melt away like an ice cream cone in August. Large drops of sweat began dripping down his face, on to his shirt collar. Some of the students on the front row started to chuckle nervously when they noticed a bead of sweat collecting on the tip of his nose, just hanging there. It was holding on for dear life like a kid who’s been double dog dared to jump off a tree branch hanging high over a murky swimming hole. When it finally did release its grip, it fell on to Jason’s quivering notes with a splash causing the same group of students to let out an audible, collective sigh.

    It was one of the most awkward assemblies at Jefferson High. Jason, the basketball star and Student Council president had fallen from grace and was having to publicly resign from office. He had been caught stealing money from the Student Council treasury in order to buy beer for the basketball team’s victory party on Friday night. But by Monday afternoon, Stacy Crandell, Stuco’s treasurer had noticed $100 dollars missing from the coffee can she used to keep the council’s dues collection. When she went to ask some of the other officers about it, one of them said the last time they had seen the cash can was Friday after the game when Jason was taking it out of the Stuco closet. When Stacy reported this to Principal Kimball, he decided he had better call Jason into his office Tuesday morning for an explanation.

    Jason arrived in Principal Kimball’s offices still basking in the glow of the victorious win over their rival Kennedy High. He assumed the Principal was calling him to his office to congratulate him on being named “Defensive Player of the Week.” But when Principal Kimball explained the real reason for being summoned to his office, Jason immediately lowered his head and stared at his size 13 sneakers. He didn’t have the cojones to make eye contact with one of his biggest supporters, Principal Kimball. After some excruciatingly awkward interrogation, Jason finally admitted to having “borrowed” the money for the impromptu party. He had gotten so carried away by the big win over Kennedy High he lost all reason and thoughtlessly used the money from the treasury to pay for the party. He never dreamed his careless actions would affect his reputation in such a humiliating way.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      This is so funny tdub:

      “Large drops of sweat began dripping down his face, on to his shirt collar. Some of the students on the front row started to chuckle nervously when they noticed a bead of sweat collecting on the tip of his nose, just hanging there. It was holding on for dear life like a kid who’s been double dog dared to jump off a tree branch hanging high over a murky swimming hole.”

      I LOVE how specific you are here, how you show us that drop of sweat so clearly.

      Here too: “Jason immediately lowered his head and stared at his size 13 sneakers.” That’s a great bit of detail.

      And the story itself is great. You should expand it to a short story.

  7. tdub

    The effects of Jason’s nervousness were beginning to manifest on his face. He had tried to play it cool before his five-minute speech in front of the whole school, but as he started speaking, his false bravado suddenly began to melt away like an ice cream cone in August. Large drops of sweat began dripping down his face, on to his shirt collar. Some of the students on the front row started to chuckle nervously when they noticed a bead of sweat collecting on the tip of his nose, just hanging there. It was holding on for dear life like a kid who’s been double dog dared to jump off a tree branch hanging high over a murky swimming hole. When it finally did release its grip, it fell on to Jason’s quivering notes with a splash causing the same group of students to let out an audible, collective sigh.

    It was one of the most awkward assemblies at Jefferson High. Jason, the basketball star and Student Council president had fallen from grace and was having to publicly resign from office. He had been caught stealing money from the Student Council treasury in order to buy beer for the basketball team’s victory party on Friday night. But by Monday afternoon, Stacy Crandell, Stuco’s treasurer had noticed $100 dollars missing from the coffee can she used to keep the council’s dues collection. When she went to ask some of the other officers about it, one of them said the last time they had seen the cash can was Friday after the game when Jason was taking it out of the Stuco closet. When Stacy reported this to Principal Kimball, he decided he had better call Jason into his office Tuesday morning for an explanation.

