The difference between affect and effect is as big as the difference between nouns and verbs. (Oops, spoiler alert!) However, because they are homophones like right and write or bear and bare, many people get confused as to which to use where. As always, I’m here to make the complicated simple, the arduous easy, and the insurmountable easy to climb.
Affect (the Verb)
Whenever you are creating a sentence and you need to use affect vs. effect, think about whether you are using it in your sentence as a noun or verb. If you need a verb, then affect is your guy. Affect as a verb means to influence or change something.
The summer rain storms will affect your ability to play golf in the tournament on Friday.
Here are a few great ways of remembering that affect is a verb.
- A verb causes action. Action starts with “A.” Affect starts with an “A.” Coincidence? Maybe – but who cares? It’s a handy little memory device.
- You can add -ed to it and make it past tense. You can’t play those kinds of games with nouns!
The unsafe dock affected our ability to tie up our sailboat.
One of the issues with using the word affect as a verb is that it is kind of vague. It’s a lot like the word impacted, which many people use instead of trying to figure out whether to use affect vs. effect. Take a look at the sentence above using the word impacted.
The unsafe dock impacted our ability to tie up our sailboat.
A perfectly fine sentence. However, it’s still a little vague. Exactly how did the dock affect or impact our ability to tie up our sailboat? We assume it was a negative effect. (See how I snuck effect in here? Spoiler alert: It’s a noun.) Why not use verbs with a more exact meaning?
The unsafe dock destroyed our ability to tie up our sailboat.
The unsafe dock ruined our ability to tie up our sailboat.
Effect (the Noun)
Effect is a noun. And like any good noun, it is used as the subject or object in a sentence. You will also find that it usually has the word “an” or “the” in front of it.
The weather was having a profound effect on my mood.
The effect of the breakup was all anyone in their circle of friends could talk about.
Some think that Star Wars became a blockbuster movie more because of the special effects than the story line.
Another very common usage in today’s cinema is the term “special effects.” You know that it’s never “special affects” because it’s a noun.
Choosing Between Affect vs Effect
When you are looking at the difference between affect and effect, you can use the noun/verb differentiation to decide which word to use. That is what I use, and I think it’s pretty darned easy to remember. However, there is another way if this doesn’t work for you.
You can think of it as, “affect causes the effect.”
The time change will affect your sleep. The effect is that you will be sleepy.
His inability to throw affected his chances to make it on the team. The effect of not making the team was devastating.
Affect vs Effect: Exceptions
Of course, being that this is the English language, there are exceptions to everything. It just wouldn’t be the English language without them.
Affect as a Noun
Using affect as a noun is largely used in psychological circles to describe someone’s mood as it appears to the psychologist.
The patient presented a sad affect during our sessions today.
This means that the patient appeared to be sad to the psychologist. But because the doctor can never know for sure exactly how someone is feeling, they use the term “affect” to describe the patient’s perceived emotion or mood. Or perhaps more accurately – the traits that the patient was exhibiting seemed to indicate that she was sad.
His manic affect made me realize that I need to increase the patient’s dosage.
Again, in the sentence above, the psychologist is observing the traits that the patient is exhibiting in order to come to a conclusion about what the patient is actually feeling.
Affect as an Adjective
Yes, believe it or not, affect can also be an adjective! When used as an adjective, affect – or more commonly, affected – means “to put on airs” or “to pretend to be more important than you really are.” Synonyms for this adjective would be pretentious, artificial, contrived and unnatural.
Despite being upset, the model flung her hair back in affected glamour once the camera crew showed up.
It means the model was pretending to be glamorous when she really wasn’t.
Even though he had blown every game that season with his lack of athletic ability, the pitcher affected confidence when approached but the sports reporter.
Of course, this means the pitcher was being more confident than he had any right to be after having such a horrible season.
Using affected as an adjective is usually not a compliment to the person you are writing about. It’s actually more of a put-down to their heightened ego than anything else.
Effect as a Verb
I know. What?! Didn’t I just say that effect is a noun? I hate contradictions as much as you do, but the fact is – we speak English – and there is a reason that it is said that English is the most difficult language in the world. These exceptions can drive you nuts. But there it is – so let’s press on.
Effect can be used as a verb when it is defined as “to bring about” or “to accomplish.” In most cases, you’re going to find it used in the phrase “effect change.”
The protesters hoped to effect change in the school’s policies.
In the above sentence, the protesters are looking to bring about change in the school’s policies. In other words, they are ready to create change from the ground up.
Now, here’s a little twist for you. You can use the term “affect” here as well.
The protesters hoped to affect change in the school’s policies.
In the above sentence, the protesters aren’t trying to create change from the ground up (as with effect). Instead, they are trying to have an impact on the change that is already taking place. It’s a subtle but important difference.
One Last Difference Between Affect and Effect: Pronunciation
I know it may seem a small thing, but the pronunciation of these words is important as well. While affect and effect sound very similar, they are actually pronounced slightly differently.
Affect is pronounced (uh-fect). There is a short “A” sound at the beginning of it.
Effect is pronounced (ih-fect). There is a short “I” sound at the beginning of it.
Affect, when it is used as a noun in psychology, is pronounced (af-ekt). There is a flat, short “A” sound at the beginning of the word, and the first syllable includes the “F” sound.
Affected, when it is used as an adjective, is pronounced (af-eckted). Affected also has a short “A” sound at the beginning of the word, and the first syllable includes the “F” sound.
You may feel silly, but if I were you I’d say each of these out loud so you can hear the difference as you speak. At least this way, when you are speaking you can use the correct pronunciation so that your listeners will know what you are talking about. In writing, of course, there is no such indicator.
Thanks for hanging in there with me while we examined the difference between affect and effect, two often misused words. I hope it helped! For answers to other conundrums, leave a comment and be sure to check out our grammar lessons!