Common English Errors: Affect and Effect (Updated 21 Jan 2016) Featured

Affect and effect are very similar words, and often confused. But they have quite significant differences; one is a verb, and the other is a noun!

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Affect is a verb, a "doing" or "action" word. Its simplest meaning is "to bring about". It is defined as "having an effect on, to make a difference to, to change". This is its most common meaning. It has a few other meanings too: "to touch someone emotionally", and "attack or infect" (referring to an illness), or "pretend to have or feel".

Effect is a noun, a "thing" word. Basically, it means "result". It is defined as "a change that is the result of an action, a consequence, an impression". It can also refer to "the state of being, or becoming functioning or working". It can also mean "the extent to which something succeeds", or "an impression produced in someone".

Here are a few a mental tricks in choosing the right word:

To remember affect, notice that action starts with an "a", and so does affectaffect is an action word.

Remember that result has an "e" in it, and that links to effect starting with an "e". When writing, try substituting "result" in the sentence where you're thinking of using affect or effect to see whether it makes sense or not. This trick won't always work, but in general usage it should help point the way.

For example, say you're writing about your childhood years:

My poor mother's pleas and warnings had no affect/effect on my crazy behaviour.
Which one to use?!

Try it with "result" substituted for "affect/effect": My poor mother's pleas and warnings had no result on my crazy behaviour. That makes sense, doesn't it? So in this case effect is the correct word to use. The final sentence reads: My poor mother's pleas and warnings had no effect on my crazy behaviour.

Another example:

Consuming large quantities of jelly snakes began to positively affect/effect my mood, if not my health. Again, substitute result in place of affect/effect, and see if it makes sense: Consuming large quantities of jelly snakes began to positively result my mood, if not my health. No, that doesn't make sense, does it?

So affect is the correct choice here: Consuming large quantities of jelly snakes began to positively affect my mood, if not my health.


See if you can choose the correct words in the sentences below (answers at the foot of the page).

1. I'm worried Daniel's bad mood will _____ the rest of the class.

2. Thankfully, the power-mad squirrels never managed to get their plans for world domination into _______.

3. We predict that the ban on penguins will have a devastating _______.

4. The constant buzzing of the bees began to ______ my health.

5. Seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre had a powerful _____ on me.

6. Having purple hair should not _____  your success in the workplace.

7. The ______ of ducks on your vegetable garden can be devastating.

8. Pure distilled water, when drunk in sufficient quantities, can have a lethal _____.

9. In my old age, baldness will ______ me.

10. Susan's watercolours were, unfortunately, completely devoid of any subtle artistic ______.

Just to make things more tricky, there are less common usages of each word, with affect as a noun (a psychological term meaning "an emotion or desire as it determines someone's actions"), and effect as a verb (meaning "make something occur, bring about"). But you're not likely to come across these usages so often — if you can basically remember that affect = to bring about, and effect = result, you'll be doing well!

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Last modified on Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:04
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

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