One of the most difficult pairs of words for English learners to master is “affect” and “effect.” These two words don’t just sound similar and look similar, they also have very similar meanings which makes it even harder to know when to use one and when to use the other. Even seasoned writers can sometimes make an error and use the wrong word.
To remember which one is which try to keep in mind that:
- “Affect” is usually used as a verb–an action word. Dictionary.com defines it as meaning “to act on; produce an effect or change in.”
- “Effect” is usually used as a noun–a person, place, or thing. Dictionary.com defines it as meaning “something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence.”
The two words are clearly related, but “affect” is the action of causing a change, and “effect” is the thing that is caused. When trying to remember which word is which, look at whether it’s being used as an action or as a thing that exists.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of the right way to use these words:
- A negative attitude can affect the quality of your work.
- Eating more vegetables can affect your health positively.
- I was affected by the congressman’s touching speech.
In each of these examples, the word “affect” is the correct choice, because it signifies an action is occurring. The negative attitude is impacting the quality of work; the vegetables are impacting health; and the speech is impacting me.
Now let’s look at examples for the other word:
- Your poor attitude had a negative effect on your work.
- Eating more vegetables has a direct effect on your health.
- The congressman’s speech had a touching effect on me.
In these examples, the word “effect” is appropriate because it is the thing that exists as a result of an event that happened. You had a poor attitude and the result was a negative effect; vegetables are being eaten and that results in a direct effect on health; a speech was made and as a result I felt a touching effect.
When in doubt, a useful memory technique to clear up any confusion you might have is to think about whether the word you want is an action, which begins with the letter “A” and usually requires the word “affect,” or an event, which begins with the letter “E” and requires the word “effect.” Simply put: “A” stand for “action” and “affect,” and “E” stands for “event” and “effect.”
Now with all that having been said, there are two big exceptions:
- “Affect” can be used as a noun to mean an emotion or desire, particularly when the emotion impacts one’s behavior.
- “Effect” can be used as a verb meaning to accomplish or to make happen.
These are rarer uses for the words, and using “affect” as a noun is particularly uncommon, so if you’re a struggling writer or learning English as a second language you may be better off if you simply avoid using these exceptions until you’ve gotten more comfortable with the language. Stick to using “affect” as a verb” and “effect” as a noun and you’ll be correct in the vast majority of circumstances.