Affect vs. Afflict

By Maeve Maddox

A reader has asked for a discussion of the words affect and afflict:

Please discuss the two words and tell me the difference and under which situations/circumstances they should be used.

Affect has a more general application than afflict.

Affect transitive verb: influence, act on, have an effect on (materially or emotionally). For example:

The steady seaside wind affected the growth of the tree.

How will the new law affect homeowners?

Being homeless affected the child’s sense of worth.

Afflict connotes the idea that suffering accompanies the influence.

afflict transitive verb: To distress with continued physical or mental suffering; to torment.

Consider the following sentences:

1. Mrs. Baxter’s hands are affected by arthritis.
2. Mrs. Baxter is afflicted with arthritis.

The first sentence states an unemotional fact. The disease of arthritis is acting on Mrs. Baxter’s hands. The second sentence suggests that, as arthritis affects Mrs. Baxter, it causes her to suffer.

Writers sometimes choose afflict where affect would suffice, in order to infuse an issue with emotional appeal. For example, compare the following sentence pairs:

Deep cutbacks have affected public schools this year.
Local elementary school districts didn’t escape state funding cutbacks that afflicted public schools across the state this year. 

Budget cuts are affecting public libraries all over the country.
Many of the ills afflicting public libraries in Delaware also were found to afflict public school libraries.

We are presently engaged in various initiatives throughout the York Region with the purpose of creating awareness of the real issues that affect low-income residents in our communities.

Transportation, education, economic development—these are all issues that afflict our low-income residents. 

Related post
Affect Is Usually a Verb

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