“Affect” and “effect” are two of the easiest words in the English language to mix up. Unlike other similar words like “rode” and “road” whose meanings are completely different from one another, “affect” and “effect” refer to the same idea. The role they play in the sentence dictates which is correct.

Let’s take a look.

Affect — A for Action

Firstly, both “affect” and “effect” refer to one thing influencing something else—think of a line of dominos falling down.

“Affect” is the verb form of this idea, meaning “To have an impact on.”

For example:

  1. “Michael Jordan didn’t let an injury affect his performance on the basketball court.”

  2. “Do you think the weather will affect our cookout tomorrow?”

  3. “Ernest Hemmingway’s writing style was greatly affected by his experience in World War II.”

In sentences using “affect,” try spotting the two things that are in action with each other. In sentence one, “injury” is influencing “performance.” In sentence two, “weather” is influencing “cookout.” In sentence three, “experience” is influencing “style.” Notice that in sentence three, even though “style” comes before “experience,” it is Hemmingway’s “experience” that is influencing “style.”

Remember those dominos falling down? As it’s happening, each domino is affecting the next. There is action happening. So if you’re debating whether to use “affect” or “effect,” think A for Action. Is there action happening between two things in your sentence?

Effect is a noun meaning “the result of an action.”

For example:

  1. By using his new shading techniques, Anthony gave his drawing a three-dimensional effect.

  2. The real estate crash of 2008 had a negative effect on my retirement savings.

  3. Your words have no effect on me.

Effect — E for End

Unlike the sentences using “affect,” “effect” does not describe the relationship between two things. More so, it describes the state of something. To use our domino example, if “affect” refers to the dominos as they are falling, “effect” would refer to the dominos after they have all fallen down. The action is over, the effect is the end state.

Think E for End. Another hint: since “effect” is a noun, it’s usually preceded by an article—that is, “a,” “an,” or “the.” If something is “effective,” that means it as achieved its desired end. It has proven itself able to impact change. Still, the action is in the past.

Check your understanding with these examples. You can find the answers at the bottom of this blog post.

  1. My roommate’s new girlfriend is really (affecting, effecting) our friendship.

  2. I put too much salt in this soup. Do you think it will (affect, effect) the taste?

  3. His new guitar pedal gave his music a funky (affect, effect).

  4. I hope this string of burglaries in town doesn’t have a negative (affect, effect) on our tourism.

  5. He tried a new medicine for his sleep disorder to no (affect, effect).

  6. The oil spill (affected, effected) hundreds of fish and birds in the region.

Exceptions

Unfortunately, these rules for “affect” and “effect” come with plenty of exceptions.

Some forms of “affect” can function as a noun, particularly when referring to a feeling or emotional response. Consider the following sentences.

  1. Sheila’s Southern affect will totally charm the other tourists on the cruise.

  2. Van Gogh’s affective piece, Starry Night, sometimes brings people to tears.

  3. My grandfather’s slow, unbalanced affect was the result of a stroke.

In each of these sentences, one thing is exuding influence constantly onto others. In sentence 1, Sheila’s Southern-ness is always in action. In sentence 2, Starry Night is constantly drawing emotion out of viewers. In sentence 3, the grandfather never stops giving off his slow, unbalanced impression.

Though “effect” works as a noun most of the time, “effect” can sometimes play other roles. Take a look at these sentences.

  1. It will be a while before our sales model takes effect.

  2. Marty’s plan to throw his mother a birthday party is now in effect.

  3. What good is a government if it can’t effect change?

Each of these sentences use “effect” with an endpoint in mind. It still looks forward to a state where the action has already happened or is complete. Also, the connotation of “effect” is less emotional than “affect,” and more strategic.

In sentence 1, the idea looks forward to a time when the sales model is completely implemented. In sentence 2, Marty looks forward to the successful execution of his plan. In sentence 3, the idea of governmental change is permanent.

Now go forth, use “affect” and “effect” with confidence!

Answers: 1. affecting, 2. affect, 3. effect, 4. effect, 5. effect, 6. affected

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