The difference between 'affect' and 'effect'

Sep 19, 2012, 0 Comments

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Swap the vowels and effect becomes affect, but that doesn’t mean the words can be interchanged. While they may sound the same, they have distinctly different meanings.

Which is Which?

As a rule of thumb, these two similar-sounding words pretty much behave as follows:

  • Effect is a noun
  • Affect is a verb

Well, most of the time—because there are always exceptions in this wonderfully whacky language we call English.

The most notable exception is that effect can sometimes lose its membership in the noun club and switch to become a verb meaning to accomplish or bring about.  

Likewise, affect can be used as a noun when you are referring to someone’s mental state.

Using Effect

This word is pretty straightforward and easy to use if you can remember that in most cases it is a noun that means a result.

It’s not a good idea to use the same word twice in a sentence but let’s bend the rules.

“When the politician told the audience that he wanted to effect change in government, he did not expect the effect to be laughter.”

The first usage of effect is that notable exception mentioned earlier, where it becomes a verb. The second usage of the word is as a noun—and the way you’ll most likely want to employ it in your own writing.

Effect takes on a slightly different meaning–while still remaining a noun—when it’s pluralized and used to mean someone’s possessions or personal property.

Using Affect

Remember, verbs are action words. To affect someone is to influence or shape them with the objective to bring about a change. Okay…bending the rules again. “Classical music can affect your creativity, but it will most likely not change your dog’s affect.”

The first usage of affect is as a verb—and the way you’ll most likely want to employ it in your own writing. The second usage of the word is as a noun, and it should be noted that hardly anyone but psychiatrists or psychologists use it for this purpose.

Affect takes a somewhat different turn when it’s transformed into the word affectation. For one thing, it goes back to being a noun meaning the act of assuming an attitude or behavior that is not genuine. “While her sultry voice sounds as if it’s the effect of a lifetime of smoking Marlboro cigarettes, it’s really just an affectation.”

This guest post was written by Dan Frontworth, a freelance writer from Brooklyn, New York. For more editing advice, Dan recommends checking out the blog by Super Copy Editors, who provide New York City proofreader services.

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