    Jason arrived in Principal Kimball’s offices still basking in the glow of the victorious win over their rival Kennedy High. He assumed the Principal was calling him to his office to congratulate him on being named “Defensive Player of the Week.” But when Principal Kimball explained the real reason for being summoned to his office, Jason immediately lowered his head and stared at his size 13 sneakers. He didn’t have the cojones to make eye contact with one of his biggest supporters, Principal Kimball. After some excruciatingly awkward interrogation, Jason finally admitted to having “borrowed” the money for the impromptu party. He had gotten so carried away by the big win over Kennedy High he lost all reason and thoughtlessly used the money from the treasury to pay for the party. He never dreamed his careless actions would affect his reputation in such a humiliating way.

    Reply
  8. careyrowland

    Jason always eschewed the use of the word affect, because as soon as he would drop it into any particular context, he would immediately have an anxiety attack, wondering if perhaps he should have pulled the word effect from his quiver of lexeconic projectiles, and wielded that e word instead of the a version of the that most confusing homophonic phoneme. Thus would this semantic conundrum render his peace of mind askew for the rest of the day.

    But his real problem was that he did truly have (and I’m not making this up) an habitual, affected usage of nuancical English words containing irrational similarities. I mean there oughta be a law against such equovocation. Anyway, his obsessive use and misuse of such seemingly interchangeable words had pathologically destructive effects on his well-being that he was not even aware of.

    So finally he decided to use the term consequences instead of effects.

    And instead of using affects, he would settle upon a suitable substitute verb, such as…well, let’s see…influences? No, that one is used as both a noun and a verb and is therefore just as confusing…how ’bout? impacts? No, same deal, it’s used as both a noun and a verb–very disconcerting.

    At last, he gave up altogether. He eschewed, once and for all and forever, the use of both words– effects andaffects . Alas, in spite of all the self-defeating effects of his failure to get a handle on this problem, he wandered through life with a hypocritical, affected command of the English language, faking it in literary circles most all the time. Surely Shakespeare is turning over in his grave, since the perfected legitimacy of the King’s English has been called into question because of Jason’s irresponsible misuse of it. All the effectual opuses of Webster now lay askew on the library floor.

    But hey, life goes on. Deal with it, and don’t let the effects of such nonsensical ambiguity affect your sense of well-being.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      “Homophonic?” Wow. What a word, Carey.

      I like how you interject, “(and I’m not making this up).” It gives your fictional story this fascinating, he really IS making this up though, right? Right? Very fun.

      I feel like Jason often, here: “Since the perfected legitimacy of the King’s English has been called into question because of Jason’s irresponsible misuse of it.” I sympathize with his plight.

      Well done, Carey. This was a lot of fun.

    • Shawn Clack Beck

      I concur. Ditto. Spot on! Right on! Good show, ol’ chap! We definitely see eye to eye. Agreed. The post has my support. I believe you have assuaged the confusion. {I could go on for days. Truly. Anyone else want to reiterate your conformity?}

  9. Carey Rowland

    Jason always eschewed the use of the word affect, because as soon as he would drop it into any particular context, he would immediately have an anxiety attack, wondering if perhaps he should have pulled the word effect from his quiver of lexeconic projectiles, and wielded that e word instead of the a version of the that most confusing homophonic phoneme. Thus would this semantic conundrum render his peace of mind askew for the rest of the day.

    But his real problem was that he did truly have (and I’m not making this up) an habitual, affected usage of nuancical English words containing irrational similarities. I mean there oughta be a law against such equovocation. Anyway, his obsessive use and misuse of such seemingly interchangeable words had pathologically destructive effects on his well-being that he was not even aware of.

    So finally he decided to use the term consequences instead of effects.

    And instead of using affects, he would settle upon a suitable substitute verb, such as…well, let’s see…influences? No, that one is used as both a noun and a verb and is therefore just as confusing…how ’bout? impacts? No, same deal, it’s used as both a noun and a verb–very disconcerting.

    At last, he gave up altogether. He eschewed, once and for all and forever, the use of both words– effects andaffects . Alas, in spite of all the self-defeating effects of his failure to get a handle on this problem, he wandered through life with a hypocritical, affected command of the English language, faking it in literary circles most all the time. Surely Shakespeare is turning over in his grave, since the perfected legitimacy of the King’s English has been called into question because of Jason’s irresponsible misuse of it. All the effectual opuses of Webster now lay askew on the library floor.

