If there is a clash of commonly confused words that affects the entire English-speaking world, even the native speakers, more than any other, it is affect versus effect. The homophones are often misplaced in writing but unnoticed in speech because we pronounce the words the same. It is one that causes me to pause and double check myself anytime either of the words are deployed for action in my writing. I am guilty of writing “Coffee doesn’t effect me at night” and “A Dallas Cowboys loss is an affective way to dampen my mood for the week.”
For this clash analysis, I will offer a simple solution to help you remember when to use “affect” or “effect” as verbs or nouns and when to deploy “affective” and “effective” as modifiers.
Let us do our best to effectively end this clash in our writing by affecting our minds with vocabulary knowledge.
Affect versus Effect as verbs
This is the simplest way to remember when to use affect or effect in your writing:
Affect is action; effect is result.
Affect is usually a verb; effect is usually a noun.
In other words, if the subject of your sentence is to act on or cause a change of something through action, you want to use affect. The end result of that action is the effect.
Remembering the definition of affect as a verb is helpful, too. “To affect” is “to produce an effect upon (someone or something).”
Some examples to illustrate:
- Rainfall affects plant growth.
- Drinking alcohol affects your motor skills.
- The costs do not affect my decisions.
Hold on! Life and English are not so simple. Effect is a verb meaning “to succeed in doing or achieving (something) : to cause or bring about (something).”
This definition sounds rather similar to affect as a verb, does it not? Yes, but there is an important thing to note. The use of effect as a verb often deals with bringing about change or solution. Another way to put it: “to effect” is to produce the desired result. It differs from affect in this way: “to affect” is to produce an impact on something.
With “affect”, you may not know what the impact will be through your actions, whereas with “effect” you know exactly what impact you want to beget, or bring about, with your actions.
- They will effect a change in policy.
- This blog post will effect the understanding of when to use affect or effect of the readers.
- We need rainfall to effect positive growth in plants.
In the table below I take the examples used for affect and effect as verbs and, in the right column, rewrite the sentence with a synonym for affect and effect. Using synonyms will help you understand when to use affect and effect as verbs in your sentences.
|Affect as a verb|
|Rainfall affects plant growth.||Rainfall impacts plant growth. (Through elementary knowledge of nature, we know that this impact is a positive one.)|
|Drinking alcohol affects your motor skills.||Drinking alcohol influences your motor skills (and always in a negative way).|
|The costs do not affect my decisions.||The costs do not sway my decisions (on choosing a hotel room).|
|Effect as a verb|
|They will effect a change in policy.||I will cause a change in policy (hopefully through the voting booth, and not by smashing windows).|
|This blog post will effect an understanding of when to use affect or effect of the readers.||This blog post will create the understanding of when to use affect or effect of the readers. (I hope so.)|
|We need rainfall to effect positive growth in plants.||We need rainfall to bring about positive growth in plants.|
Affect versus Effect as nouns
The clash between these combatants affects the subject parts of speech as well. Thankfully, this theatre of the clash is not as dramatic as it is for verbs. This is because effect is more commonly used as a noun than affect.
Let us start with effect. We established earlier that effect is most often used as a noun. It is the end result of an action perpetrated by someone or something. Merriam-Webster says it is “a change that occurs as a consequence of something that happens or is done : something that follows from an antecedent” (emphasis mine).
Affect is a noun, too. It is “the conscious emotion that occurs in reaction to a thought or experience.” You have seen “affect” used in other nouns and adjectives: the noun affection and the adjective affectionate.
The table below has examples of when to use effect and affect as nouns, along with their synonyms or related words to further illustrate their meaning and usage.
|Effect as a noun|
|The training program had a great effect on my endurance levels.||The training program had a great result on my endurance levels.|
|The effects of the decision were negative.||The consequences of the decision were negative.|
|If my work is to be of any effect towards the project, I will be thrilled.||If my work is to be of any impact towards the project, I will be thrilled.|
|Affect as a noun|
|He is of a flat affect – showing little emotion in the face of tragedy.||He displays little sentiment in the face of tragedy.|
|Positive affect encompasses all good emotions, such as joy, bliss, love, and contentment.*||Positive emotion encompassess all good emotions, such as joy, bliss, love, and contentment.|
|The affects and reactions of the crowd on the film were exactly what the filmmaker wanted to elicit.||The feelings and reactions of the crowd on the film were exactly what the filmmaker wanted to elicit.|
Affective versus Effective as adjectives
Finally, we have affective and effective as adjectives. By this point, I hope that the differences between the root words of affect and effect are clear to you – especially following the analysis of the noun theatre of the clash.
As with affect as a noun, you will rarely find or use affective as a modifier. In fact, comparing the usage of affective and effective on Ludwig.guru shows that the former has a 1 percent usage frequency rate compared to the latter’s 99 percent usage frequency rate across major sources.
Affective is to be emotional; it is “relating to, arising from, or influencing feelings or emotions.” Affectionate is a far more common way to describe someone or something as having many affections.
Effective concerns results. To be effective means to be “capable of bringing about an effect” or being “productive of results.”
|Affective as an adjective|
|…Sacrificing physical life and affective life to mental life. – Aldous Huxley*||…Sacrificing physical life and emotional life to mental life.|
|They are very affective, open people||They are very affectionate, open people.|
|The affective language of the poem resonates with me.||The emotional language of the poem resonates with me.|
|Effective as an adjective|
|The run game of the away team is not effective against that stout defense.||The run game of the away team is not productive against that stout defense.|
|My study session was not very effective. I was distracted by the game.||My study session was not very fruitful. I was distracted by the game.|
|She is an effective team leader of the creative department. They produce plenty of quality content every day.||She is an efficacious team leader of the creative department. They produce plenty of quality content every day.|
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