Affect vs. Effect

Learning Jun 24, 2021
The difference between affect and effect is more than just their first letters; affect is a verb that means to have an impact on, whereas effect is a noun that means a result or consequence.
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Affect vs. Effect

A frequent mistake that many of us make is confusing affect vs. effect. 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 differences between the 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

To learn the difference between affect and effect, let’s begin by consulting Google for the definitions of each word:

The pronunciation of the two words is strikingly similar. 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, 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)

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. 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.

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 an 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.

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 weather tends to affect my mood.
  • Danny, you need to stop playing video games. They’re affecting your grades.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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, 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:

  • Jack is still affected by his injuries.
  • 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! Now you know when to use the words affect vs. effect and affected vs. effected. 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 a quick affected vs. effected rule of thumb: “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 them up in the future, and keep your English teacher happy too!






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Emily Perry, PhD

Along with Paige Pfeifer

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

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