    But hey, life goes on. Deal with it, and don’t let the effects of such nonsensical ambiguity affect your sense of well-being.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      “Homophonic?” Wow. What a word, Carey.

      I like how you interject, “(and I’m not making this up).” It gives your fictional story this fascinating, he really IS making this up though, right? Right? Very fun.

      I feel like Jason often, here: “Since the perfected legitimacy of the King’s English has been called into question because of Jason’s irresponsible misuse of it.” I sympathize with his plight.

      Well done, Carey. This was a lot of fun.

  10. Mariaanne

    There are two other times it’s different. In psychiatry and psychology affect is used as a noun when describing mood, “his affect was flat” (meaning he showed no emotion.) I know that is correct because I worked in that field.

    Also “to effect a change” is used a lot now and I think it is considered acceptable. I don’t like it because I think it’s dumb to use the word effect when you could say “make a change” or “contribute to a change” or “cause a change”, but I’ve had this discussion with my family (after a lot of wine drinking at Christmas on some people’s part) and we found the above phrase under “effect” on some online source.

    Reply
  11. MarianneVest

    There are two other times it’s different. In psychiatry and psychology affect is used as a noun when describing mood, “his affect was flat” (meaning he showed no emotion.) I know that is correct because I worked in that field.

    Also “to effect a change” is used a lot now and I think it is considered acceptable. I don’t like it because I think it’s dumb to use the word effect when you could say “make a change” or “contribute to a change” or “cause a change”, but I’ve had this discussion with my family (after a lot of wine drinking at Christmas on some people’s part) and we found the above phrase under “effect” on some online source.

    Reply
  12. R.w. Foster

    The major bummer is when you read “affectation” too quickly and think you’re read “affection” and get all confused…

    Reply
    • James Hall

      Affection – +1

  13. sl

    I think “affect” can also be a noun, as in “Affect Theory.” “Affect” can be a subjectively experienced feeling.

    Reply
    • MSD

      Correct. ‘Affect’ (n) means, according to Merriam-Webster: “The conscious subjective aspect of an emotion considered apart from bodily changes; also : a set of observable manifestations of a subjectively experienced emotion”

      Also Effect definitely exists as a transitive verb, so you might very well see ‘effected’ and it would be perfectly correct. Definition from MW again:

      ‘1: to cause to come into being

      2a : to bring about often by surmounting obstacles : accomplish

      b : to put into operation ‘

      As in: ‘he effected a speedy getaway,’ or ‘she intended to effect deep structural changes to the nation’s political economy.’

      It’s not so hard. Each word has a noun and a verb form, so that’s just four words to learn.

  14. Deena

    So glad someone pointed out the verb “effect.” Way to go.

    Reply
  15. Claudia

    My understanding is both words – affect and effect – can be used as a verb or a noun.

    Reply
  16. Kenneth M. Harris

    I have used the word effect, but not the word affect. To me, this might mean that I probably was using the incorrect word. It’s good that we are receiving prompts about grammar as well. Jason had always been aware of his insecurities and how this effected his relationship with Cheryl. He discovered that a good deal of his conversations would affect the meaning that he was trying to convey. Now, I’m kind of uncomfortable about both of those words. I probably mixed them up. I still learned something.

    Reply
  17. Kristen

    Many people do not realize the subtle effects that sleep deprivation can cause. I am not a morning person, so lack of sleep really affects my behavior and my level of cheerfulness in the morning. Entrepreneurs tend to stay up very late into the night, the effecting result, less productive the next day. No matter how much coffee you ingest, sleep deprivation affects you more than you realize.

    I have learned the hard way. I’ve dragged myself out of bed in the morning completely unaffected by a good night’s sleep only to drag, drag, and drag the next day. So much for tackling that to-do list. If you want to be an effective leader, you must do what it takes to get a good night’s sleep.

