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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Call

Affect vs. Effect

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Their pronunciations and definitions are similar, but one is used mainly as a verb and the other, a noun.

Photo Credit: Cottonbro | Pexels

The Short Story

Affect is typically a verb.

Effect is typically a noun.

If you follow this general rule, you’ll be right the majority of the time.

The Novel

It’s no secret that affect and effect are often confused. Only one letter differs in their spelling, and they are often pronounced the same. So how do you know when to use which word?

To start, you’ll need to be familiar with two parts of speech: the verb and the noun.

What is a verb? It’s an action. So words like think, paced, illuminated, be, and conceptualize.

What is a noun? It’s a person, place, thing, or idea. So words like freedom, artist, security, planner, and Egypt.

Here are some examples in a sentence:

Ex: The witch flew on her broom.

The nouns are witch and broom. The verb is flew.

Ex: Aladdin rubs the lamp.

Here, the nouns are Aladdin and lamp, and the verb is rubs.

So here’s the rule of thumb that will help you know when to use each word: Generally, affect is used as a verb, and effect is used as a noun. Now, this isn’t always the case, but 95% of the time, it will be true.

Let’s look at their definitions.

The verb affect has three main definitions:

1. To influence

Ex: I hope the prosecutor’s constant fumbling doesn’t affect the outcome of the trial.

2. To stir someone’s emotions

Ex: The hilarious joke affected her in such a way that she couldn’t help but smile.

3. To pretend or imitate

Ex: The new actor affected a Cockney accent with a brilliance never before seen.

The noun effect also has three main definitions:

1. An influence that achieves a final result

Ex: The incredulous demands had no effect on the employees’ performance.

2. A result

Ex: Loss of energy is one of the effects of depression.

3. Belongings

Ex: I will collect his personal effects and mail them to him.

An easy way to determine if you need the noun effect or the verb affect is to ask, Is this an action? or Is this a person, place, thing, or idea?

Some other ways you can tell whether to use a verb or a noun is by looking for the words a, an, the, this, that, these, and those. Words that immediately follow these are most likely nouns, so use effect. Words that come before them are most likely verbs, so affect.

Now that we’ve established that affect is usually a verb and effect is usually a noun, it’s time to look at the exceptions. This is where it gets complicated, because English.

Sometimes affect is used as a noun, and sometimes effect is used as a verb. Before you start panicking, just remember that these instances are not very common. But we’ll mention them just so you’re aware.

Let’s look at their definitions.

The noun affect has one main definition:

1. An observable emotional response.

Ex: In one study, patients showed normal reactions and affects. In another study, patients demonstrated flat affects, similar to a zombielike state.

It is important to note that the noun affect is pronounced differently than the verb. Here, the a is pronounced like the a in apple.

The odds of you using this definition (unless you’re in the psychology world or into a lot of true-crime content) are very, very slim.

Now let’s look at effect on the rare occasion it is used as a verb.

The verb effect has one main definition:

1. To cause to come into being, or accomplish

Ex: The construction company’s poor training program effected faulty repairs to the foundation.

Although the verb effect is similar to the verb affect, there is a subtle difference. The verb affect means “to influence,” while the verb effect means “to accomplish.” So the verb affect nudges a change or a response, while the verb effect actually completes that change or response.

Again, using effect as a verb is not very common.

If you remember that affect is mainly used as a verb and effect is mainly used as a noun, you’ll be golden!

The Published Examples

“Ellis reviewed her words, hoping medication hadn’t affected his hearing.”

(McMorris, Kristina. Sold on a Monday: A Novel. United States: Sourcebooks, 2018.)

Here, we see affected used as a verb meaning “to influence.” We wouldn’t use the verb effected because the medicine did not cause his hearing. It just influenced it.

“They had replaced the Aubusson carpet with another one, but the effect was as handsome as it had been before.”

(Steel, Danielle. Complications: A Novel. United States: Random House Publishing Group, 2021, p. 21.)

In this example, effect is used as a noun to mean “a result.” Because it is not referring to an emotion, we know it is not affect.

“Richard Davidson, the psychologist who brought us affective style and the approach circuits of the front left cortex, writes about two types of positive affect. The first he calls ‘pre-goal attainment positive affect,’ which is the pleasurable feeling you get as you make progress toward a goal.”

(Haidt, Jonathan. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. United States: Basic Books, 2006, p. 83.)

Here, we see the rare occasion that affect is used as a noun. Because it is referring to observable emotional responses, we use the noun affect instead of the typical noun effect. And, of course, it’s in a psychology book.

“The strike effected change within the company.”

(Merriam-Webster. “‘Affect’ vs. ‘Effect’: How to Pick the Right One.” Commonly Confused. Accessed October 4, 2022.

This is an example of the rare time effected is used as a verb. Here, the strike “accomplished” a change within a company. If we used the verb affected, the sentence would have a slightly different meaning. The strike would no longer have caused the change to happen. It would merely have influenced the change that was already happening.

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