Affect and Effect

The English language can be tricky sometimes—there are words and phrases that sound very similar, but are not interchangeable.  We see that a lot here at Wordsmith Essays; it’s the most common form of grammatical mistake.  Today, we’re going to talk about one such pair of confusing words: affect and effect.

If you just want the bottom line, here it is: “affect” is almost always used as a verb; it means to cause an effect.  “Effect” is almost always used as a noun; it means something brought about by something else.  If you’re not sure which to use, check to see if it’s a verb or a noun.  About 95 percent of the time, if it’s a verb, it’s “affect”, and if it’s a noun, it’s “effect”.  Follow that rule of thumb, and you’ll rarely go wrong.

Now, let’s dive in a little.

There are actually five different meanings at play in “affect” and “effect”, so we should look at each one of them, from most common to least common.

  • Affect as a verb. This means “to have an influence on” or “to produce a change in something”.  This blog is intended to show how bad grammar can affect your grade.
  • Effect as a noun. This means “something brought about”, or, more simply, “a result”.  The effect of this article should be knowing which word to use when.
  • Effect as a noun. Effect has a second meaning—it can mean “the way one thing acts upon another”.  The effect of this blog has been to raise awareness of grammar.
  • Effect as a verb. Effect can also be used as a verb, meaning “to produce a result” or “to cause something to occur”.  Learning your grammar can effect change in your writing style.  While this is grammatically correct, using it like this may confuse some readers; substituting a phrase like “bring about” might be clearer.
  • Affect as a noun. You won’t be using this unless you’re a psychiatrist.  It means an “emotional state”, but in a more complex, technical sense—it’s a dimension of behavior, and not a separate segment of it.  Chances are, if you’re confused about the difference between “effect” and “affect”, you don’t mean this one.  I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade now, and have never had to use “affect” as a noun.

So, if you’re not sure, how should you troubleshoot your word choice?

First, determine if the word you need should be a noun or a verb.  If it’s a verb, it’s going to be “affect” 95 percent of the time.

Do you mean “to cause or bring about”?  Then your verb should actually be “effect”.  You’ll normally find that only in some variation of the phrase “to effect a change”.  In general, you should avoid this in your writing because it can be potentially confusing, though it’s not incorrect.

If it’s a noun, it’s essentially always going to be “effect”, unless you’re specifically writing an essay for a psych class or something of that nature.  “Affect” as a noun is rare enough to essentially ignore.

If you’re still not sure, why not stop by Wordsmith Essays’ order page?  Our team of international editors will effectively positively affect your grade, helping catch any grammatical issues and fix any awkward writing.  Check us out today!


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