Affect vs. effect


Dear Conan:

Maybe this is one you can write about in your newsletter—when to use effect or affect. I am usually good at this rule but am unsure of my usage here:

The brand of your company also effects first impressions.

Since I am writing an article on first impressions, I don’t want to appear stupid.

~Beth

Dear Beth:

Amen, sis. That’s a sentiment I mutter on a continual basis, so I can relate. There’s an easy way to remember which is which, however, to cut down on the embarrassment factor (in this area, anyway). Thanks for the suggestion.

~Conan

Now, can anyone tell me whether Beth used the correct word in her sentence above? Anyone? Anyone? She should have used affect instead of effect. Can anyone tell me why?

No? Okay. I’ll explain.

I’m going to give you the definition of all the various forms of both words, but the short answer is that effect is a noun most of the time and affect is a verb most of the time. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

The verb form of affect (accent on the last syllable: a-FECT) means “have an influence on”:

The homemade mezcal affected Andy’s ability to speak clearly.

The definition of the other verb form of affect means “to make a display of or deliberately cultivate.” In other words, it means to be a great big phony:

Madonna has recently affected a British accent, which is a skin-crawling affectation.

(Terrible, redundant sentence, but I wanted you to see the noun form of the verb as a value-added kind of thing.)

The noun form of affect is usually used only by psychiatrists and affected (see above) literary writers. The word is accented on the first syllable (AFF-ect) and means “emotion.”

The catatonic displayed a flat affect. (Psychobabble*-to-English translation: The catatonic showed no emotion.)

And now on to effect. The most common use of effect is as a noun, meaning “result”:

The homemade mezcal had an interesting effect on Andy.

Then, of course, there’s the less common use of effect as a verb that means “to create”:

The only way to effect true change is to silence all people who disagree with me.

One more thing: the phrase meaning “become effective” is “take effectnot “take affect.”

Wait: two more things, two little mnemonic devices to help you remember. Print this, cut along the dotted lines and hang it by your desk:

Hope this advice affects the effectiveness of your writing and also has a positive effect on same while effecting change in your life in general and that it proves not to be an affectation affecting your affect.

Thank you!  I’ll be here all week! Don’t forget to tip your wait staff!

*Yes, I take mental illness quite seriously. I mean no offense. I just really, really like the word psychobabble and use it whenever the opportunity arises.

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the advice and the great examples. I think there should be an added warning here that the grammar check on word will not suggest the right word on most occasions and on some occasions it will first suggest changing effect to affect and then in the enxt check will recommend changing it back.

    • Right you are, Cassandra. The grammar function in Word is virtually worthless…there are some things that machines can never replace.

  2. I recall the first time that I became aware of any difference was whilst watching an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation in which the Dr Crusher character suggested that Commander Riker’s beard was an affectation. The things you learn from sci-fi, eh?

    • See? Popular culture does have some value after all…and that beard, that neat-and-tidy beard, was most certainly an affectation. Well played, sir!


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