Affect vs. Effect

Learning Jun 24, 2021
In this article

A couple of the most commonly confused words are affect vs effect. We've all mixed them up at one point or another, and probably will again in the future. In an effort to reduce this problem and to start using the right word(s), let's figure out the differences between the two.

Instead of beating around the bush, let's cut straight to it: affect is a verb that means to impact or influence something, and effect is a noun that means a result or consequence of an action.

Both may have similar meanings and have similar sounds, but they are not the same word. This is a common cause of confusion among readers, so writers must be sure to avoid the inappropriate substitution of one word for the other.

Luckily, we’re here to help. Read on to learn the key different meanings of affect and effect, as well as when to use each word and some examples of their correct applications. You’ll soon know whether to use effect or affect in that sentence you’re stuck on.

The Difference Between Affect and Effect

They look similar, they sound similar, but they are quite different. To learn the difference between affect and effect, let’s begin by consulting Google for the definitions of each word:

Yes, the two sound alike. The pronunciation of the two words is strikingly similar, much like the spelling. The difference lies in the first syllable of each word: affect is pronounced like “laugh,” whereas effect is pronounced like “beef.”

However, the emphasis on each starting vowel often relaxes itself in the middle of conversation, leading both to be pronounced like “chef.” This effectively removes the auditory distinction between each word and is a starting point behind much of the confusion surrounding them.

The second difference between affect and effect is listed right before the description: affect is a verb, or an action word, while effect is a noun. To affect is to impact or influence something, while an effect is a result or consequence of an action.

This distinction is extremely important, especially since the rest of the definitions are sparse in detail. In fact, the word effect is even embedded in the definition of affect! The latter word stems from the former in meaning, making the two intrinsically connected.

It’s no wonder we get the two mixed up so often.

So what does effect mean exactly? According to Google, it’s “a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.” For now, we can paraphrase this and call it “a difference made by something.” With this, we can easily compare it to affect, which is “(to) have an effect on; make a difference to.”

See the connection? Affect means “make a difference to,” whereas effect means “a difference made.”

In conclusion, these words are two sides of the same coin. To affect something causes an effect. One cannot be present without the other, but they are distinctly different words nevertheless.

When to Use Affect and Effect

A comic depicting two buttons: effect and affect. A man sweats deciding between the two.
The pressure is on. (Reddit)

Okay, you now you know the basic difference between the two words. That's a solid start. But, like anything, using something in practice is much different than using it in theory, and using the right word in the right context is important.

Let’s discuss the proper use of affect vs effect in a sentence.

We’ll begin with the former. As we know, affect is a verb, or an action word. This means it is generally used when describing an action being undertaken by a person, place, or thing – specifically, one that causes change in another noun.

(Pro tip: when differentiating the two, it helps to think affect = action. A and A.)

In a sentence, this usually takes the form of:

  • X affects Y.
  • X is affecting Y.
  • X affected Y.
  • X will affect Y.

In contrast, effect is a noun, so in a sentence, it typically appears as:

  • X is having a effect on Y.
  • X left an effect on Y.
  • X will have a lasting effect on Y.

Remember again that affecting causes an effect, so the two words often find themselves in the same sentence or paragraph.

This may take the form of, “X affected Y, and therefore Y experienced the effect of X’s action.” This makes the question of when to use affect and effect especially pertinent, as the words are often used close to one another, potentially causing confusion.

Exceptions

It wouldn't be an English language lesson without a section about grammar rules and their exceptions. (We know, we know. Cue the groans.)

Usually, affect vs effect is pretty straightforward, but there are a couple of situations that can be kind of tricky when it comes to deciding which word to use.

Like any exceptions, these situations will be in the minority, but it's still good to be aware of them just in case. You don't want to stumble into one of these situations unprepared, right?

While we know that affect is usually a verb, and effect is usually a noun, there are instances where they're switched, and affect is the noun, and effect is the verb.

Confused? We don't blame you. Let's walk through these exceptions together and try to put your mind at ease━it's not as bad as you think!

Affect as a Noun

Using affect as a noun is rare, but sometimes necessary. There are two very specific instances where this will be the case, and there are always other ways of communicating these situations if that's easier.

Affect can be used in place of the word "demeanor." Your demeanor is your behavior, attitude, and appearance. Essentially, it is the culmination of everything that makes you, you.

Examples:

  • Her affect was negative when he returned to the room.
  • The free food made his positive affect even cheerier.

Affect can also be used to represent the physical characteristics/manifestations of an emotion. This means facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.

