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Quick Answers: The Definitions of "Affect" and "Effect"
Affect: "Affect" is a verb that means to influence something or, in relation to human behavior, put on an act. As a noun, it has a definition specific to the field of psychology (a subjective emotion demonstrated through someone's actions).
Effect: "Effect" is a noun that means an outcome or result. It is also a verb that means "to make happen."
A Closer Look at "Affect" vs. "Effect"
Are you unsure whether to use "affect" or "effect?" Do you find yourself simply guessing which of these words to use in a given sentence? You're not alone. Remembering the difference between "affect" and "effect" is especially confusing because both words have very similar pronunciations, in addition to having very similar meanings.
Here's a sentence that uses both words correctly: "The cold weather 'affected' the crops; the 'effect' of the cold weather was a lower yield."
If you find yourself scratching your head unable to discern the difference between "affect" and "effect" in the above sentence, never fear! This article will explain when to use each word and provide plenty of helpful examples and tips to help you remember which word to use.
As an additional note, if you're curious to learn about other commonly confused words, check out Scribendi's Guide to Commonly Confused Words, which lists over 350 of these tricky terms.
When to Use "Affect"
"Affect" is most commonly used in the transitive verb form (i.e., X 'affects' Y). To "affect" something means that you are exerting an influence on it somehow—that is, you are changing it in some way. This usage of the word "affect" is pervasive in the English language and is synonymous with "to have an effect on."
However, "affect" has another definition (also as a transitive verb): to put on a display or a pretense. This sense of the word pertains to deceptive human behavior, such as "affecting" (i.e., pretending) to like someone or "affecting" disinterest in something. It generally has negative connotations and is only rarely used this way (see the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definitions of "affect").
An even rarer use of the word "affect" is the noun form. In psychology, someone can demonstrate a particular "affect," or a set of behaviors that can be observed, resulting from that individual's subjective emotions. Examples of this word include a blunted, constricted, flat, inappropriate, labile, or restricted affect (see The Free Dictionary's definition of "affect").
So, there are three situations where you can use the word "affect." Use the verb if you are describing 1) something that is influencing something else, or 2) someone who is pretending to feel a certain way to manipulate their audience. Use the noun if you are talking about 3) the physical manifestation of a particular subjective behavior in a psychological context.
1) The book was starting to affect the way Bartholomew acted.
2) Bartholomew affected disinterest in the book, but the way he kept reading it day and night proved his fascination with the story.
3) If you ask me, a psychologist should observe Bartholomew's affect to see if there is cause for concern.
However, keep in mind that the first definition of "affect"—exerting an influence on something—is by far the most common.
Your takeaway: If you're describing something or someone that has an influence on something or someone else, use "affect." You might also need to use "affect" if you are describing an action someone takes based on a pretense (verb form) or an observable behavior arising from a subjective emotion (noun form).
When to Use "Effect"
"Effect" also has a noun form and a verb form.
Note that the noun and verb forms of "effect" both have a multitude of possible meanings. However, for simplicity, we'll focus on two main definitions.
The noun form of "effect" is much more common than the verb form. It means the outcome or result of some factor. For example, you have likely heard the phrase "cause and effect," describing an interlinked chain of events.
There is also a verb form of this word: to "effect" something means to bring that thing about (i.e., to make it a reality). A common use of this verb is the phrase "to effect change." As the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states, "the verb effect goes beyond mere influence; it refers to actual achievement of a final result."
So when do you use "effect?" 1) Use the noun if you are talking about a result of something, and 2) use the verb if you are talking about the process of generating an outcome.
1) Reading the book had a notable effect on Bartholomew's interactions with others.
2) It seemed to effect change in Bartholomew's social life, making him less and less inclined to seek human interaction, and more and more prone to reading in private.
Your takeaway: If you're referring to a result of something, use "effect." You can also use "effect" if you are describing an action where something or someone is causing a particular outcome.
How to Always Use "Affect" vs. "Effect" Correctly
Even though "affect" and "effect" have at least five definitions between them, you will primarily encounter only two of them: to "affect" (verb), which means to influence, and an "effect" (noun), which means an outcome or result. A handy trick to remember the difference between affect and effect is as follows:
- An affect is an action.
- An effect describes an eventuality.
If this trick doesn't apply to your particular situation, reread this article to find out whether to use "affect" or "effect." We're certain you'll find the answer there. If you’re curious to learn more, check out some of our other featured articles, "Lay vs. Lie," "Who vs. Whom," and "Brake vs. Break."
As a final parting note, if you're ever confused about the difference between these terms, or any other, consider submitting your writing to be professionally edited or proofread by Scribendi's experienced editors. You'll see the positive "effects" on your writing in no time at all!
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