Ask The Editor #1: Affect vs Effect

Affect or effect
The misuse of the words “affect” and “effect” is such an epidemic that some editors are considering assembling regional support groups to deal with the stress it is causing some of us. But while certain homophones can be rather tricky, deciding whether to use affect or effect isn’t as tough as you may think.

First, let’s look at the spelling. Now, some people will pronounce them like homophones, but there is actually a slight difference. Of course, not all accents follow this rule and sometimes you will need to use context to understand.

If we look at the phonetics, we can see that:

Effect /ɪ’fekt/

Affect /ə’fekt/

Next, let’s look at a simple rule of thumb regarding the difference between affect vs effect.

General Rule

“Affect” is generally used as a verb: A affects B as per how verbs function. Consider the following: The verb/noun confusion affected the editor’s sanity.

Nice and simple, right?

“Effect,” on the other hand, is almost exclusively used as a noun: A had an effect on B. The confusion had a negative effect on the editor’s sanity.

So, the simple answer is that “affect” is almost always a verb and “effect” is usually a noun. There are exceptions, of course, which we will look at in a moment. If you need help remembering, remember the following:

The action is affect, the end result is effect. Or if that doesn’t work, take Grammar Girl’s advice and think of a RAVEN.

Affect – Verb, Effect – Noun

Exceptions

Of course, this is English we are talking about, so there was bound to be some exceptions to the general rule.

Let’s take a quick look at some exceptions to this rule:

Effect as a Verb

Effect as a verb means ‘to bring about’. Affect, on the other hand, means ‘to have an effect on’, ‘to achieve’ or ‘make a difference to’. It usually shows up with nouns like “change” or “solutions.”

The editors wanted to effect change in this commonly confused homophone.

In other words, the editors wanted to bring about the effect of change—maybe by showing the differences clearly and effectively.

You might be asking, “But why can’t we use affect here as the verb?”

If you use affect here, it would mean “to have an effect on change” or “to impact change.” The editors who want to “affect change” would be trying to impact existing changes. As you can see, it is not as powerful as creating change, especially when this commonly confused issue is still out there.

Fortunately, this is used more commonly by bureaucrats rather than the mass population.

Affect as a Noun

Affect as a noun means feeling, emotion, or specific emotional response. In other words, a noun meaning ‘display of emotion’.

The coffee had a flat affect on the editor’s mood.

Confused yet? Surely that must have been a typo! Thanks to psychologists and psychiatrists, we now have another exception to the rule. Don’t worry, fortunately, this one is mostly only used in psychology journals and such. As per the definition below:

affect (noun): Psychol. (and Psychiatry). A feeling or subjective experience accompanying a thought or action or occurring in response to a stimulus; an emotion, a mood. In later use also (usu. as a mass noun): the outward display of emotion or mood, as manifested by facial expression, posture, gestures, tone of voice, etc.

Summary

In short, remember the simple rule that affect – verb, effect – noun.

If you are uncertain if it is a noun or verb, try putting a determiner or qualifier in front of it: the effect, an effect, some effect, any effect, the desired effect, etc

Have any more grammar-related questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *