Monday, February 7, 2011

Affect vs. effect - a quick reference for greatest effect

Most of the time knowing when to use "affect" and "effect" is pretty easy. Why? Because most of the time, affect is a verb, and effect is a noun. OK, over-achievers, I promise we'll get to the exceptions later. But for now, we'll start with an example.


The rain affected Josie's eye makeup, and the effect was quite sexy - if you like raccoons that is.

Since the rain is the subject, and it is acting upon her eye makeup, you use the verb affected. And since Josie's eye make up is the object, and it is being acted upon by the rain, you use the noun effect. 

Let's try another.

SnOMG 2011 dumped so much white stuff on Chicago February 1 and 2, that it negatively affected the travel plans of even the most well-connected Aldermen. The blizzard pummeled the city, and one effect was stranded Lake Shore Drive commuters. Many were stuck for nine hours, unable to move their vehicles. Fortunately, the ability to honk and fling obscenities remained fully intact.

In the above example, SnOMG 2011 affected (verb) travel plans, and the blizzard had an effect (noun) on LSD commuters.

Quick Tip

It may help you to think of it this way: effect, in many cases, is synonymous with a result. So if you're referring to something that happened to someone (or some thing) or something that was caused by the actions of another thing, use "effect." While affect (or affected) is synonymous with an action. So if you're referring to something one did to another (or how one acted upon another), use "affect," "affected," or "affecting."

Effect Examples:
  • Your charms have lost their effect on me; diamonds, however, have not. (Result: Charms lost out to diamonds after umpteenth empty apology).
  • The effect of gambling is almost always an empty wallet. (Result: Gambling caused empty wallet).

  • The years have not had a pleasant effect on his chins. (Result: Years caused saggy wattle).
Affect/Affected/Affecting Examples:
  • Adding sugar to coffee affects the flavor. (Action: Adding sugar makes coffee taste better).

  • Her sunny disposition is affecting my ability to wallow in much-deserved self pity after my prized Apple Pie lost out to Wilma's blueberry loaf at the Seawell County Fair. (Action: Her disposition is impeding my pity party).

  • Grandma's insistence to baby her Infiniti G35X and DWG (drive while granny) affected our arrival at the screening of "Scream 3756 - the Sequel." (Action: Grandma's "careful, defensive driving" caused us to be quite late for the newest horror film. Wait a thinks she was employing selective DWG techniques. Clever Granny - I should never underestimate you!)

  • The Chicago auto dealership's written threat to terminate Carlos should he not remove his Green Bay Packer's tie immediately affected the company's image (and business) when Carlos forwarded the offending email to the media and took a job with a competitor. (Action: Misguided team loyalty caused long-term headaches).
The Exceptions

I warned you of the exceptions, and for the sake of time and clarity, I'll only briefly cover them here. If you want to know more, you can always send me an email.

Ready? Here we go!

Affect as a Noun

Rarely, affect is used as a noun. In mental health circles, affect describes the way a person appears to be feeling. Merriam Webster defines affect (the noun) this way: "a set of observable manifestations of a subjectively experienced emotion"--see my source.

Example: Peter's flat affect led his psychologist to believe that he was depressed. 

Effect as a Verb

Again rarely, effect is used as a verb. It can mean: to cause something to come into being; to bring about by overcoming significant obstacles; or to accomplish.

Example: The people of Egypt hope to effect a regime change by taking to the streets and demanding true democracy.

Bravo! You've now tackled one of the most common errors in the English language! Did I have a positive effect on your grammar rule vault? Leave me a comment and let me know. Here's to hoping....

See you soon! 


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