It's easy to understand why so many people struggle to learn the difference between affect and effect. Not only do the two words sound very similar, but their definitions are also related.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines affect as a verb meaning "to have an effect on." If you're confused about affect vs. effect, this definition is supremely unhelpful!
Just in case you need further proof of how confusing these words can be, look at these two sentences, which use forms of affect and effect in four different ways:
"The presence of the party guests affected the usually obedient dog, who bounded into the dining room, snatching food off people's plates and making them spill their drinks as an effect. The dog maintained a happy affect even though his actions effected a dramatic change in the demeanor of the guests, who were now very annoyed and somewhat sticky."
Because the two words are so easy to mix up, it is imperative to take the time to truly understand the difference between affect vs. effect. This article will walk you through the four main uses of the words, two of which are common and two of which are more obscure. By learning all the ways in which affect and effect are used, you'll be able to select the right one every time.
The Difference Between Affect vs. Effect
We've outlined the difference between affect vs. effect in one of our "25-Second Grammar" videos. Take a look, and read on for a more detailed explanation:
The Meaning of Affect
As the video explains, affect is primarily used as a verb that means "to influence" or "to bring something about. " Returning to the above example, the guests affected, or influenced, the dog's behavior. In other words, the dog was usually obedient, but because of their presence, the dog became excited and uncontrollable.
Here are more examples that show how the verb affect is used in a sentence:
- The beautiful writing in this book affects everyone who reads it.
- The rain affected our plans to go to the fair today; we decided to go to the mall instead.
- Pregnant mothers should not take this medication, as it can affect the baby.
- The woman's poignant monologue affected the entire audience, and they gave the performance a standing ovation.
- I want to be involved in making any decision that will affect my future.
Here's where things get tricky: affect can also be used as a noun meaning someone's demeanor or outward attitude. Think of the dog's happy affect upon greeting the guests and snatching their food. The good news is that you are unlikely to encounter this usage in everyday life, as it only really occurs in the field of psychology (e.g., "The patient displayed a sad affect while discussing her estranged sister").
The Meaning of Effect
Unlike affect, which is usually used as a verb, effect is most often used as a noun. An effect is a result, or something that happens because of something else. You can easily identify the noun effect because it will have an article (an or the) before it.
In the previous example, the effect of the dog snatching food off people's plates was that the guests stand and spill their drinks. Here are some more examples of how to use effect in a sentence:
- Children need to understand the effects of their actions on others.
- What is the desired effect of this program?
- The effect that the painting had on me was immense because it made me think of my mother.
- If this story goes viral, the effects will be catastrophic.
- I could no longer ignore the effect her presence had on me.
As with affect, there is a second, less-common definition of effect. Although effect is mostly used as a noun, it can be used as a verb that means "to bring about." Keep in mind that the verb effect implies greater action than the verb affect. It doesn't just influence something; it causes something to happen. In our example, the dog's actions effected a change in the guests; because of what the dog did, the guests were annoyed. This usage of the word effect is not very common, and you'll mainly find it in the phrase "to effect change."
That's So Raven
The word raven acts as a great mnemonic device to help you remember how to use affect vs. effect. Here's what it stands for:
Beware, however, because this method does not account for the lesser-known uses of affect and effect, only their primary functions as a verb and a noun, respectively. The raven method is still worth knowing, though, as it's a quick and easy way to recall how each word should be used in most cases.
Think you've mastered the difference between affect vs. effect? It's time to put your knowledge to the test! We've created a quiz to help you gauge how well you know affect and effect. Let us know how well you did by visiting us on Facebook or Twitter.
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