Among the pairs of words writers often confuse, affect and effect might be the most perplexing, perhaps because their meanings are so similar. Affect, derived from affectus, from the Latin word afficere, “to do something to, act on,” is easily conflated with effect, borrowed from Anglo-French, ultimately stemming from the Latin word effectus, from efficere, “to bring about.”
What’s the difference between affect and effect?
Affect is usually a verb, meaning to influence or act upon. Example:
The loss of his father affected him profoundly.
Effect is usually a noun, meaning the result of an action. Example:
What will be the effect of closing Main Street?
Below you will find less common meanings and related or derivative words.
The various senses of affect, each followed by a sentence demonstrating them, follow:
A noun meaning “mental state”: “In his report, the psychiatrist, noting his lack of expression or other signs of emotion, described his affect as flat.”
A verb meaning “to produce an effect, to influence”: “I knew that my opinion would affect her choice, so I deliberately withheld it.”
A verb meaning “to pretend” or “to put on”: “She tried to affect an air of nonchalance, though she was visibly agitated.”
Words with affect as the root, followed by their use in a sentence, include the following:
Affectation: A noun meaning “self-conscious behavior”: “The girl’s affectation of sophisticated maturity was undercut by the relentless snapping of her chewing gum.”
Affection: A noun meaning “kind or loving emotion”: “Her grandfather’s deep affection for her was obvious in his heartwarming smile.”
Disaffected: An adjective meaning “discontented, rebellious”: “Disaffected youth dismayed by the poor job market and the larger issue of a society that does not seem to value them have been joining the protest movement in ever greater numbers.” (This word is a case of an antonym that has outlived the original term from which it was derived in counterpoint; writers and speakers no longer express, in the sense of “favorably disposed,” that a person is affected.)
Unaffected: An adjective with two distinct senses: the literal meaning of “not influenced or altered” (“They seemed disturbingly unaffected by the tragic news”) and the surprisingly older, figurative meaning “genuine” (“The youth’s candid, unaffected demeanor appealed to her after the stilted arrogance of her many suitors”).
The various senses of effect, each followed by a sentence demonstrating them, follow:
A noun meaning “the result of a cause”: “The effect of the lopsided vote was a loss of confidence in the chairman.”
A noun meaning “an impression”: “The soft, gentle tone has a calming effect.”
A noun, usually in plural form, meaning “personal property, possession”: “Among the effects found in the deceased man’s pockets was a small book with his name self-inscribed.”
A verb meaning “to accomplish”: “His newfound sense of responsibility effected a positive change in her attitude toward him.”
Words with effect as the root, followed by their use in a sentence, include the following:
Aftereffect: A noun, usually in plural form, meaning “something that follows a cause”: “The aftereffects of the decision are still being felt years later.”
Effective: An adjective meaning “successful”: “The insect repellent was effective at keeping the mosquitoes at bay, which made for a pleasant outing.”
Effectual: An adjective meaning “able to produce a desired effect”: “Our conclusion is that mediation is an effectual strategy for obtaining a mutually satisfying outcome.”
The noun efficiency and the adjective efficient, though not based on the root effect, share its etymological origin and mean, respectively, “productivity” and “productive” in the sense of accomplishing something with a minimum of effort in relation to outcome. Efficacy (“the power to produce a desired effect”) and efficacious (“able to produce a desired effect”) are also related. Another, unexpected word of related origin is feckless (“weak, worthless”), which is rare and has lost its antonym, feckful, through long disuse. Feck is a shortened form of effect developed in Scottish English.