Examples:

  • His flat affect was monotonous as he explained the rules.
  • Her friendly facial affect put the customers at ease.

Effect as a Verb

Using effect as a verb is equally rare, but it does happen. Much like affect as a noun, there are two very specific cases when this will be used. When it doubt, refer to this article, or just explain the situation using other language.

Effect can mean to accomplish something or to set and reach a goal.

Examples:

  • The spies had to effect the escape plan perfectly to get away.
  • He had to effect his childhood dreams to feel accomplished in life.

Effect can also mean to bring something into existence.

Examples:

  • The president was going to effect change in the country.
  • She was going to effect new policies in the office.

Effected is a transitive verb, but we'll touch more on that later (promise).

These exceptions will usually only be used in more formal instances, especially in writing. They are not super common, but this post will always be here in case you find yourself confused.

Affect vs. Effect Examples

Now here are some affect vs effect examples, with one or both words being used in specific sentences. These will help further highlight the differences between each word.

  • The bad weather tends to adversely affect my mood.
  • Danny, you need to stop playing video games. They’re affecting your grade point average.
  • The medication eases your pain by having a numbing effect.
  • The virus had a slew of terrible effects on me, including cold, fever, and loss of taste.
  • The storm had devastating effects on our crop, and adversely affected travel for three days.
  • The crowd must be affecting the away team’s performance, as their offensive strategy is not having its usual effect.

Affected or Effected

Ah, but the confusion doesn’t end there. What about the words affected and effected? Both words sound like verbs… but isn’t affect the verb, while effect is the noun? So how can effected be a word?

Life can be so messy sometimes.

The truth is that the word “effect” has another, secondary meaning, upon which the word effected is based. As we've recently discussed, effect can also be a verb, meaning to “cause something to happen,” or to “bring about.”

The past participle of this verb is then read as effected.

(Remember that to effect still isn’t the same as to affect, even in verb form.)

To effect is closer to the meaning of “to create” or “to achieve,” while to affect is more synonymous with “to influence” or “to alter.”

Examples:

  • After months of research, doctors finally effected a cure for the patient's symptoms.
  • It’s good to see our plan effected at last.

On the other hand, affected can simply be the past participle of the verb affect. However, affected can also be an adjective!

When describing a noun, this word can either mean “influenced or touched by an external factor” or “artificial, pretentious, and designed to impress.”

The former definition is still rooted in the word affect, like its counterpart verb affect, the same way that the word “burned” is both a past-participle and an adjective, based on the word “burn.”

The latter definition is quite unique, so use of the word in this way might impress your friends… but it may also be described as affected in and of itself.

Examples:

  • The cold weather affected Jack's allergies.
  • His verbose language seemed affected, and was very annoying.

Final Thoughts on Affect vs. Effect

A comic depicting two women who talk about affect and effect.
Loud and clear. (Karen Reddick)

Hooray! You've made it to the end. And what a long, strange trip it's been.

Now you know when to use the words affect vs effect and affected vs effected. You'll always be able to use the right word in any situation. And if you're still confused, we're about to recap for you.

To summarize:

  • The first syllable of affect sounds like “laugh.”
  • The first syllable of effect sounds like “beef.”
  • Both tend to be mispronounced like “chef” in normal conversation.
  • Affect is a verb, meaning “to make a difference.”
  • Effect is a noun meaning “a difference made,” but it can sometimes function as a verb, meaning “to cause something to happen.”
  • Effected is the past participle of effect in verb form.
  • Affected is either the past participle or adjective version of affect. It also has a less common definition, meaning “artificial” or “pretentious.”

Lastly, if the differences are ever tough to remember, here’s one trick to distinguish between affect vs effect and use these words correctly: “A” is for action or adjective. So, the word with the “A” being affect or affected is either a verb or an adjective, while the word effect is a noun, and effected a verb by default.

This should help prevent you from mixing up affect and effect in the future, and keep your English language teacher happy too!

There are a huge number of mysteries in the world, but hopefully one of them was just solved for you. One of the great questions of our time has been answered and put to rest.

Don't know about you, but this article has affected me for the better. The effect it's going to have on my life is astronomical.

(See what we did there?)






Tags

Emily Perry, PhD

Along with Paige Pfeifer

Emily Perry is a PhD, educator, and entrepreneur who leads QuillBot's education program.
She loves all things science, learning, and art.
When she's not creating, you can find her outside doing something fun with her dog, Cass.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.