The English language loves its homophones, or words that sound the same. Affect and effect are two homophones that are easy to mix up. They cause a lot of confusion because not only are they spelled similarly and sound similar, their meanings are related.
Even native English speakers (and some professional writers!) have difficulty knowing whether to use affect or effect in a sentence. But have no fear. This guide will help you know understand affect versus effect.
What Does Affect Mean?
Generally, we use affect as a verb. According to Dictionary.com, there are three closely related definitions:
- to act on; to produce an effect or change in
- to impress the mind or move the feelings of
- (of pain, disease, etc.) to attack or lay hold of
All of these are used with an object. In short, affect means “to cause a change or to impact in some way.”
There are a few exceptions where affect is used as a noun, but those cases are rare. We’ll cover the exceptions to the rule in more detail later in the article. Most people only need to know the verb form of affect.
What Does Effect Mean?
Usually, effect is a noun. Let’s switch up our definitions to Merriam-Webster this time. As a noun, effect has many definitions. Rather than list them all, I’m going to summarize the various uses.
We typically think of effect as the result of a cause. This is the primary definition—“something that inevitably follows an antecedent (such as a cause or agent).” It’s also the state of being in operation or functional and can refer to the “power to bring about a result.”
Effect can also mean an impression or illusion. When it’s plural, it can mean personal objects—for example, “he gathered his effects.”
If all of those meanings aren’t confusing enough, effect can occasionally be used as a verb. We’ll cover that exception later in the article.
Affect vs. Effect: Which One Do I Use?
When you’re deciding whether to use affect or effect, you must ask yourself: what is the role of the word in the sentence? We don’t always pay attention to word forms and parts of speech when we write—we just write! But with tricky words like affect and effect, we have to take a step back and analyze our sentence.
In the most simplistic explanation, you will most likely use affect for a verb and effect for a noun. Let’s try a few example sentences.
- What was the ............. of the vaccine on the virus?
The article “the” gives us a clue that we need a noun. The correct word is effect. Here’s another example.
- The pandemic ............. the world in many ways, from social, political, to economic.
In this case, we are looking for something the pandemic did to the world. That’s an action, so we need a verb. The correct word choice here is affected.
Now let’s look at several examples. See if you can figure out the correct word for each. Do you notice any patterns?
- We need to mitigate any ............. the merger will have on the team.
- I will include a note in his chart to that .............. .
- She didn’t anticipate his death would ............. her this much.
- An unexpected ............. of the new process was an increase in company satisfaction.
- The cold does not ............. the Ice Queen.
- Has physical therapy ............. his quality of life?
- Some side ............. of the new drug are restlessness and elevated heart rate.
Here are the answers. How many did you get right?
- We need to mitigate any effects the merger will have on the team.
- I will include a note in his chart to that effect.
- She didn’t anticipate his death would affect her this much.
- An unexpected effect of the new process was an increase in company satisfaction.
- The cold does not affect the Ice Queen.
- Has physical therapy affected his quality of life?
- Some side effects of the new drug are restlessness and elevated heart rate.
If you aren’t sure whether you need a noun or verb in a sentence, look for clues. Articles like a, an, and the, as well as adjectives that indicate an amount of something, such as some or any, indicate a noun, so we use effect. Check the examples above to find those words.
Affect is a verb that is paired with an object. It will not be preceded by any of the words that effect is, but it will have a noun following it. Affect means to act upon something. See if you can identify what is being acted upon in the example sentences above.
How Can I Remember Affect vs. Effect?
Now you know that affect is usually a verb and effect is usually a noun. But what happens when you can’t remember which is which?
You know one is a verb and one is a noun, but you might forget whether the word you need starts with an E or an A.
There are several tricks and mnemonic devices to remember which one to use. Pick your favorite, so you’ll never forget them again.
I was taught, “Affect is an Action. Effect is an End Result.” I still use this one to remember the difference.
Affect and Action both start with A, and an action is always a verb. Effect and End result both start with E, and it’s a noun. But this can be tricky because effect has so many meanings.
You can also easily remember the difference just by knowing the alphabet. Affect comes before effect alphabetically. Something must affect something else before there can be an effect.