Quotations from newspapers
…Tariff winners and losers: How Trump’s trade spat could affect shoppers. President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on imported … (www.usatoday.com)
… 405,000 years, gravitational tugs from the planets Jupiter and Venus gradually affect Earth’s climate and life forms, according to a new study.”… (www.usatoday.com)
… he says. “You can eat as much as you like, you can slob about, you can drink as much alcohol as you like – the effect is very modest compared with these other two factors.” Human beings are biologically engineered for … (www.theguardian.com)
…European Union tariffs take effect in Trump fight: How they will hit American productsThe Europe … (www.usatoday.com)
A Quick and Easy Way to Know Whether to Use Affect or Effect
Remember, a general rule of thumb is that “affect” is usually a verb (a “doing word”) and “effect” is usually a noun (something you can put “the” in front of).
This doesn’t apply all the time, of course – as we’ve seen above, there are lots of ways in which the words “effect” and “affect” can be used. It’s a good place to begin, though, if you’re unsure which you want.
Here’s a sample sentence:
I don’t think this will [affect/effect] the budget.
Which word, affect or effect, is correct?
An easy way to figure this out is to replace “affect” with the verb “alter” and see if the sentence works:
I don’t think this will alter the budget.
Yes – it still makes sense, so “affect” is the word you want.
Here’s another sentence:
We haven’t yet experienced the full [affect/effect] of climate change.
Can we use “affect” here? Try replacing it with “alter”:
We haven’t yet experienced the full alter of climate change.
No, that doesn’t make sense at all.
How about “effect”? Try replacing that with the noun “end result”:
We haven’t yet experienced the full end result of climate changes.
It’s a slightly inelegant sentence – but it does work grammatically. So “effect” is the word you want here.
This rule won’t work for every single situation, but in most cases, it’ll help you quickly select the word that you want.
What About Affect as a Noun and Effect as a Verb?
It’s fairly rare to come across “affect” used as a noun: as we saw above, when it is used in this way, it means “mental state”. You might encounter it in some older works or fairly scientific ones about psychiatry.
It’s a little more common to come across “effect” used as a verb, though this is still fairly rare and it can seem a little old-fashioned in this context. It’s used to mean “brought about” or “accomplished” – e.g. “The rapid changes she made after she got the job effected a complete turnaround in the company’s financial position.”
In any case where you’re uncertain, though, it’s likely that affect is a verb (replace it with “alter” to check) and effect is a noun (replace it with “end result” to check).
Affect vs Effect Quiz
For each sentence, select which word should be used:
17 thoughts on “Affect vs. Effect”
This simple, straightforward article should be yearly required reading from sixth grade through university degree completion. (Along with a similar article on “there, their, and they’re!)
I was taught an affect can create an effect. May not be 100% correct, but it does help keep things straight.
First, let me say (as a frequent reader but first time commenter): I really love this blog!
My mom is a psychologist and she used the term ‘affect’ frequently to describe people. I always wondered what she meant when she said things like: “You probably just thought she didn’t get it because she has a really flat affect.”
I would probably define that word as “tendency to express emotion” rather than “mental state”. I think what my mom was trying to say is that although a person’s ability or inclination to express an emotion may be limited, the degree to which they feel it on the inside doesn’t have to be.
Lastly, as a copy editor, I have to say that misuse of the verbs ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ is SUPER prevalent and even professional writers with long careers misuse them all the time! I might print this and attach it to every piece that suffers the error from here on out… 🙂
I must be one of the lucky few to be blessed with never getting these 2 words confused. Never had a problem.
Just to confuse the unlucky masses, though, I want to mention (and here, Mackenzie will know what I’m talking about), many psychiatric disorders are termed “affective disorders,” defined as “mental disorders characterized by consistent, pervasive alteration in mood, and affecting thoughts, emotions and behaviors” (e.g., depression).
Sorry ’bout that, chief… 😉
If I rewrote this blog 1000 times I would still get those two words confused. I know the difference my fingers just want to write the wrong word.
Great post. You don’t mention pronunciation though. I’m from the north of England and have always actually pronounced them differently:
affect with first vowel as schwa
effect with first vowel as [i]
I only realised recently – in the light of the written confusion – that in most other speech they are pronounced the same.
I have a lot more trouble with words like “lie” and “lay”.