    Reply
    • Kristen

      oh my gosh, I don’t know if i used affect correctly in the first sentence, LOL!!!

  18. Angela Gooding

    The minute Jason took to the stage his confidence swiftly deserted him. The pressure to perform in front of a large unknown audience affected him more then he could ever have imagined. How could this be? He was popular, well liked and had been chosen specially to give a key note speech. The blinding white spotlight affected his ability to focus. Even worse he had been struck dumb by the effect of the silent crowd awaiting to hear his first words. Sweating palms and parched lips affected his ability to think of anything but panic. Somebody coughed and the effect was like a flip of a switch. “Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to our special awards evening”. Jason was back on task.

    Reply
  19. Pravin Raghuvanshi

    How about next set of word: “Enquire” and “Inquire”

    Reply
  20. Robby

    1st ones right 2nd one wrong

    Reply
  21. Aniket Pandit

    Jason was pretty sure that this whole thing was going to backfire horribly. His throat was dry, his palms were sweaty, and he could hear his heart pounding in his chest. The thought of what effect this was having on his outward image was sending his already low confidence even lower. The task before him wasn’t simple by any means. Walk up to the hot blonde across the counter and talk to her. Sure it sounded simply when he said it like that in his head, but he knew better than that.
    He approached her from his side of the bar to hers. The few steps he had to take to get there felt like miles and miles. The glass of Johnny Walker he held in his right hand wasn’t lending any credence to the theory of liquid courage and all his efforts to affect an aura of confidence were falling short. And even though he was sure he had thought of a hundred things to say to her before he walked up to her all he could manage was –“
    “He-Hey, whacha doin’ girl?”
    She turned to face him as if she had heard a noise somewhere. She also looked annoyed that he had interrupted her from reading what looked like Fifty Shades of Grey. When her eyes fell on him, she leaned her head back a bit and replied.
    “Uhh…hello?”
    Seeing his first move wasn’t effective, he mustered his remaining courage and spit out, “I was ju-just wondering, if li-like, you would like a Tin and Gonic.”
    “A what?” She replied, bewildered. The question affected Jason like an arrow through the heart.
    “Sorr-rry, I meant a Ton and Ginic”
    Now looking even more confused, and a little terrified, she replied, “Look, what do you want weirdo?” She never got a response though, because at that moment the bar started spinning, the glass fell from his hand, his knees buckled underneath him, he banged his head against the bar counter and was immediately knocked out. The last thing he saw was a look of utter horror on her face on the way down.

    Reply
  22. Fabio Salvadori

    He is among the audience. Why is he here? Jason didn’t tell anyone of this event. He did everything possible to keep his debut a secret. It’s hard enough to go out there and talk to a bunch of unknown people. If everything goes wrong he will have to avoid that city for the rest of his life. Not a big deal. It won’t affect his life so much. He’ve never been here in his first 40 years of life, he can’t see any good reasons why it can’t do the same for the following 40.

    But he is here. And this is bad. The mere knowldge of his presence is affecting his anxiety. From the expression on Lucy’s face he knows that the effects are already visible. It’s always the same, since he was a kid at school. The racing heart, the red chicks, the hands rubbing on the hips.

    “What’s going on Jason? It’s just your father. Your are ready, you prepared for this for months. You’re going to nail it. Don’t let him affect your performance. You won’t even be able to see him out there.”

    “You don’t understand. It has always been like this. Nothing I do is good enough for him. For him I’m a constant failure affecting the reputation of the family. It doesn’t matter if I can’t see him. I know he’s there and that’s enough.”

    Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t know that in the middle of the audience, someone has a solution to all his fears. A solution he won’t like.

    Reply
  23. Shawn Clack Beck

    But the TRUE ANSWER is 42.

    {Right?}

    Reply
    • Gary G Little

      Only if it is the product of 9×6 … which it is. The new question then becomes how can 54 equal 42?

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