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Quick Answers

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

Are you unsure whether to use "affect" or "effect," simply guessing which of these words to use in a given sentence? The distinction between "affect" and "effect" is particularly confusing because both words are pretty much pronounced the same. They also have 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 trying to see the difference between affect and effect in the above sentence, never fear! This article will explain when to use each word, clearly stating their definitions and providing examples and tips to help you use the correct term every time.

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.

Keep in mind that the first definition of "affect"exerting an influence on something—is the most common.

For example:

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.

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; for simplicity, we focus on the 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.

For example:

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/someone is causing a particular outcome.

Use "Affect" vs. "Effect" Correctly Every Time

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 situation, reread this article to find out which word to use!

If you want to learn the difference between other commonly confused words, check out "Lay vs. Lie," "Who vs. Whom," and "Brake vs. Break."

To help clear up any confusion about "affect" vs. "effect" and other confusing words, submit your writing to the professionals at Scribendi for a thorough proofread. You'll see the positive "effects" on your writing in no time at all!


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About the Author

Scribendi Editing and Proofreading

Scribendi’s in-house editors work with writers from all over the globe to perfect their writing. They know that no piece of writing is complete without a professional edit, and they love to see a good piece of writing turn into a great one after the editing process. Scribendi’s in-house editors are unrivaled in both experience and education, having collectively edited millions of words and obtained nearly 20 degrees collectively. They love consuming caffeinated beverages, reading books of various genres, and relaxing in quiet, dimly lit spaces.

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