“Affect” vs. “Effect”
Updated: Sep 20
Their pronunciations and definitions are similar, but one is used mainly as a verb and the other, a noun.
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.
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.
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. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/affect-vs-effect-usage-difference.)
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.