Here’s how “Which Word Do I Use?” explains the difference between “effect” and “affect.”
“Effect” is a noun that approximately means “result.” You can write “the effect,” “one effect,” and “an effect” because “effect” is a noun. These two sentences use effect correctly as a noun:
“We don’t know what effect healthy food snacks will have on children’s food choices.”
“Caffeine has a soothing effect on children with ADHD.”
“Effect” is sometimes used as a verb to mean “cause” or “create,” as in “We will effect a change.”
“Affect” is a verb that approximately means “alter.” You can write “affects,” “affecting,” and “affected” because it is a verb.
“Affect” is a transitive verb, meaning it is done to something. Here, affect is used correctly as a transitive verb:
“The new legislation will affect the way we buy cars.”
“Cold weather conditions have affected zoo attendance.”
Affect can only be used as a noun when you are writing about an emotional response. A person’s affect is his or her emotional state. In all other cases, it is a verb.
If you’re not sure which one you need, and you can’t decide whether you need a noun or a verb, try replacing the word with “result” and then with “alter.” Which one is grammatically correct and approximates what you are trying to say? If “result,” then use “effect.” If “alter,” then use “affect.”
@Joseph Rinaldo, regarding “lie” and “lay.”
Lay: To put or place something. (Dictionary.com has over 40 individual definitions for lay, but almost all of them can be summed up by this.)
Use: In its most common uses, “lay is a transitive verb. This means that this is an action done to something. Remember: You lay something down, even if that something is yourself.
Lie: As discussed here, “lie” means to be in a horizontal, prone, or resting position. (It also means to tell a falsehood, but that’s not the type of “lie” we’re talking about here.)
Use: In its most common uses, “lie” is an intransitive verb, which means that it does not use an object. Remember: Something lies on something else.
I hope this helps.
The Palestinians and Israelis must effect a peace treaty, and not affect one.
How did I do using “effect vs. affect”?
@Joseph Rinaldo, regarding “lie” and “lay.”
The information provided earlier is not exactly correct:
OnTarget had the following definitions with examples:
“Lay” is a verb meaning to put or place something somewhere.It takes a direct object. Its principal parts are “lay,” “laid,” “laid,” and “laying.”
Examples: Every day I lay the book on the table. Yesterday I laid the book on the table. I have laid the book on the table many times.I am laying the book on the table right now.
In all these examples, the verb is a form of the word “lay,” and the direct object is “book.”
“Lie” is, in this context, a verb meaning to recline. It does not take an object. Its principal parts are “lie,” “lay,” “lain,” and “lying.”
Examples: Every night I lie down. I lay down last night. I have lain down many times. I am lying down right now.
Hope this is helpful! God Bless from Alaska
There was a lovely example of “lie” v “lay” in one of Bill Bryson’s books, it goes something like “Unless you’re producing eggs, use ‘lie’.”
This is much easier to understand than Grammar Girl’s. She went off on a wild tangent on aardvarks which only made it more confusing. lol! Not sure why. The comments there indicate it’s helpful, but I think they’re still really confused but don’t know it yet. Heh.
The aardvark is one of GG’s site mascots, so she frequently uses him in her examples. I like the site, but I agree that the discussions are not always as clear as they could be. As for the commenters on that site, they are certainly not as brilliant, talented, and attractive as the people who comment at Daily Writing Tips.
I once heard the following logic used to differentiate lie and lay.
People lie, things lay.
I don’t know that this reasoning applies in every instance, but it sure helps me keep them straight.
Just use the simple mnemonic NEVA and you are covered for 99% of the time.
Noun Effect – Verb Affect
Some attention is due, though little, to similar sounding and looking words:
iffect n.: the result, or not, of something that might or might not happen.
offect n.: the removal of something previously on.
Wow, this is an old post LOL
Just wanted to add that when discussing the psychiatric use of “affect,” the accent is on the first syllable (AF-fect). The rest of the time, it’s on the second syllable (uh-FECT).