Word Confusion: Affect versus Effect

Posted March 22, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

This is a tricky one as they both can have an affect on the effect you are attempting. Yeah…which one to use, which one to use, hmmmm…

Is it possible to effect the affect? Or affect the effect? The truly scary bit is that either word can be a noun or a verb. Fortunately, using affect as a noun is generally restricted to a very limited field.

A good general rule is affect is the verb while effect is the noun.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Affect Effect
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Grammar Girl

A cheery poster in a lime green with cartoon-like characters thinking in the cloud above them

“How Does Open Source Affect Company Culture” by opensource.com [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A poster displaying the human body and where the effects of pollution affect it.

“Health Effects of Pollution” by Mikael Häggström [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1; Verb, transitive 2, 3

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: affects
Past tense or past participle: affected
Gerund or present participle: affecting

Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: effects
Past tense or past participle: effected
Gerund or present participle: effecting

[Psychology] Emotion or desire, especially as influencing behavior or action

When speaking about psychology with reference to someone’s mood.

(Psychologists know that you can never really understand what someone else is feeling. You can only know how they appear to be feeling.)

Be warned that affect as a noun is almost entirely restricted to psychology.

Verb, transitive:
To influence 2

To act in a way that you don’t feel

Have an effect on

Make a difference to

  • Touch the feelings of someone
  • Move emotionally

Pretend to have or feel something 3

  • Use, wear, or assume something pretentiously or so as to make an impression on others
A change that is a result or consequence of an action or other cause

  • The state of being or becoming operative
  • The extent to which something succeeds or is operative: wind power can be used to great effect
  • [Physics; with modifier] A physical phenomenon, typically named after its discoverer
  • An impression produced in the mind of a person

[Effects] The lighting, sound, or scenery used in a play, movie, or broadcast

[Effects] Personal belongings

Verb, transitive:
To bring about, accomplish

Cause something to happen

She displayed a happy affect.

Verb, transitive:
The arrows affected the aardvark.

The rain affected Amy’s hairdo.

She affected an air of superiority.

The dampness began to affect my health.

Your attitude will affect how successful you are.

The atrocities he witnessed have affected him most deeply.

As usual I affected a supreme unconcern.

A book that affects to loathe the modern world.

He was an American who had affected a British accent.

The effect was eye-popping.

The sound effects were amazing.

Her face shows the lethal effects of hard drugs.

Politicians really do have some effect on the lives of ordinary people.

Wind power can be used to great effect.

The Doppler effect is when something sounds louder as it approaches you and sounds fainter as it goes away.

Gentle music can have a soothing effect.

The production relied too much on spectacular effects.

Thank god our insurance covers personal effects.

Verb, transitive:
The rain had no effect on Amy’s hairdo.

Nature always effected a cure.

Budget cuts were quietly effected over four years.

Adjective: affectless
Noun: affectlessness
History of the Word:
1 Late 19th century and coined in German from Latin affectus meaning disposition, from afficere meaning to influence. See also 3.

2 Late Middle English in the sense of attack as a disease, from the French affecter or the Latin affect- meaning influenced or affected from the verb afficere. See also 3.

3 Late Middle English from the French affecter or the Latin affectare meaning aim at and a frequentative of afficere meaning work on or influence from ad- (at, to) + facere (do). The original sense was like or love, hence (like to) use, assume, etc.

Late Middle English from the Old French or from the Latin effectus, which is from efficere meaning accomplish, from ex- (out, thoroughly) + facere (do, make).

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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