An alternative rule is that if you can replace the word with impact, you’ll know you should use effect.
If you prefer acronym mnemonic devices, you might like RAVEN. RAVEN is an acronym that means, “Remember: Affect Verb Effect Noun.” Isn’t that handy?
What Are the Exceptions with Affect and Effect?
It’s English, so you know there are exceptions to the rule! Every now and then, you might need to use affect as a noun and effect as a verb. These aren’t very common uses, but you should be aware of them anyway.
Affect as a noun is primarily used in the psychology and medical fields. It means feeling or emotion, disposition, or observed emotional response. It’s important for providers to assess the mental and emotional wellbeing of a patient.
Additionally, you might see some writers use affect in lieu of the word disposition. In older literature, it might also mean sensation or passion, but these usages are obsolete in our modern English.
When effect is used as a verb, it means to bring about, cause, or make happen. This is commonly used in the political sphere, where you might hear “effect a change” or “effect a new policy.”
To make things even more complicated, the pronunciation of both affect and effect changes when their part of speech changes.
In their normal uses, they are both pronounced the same way: “uh-fekt.”
But when affect becomes a noun, we shorten the “a” sound and put the emphasis on the first syllable: “a-fekt.”
As a verb, effect is pronounced with a long “e” sound and a stronger emphasis on the second syllable than normal: “ee-FEKT.”
Don’t worry, we’ll cover many more examples of how to use the exceptions in a later section.
Is It Affective or Effective?
Do the same rules apply when we change the words to adjective forms? In almost every situation, the correct word is effective. In fact, some spell checks may think affective isn’t a word—that’s how uncommon it is!
Effective means producing a desired result, functioning, or producing a striking impression. Here are each of those definitions used in a sentence:
- The therapist’s methods were unorthodox but effective.
- The new rule is effective as of tomorrow.
- The highlight of his speech was the effective poem.
Affective is more closely related to the noun form of affect. It means emotional or causing emotion. It’s most often used in terms of psychological disorders.
For example, you may have heard of “seasonal affective disorder,” which is where the lack of sunshine in winter causes depression in some people.
It’s easy to remember which one to use if you aren’t writing about mental health. You will almost always use effective.
How Can ProWritingAid Help Me with Affect and Effect?
We’ve already talked about how homophones can make writing extra complicated. But ProWritingAid has tools that can help you with similar words like affect and effect.
Our Realtime Report can almost always tell when you’ve used the wrong word. It’s always a good idea to run this report in case you’ve mixed up the uses of effect and affect. It can catch many other words, too.
If you’re not sure why the software is suggesting a change, you can click on the orange “i” icon to refresh your memory on the difference between affect and effect.
Realtime is available in all of our apps, and even works as a handy browser extension so you can be sure you’re using the correct words wherever you write.
Ready to use the right word, every time?
Every now and then, words like affect and effect might slip through. That’s because they aren’t always homophones.
Regional differences affect pronunciation, and the pronunciation changes when the part of speech changes. That’s why it’s always best to know the difference yourself for a final edit.
More Examples of Affect vs. Effect
The best way to learn any sort of grammar and spelling rule is through examples. Let’s take a look at even more sample sentences.
- The effects of climate change are devastating.
- Climate change has affected the polar bears and other Arctic animals.
- The soldier gathered his effects and left his station.
- He said something to that effect.
- The hashtags you use affect the performance of your post on social media.
- The law went into effect on September 1, 2020.
- Did you know that petting a dog or cat can affect your serotonin levels positively?
- My senior English teacher had a huge effect on my writing.
- Bullying can affect self-image for years to come.
These are pretty simple examples. Here are some trickier ones:
- The woman effected great change at the local and state level.
- The patient presented with a flat affect, so we ordered a psychiatric evaluation.
- My manager said the new owners will effect massive changes in procedures.
- How was her affect? Did she seem depressed?
- My research paper was on various treatments for affective disorders.
- The new medication was effective on my illness.
We hope this article has clarified the difference between affect and effect for you. And don’t forget, ProWritingAid’s editing tool can help you whenever you get confused. How will you remember the difference between them?