Affect. Effect. They sound nearly identical – and their meanings are pretty dang similar, too! So, does it really matter whether you say affect or effect? Let’s see what we can learn from their most common definitions.
Affect (verb): to act on and cause a change in (someone or something).
Effect (noun): a change that results when something is done or happens.
Well, for starters, these two words typically have completely different roles in a sentence: as a verb, affect describes an action, state, or occurrence, while nouns (like effect) are words used to identify a person, place, or thing.
Using the magic of synonyms, here’s a handy trick: If you can replace the affect/effect conundrum with “alter,” use affect; if “end-result” is a better fit, effect is a safer bet. Let’s try it:
COVID’s _____ on the economy _____ shop profits.
Option A: COVID’s alters on the economy end-resulted shop profits.
Option B: COVID’s end-results on the economy altered shop profits.
Our first attempt doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but the second sentence is fairly logical, if clunky. Now, we just match vowels… end-results becomes effects, and altered becomes affected.
COVID’s effects on the economy affected shop profits.
Have I mentioned that the English language is filled with fun? Don’t get me wrong – I totally dig it, but I willingly admit it can be pretty twisted. Just when you think you GET it, that it finally makes sense, they gotta throw in some exceptions! (You don’t want me to get started on “I before E” – other than when your eight weird neighbors seize a foreign heir without regard to his height or weight.)
And such is the case with affect and effect. Though we’ve explored these words’ most common uses above, both have slightly difference uses while filling the same function in the sentence. Affect (still a verb) can also mean “to cause illness in someone or something,” “to produce an emotional response in someone,” or “to influence someone or something.” An effect may be “a distinctive impression,” “the quality of being operative,” or “an outward sign.” Okay, not too awful, not too different from their most common meanings.
But it’s never that simple, friends! In some cases, affect acts as a noun that describes an emotional response that can be physically observed, ie. Her facial expression showed no affect as she received the bad news.
And effect plays the role of verb every so often… it means “to bring about” or “to make happen.” In this context, it’s often paired with “change” or another noun, such as here: Her goal was to effect change. Now, if she wanted to affect change, she would be attempting to alter existing changes; effecting change requires making it happen to begin with.
Hopefully, this post affects your understanding of the differences between these two challenging words, and I’d love for you to share the effects of reading it! Drop me a line and let me know about your grammatical challenges – maybe it’ll be the topic of next month’s Grammar Guidance. 😊