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Fun with Words: Effect vs. Affect October 4, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Word Play.

Does the effect of choosing between affect and effect affect you in a negative way?

If so, you’re not alone! 

(1) Both words are nouns, and both are verbs, but . . . most of the time affect with an “a” is used as a verb, and effect with an “e” is used as a noun:

* The effect of alcohol affects reaction time.

* The stunning visual effects affected the audience.

* When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it.

(2) As a noun, effect has several common usages:

* The effect of his words stirred us to action.   Here, effect means the result, impact, outcome, or consequence of the speech.

* She used her words to good effect to secure a verdict. ~ advantage 

* The new regulation goes into effect tomorrow. ~ in full force

* The cathedral ceiling created an effect of spaciousness. ~ impression

(3) As a verb, affect means to have an impact on, influence, or produce an effect on.

* The illness affected her heart, causing heart palpitations.  The prescribed medication had no effect on her symptoms.

* The stimulus package affected the economy, but had no effect on my bank balance.

* The rain affected her hair, but had no effect on her mood.

* The speech affected her mood, but had no effect on her hair.

(4) Less common, effect as a verb and affect as a noun:

* The stimulus package effected necessary change. ~ caused it to happen; brought it about

* The officer effected an arrest, and confiscated her personal effects.

* Her flat affect concerned the psychologist.   ~ emotion, facial expression, or demeanor

Has this article effected a change in your vocabulary and affected your ability to use effect and affect to good effect in the future, or has it caused you to adopt a flat affect?

Related articles:  Grammar Girl (Affect vs. Effect) * Grammar Rules (Affect vs. Effect) * Affect and Effect * Affect/Effect * Grammarland: A Lot, Alot, Allot (and Shallot) (My Literary Quest)


1. cindy - October 4, 2010

A biggie to look out for when I edit.

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

Bet you’re glad it was “strive” they used 568 times, and not “effect” or “affect.” 😉

2. Richard W Scott - October 4, 2010

This one! Grumble! I must have learned it eleventy-nine times, and yet I still lose confidence and have to check when I need to choose between ’em.


nrhatch - October 4, 2010

Hence the reason for the post.

Besides, aren’t Monday mornings meant for grumbling?

3. mizzezmellymel - October 4, 2010

Both of these words constantly cause me chaos. I try to remember the noun-verb thing, but often find myself still stumbling over using them. Sometimes I even cheat and use “other” words to replace them so as I won’t make the mistake of using them incorrectly. 🙂

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

Nothing wrong with leaving them out of your writing entirely.

They do not have a protected classification and cannot file a grammar discrimination lawsuit against you. 8)

4. Paula Tohline Calhoun - October 4, 2010

This is a pet peeve of mine, too! But I still make the mistakes! I like to think that they are typos, however – at least I flatter myself they are. Always nice to have such pointed reminders as this post, to check not only the red squiggly lines of the spell checker, but to peruse for the contextual errors as well. Wish they would come up with a checker for those! (Maybe they have?)

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

My spell checker did NOT like this post . . . it underlined every other word.

Probably concerned with my extensive reliance on affect and effect.

5. poeticinteraction - October 4, 2010

Would this work. Those ‘philosopher’s’ are now critical that there is a definite ’cause and effect’. Could we replace it with ‘affect and effect’, and cut down on some of the errors? Just wondering? Maybe you can effect a cause – (or an affect). Now I’m getting silly! grin grin.

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

You can affect an effect . . . but if you effect an affect, it’s just acting.

poeticinteraction - October 4, 2010

So you can act, and effect a cause. Maybe that’s what the philosophers are saying! Said humbly by an acting agent! (meaning a person who acts, not getting into those 60’s days here! grin grin) But cause and effect may just be that complicated!

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

Yes, most people effect change by acting (taking action).

But others effect change by just being. 😉

6. Jackie - October 4, 2010

Could you tackle “lay” and “lie” next?

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

Sure, JRC! But first I’ll have to get them straight in my mind . . . I tend to avoid using them.

According to Strunk and White:

The chicken, or the play, lays an egg.
The llama lies down.
The playwright went home and lay down.

But why does a llama lie down while the playwright lays down?

I’ll have to do a bit more digging, or I’ll just be telling lies.

Greg Camp - October 5, 2010

I do wish that you hadn’t used “impact” in this. Too many use “impact” when they mean “effect.”

Here in the South, we don’t hear the difference between short vowels often, so the two words sound the same. In writing, though, we need to be correct.

Regarding lay and lie, the playwright also lies down.

nrhatch - October 5, 2010

My M-W dictionary gives “effect” as one of the definitions of “impact.” 🙂

As far as lay and lie go, I’ve got a ways to go to get a handle on them.

7. poeticinteraction - October 4, 2010

There was no ‘reply’ so I like the distinction between acting and being, but I do feel, that once again we are involved in the multitude of interpretations and definitions that make communication ‘poetic’.

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

You’re right. Communication can be incredibly poetic.

poeticinteraction - October 4, 2010

Thank Mr. McCumber. He’s got an analysis that might help out people distinguish fact from feeling, the outer from the inner, etc. etc. I want to go with it. And keep working to understand how it can be made more explicit in our understanding of meaning. Gotta go. Cheers!

8. Karen Smith Gibson - October 4, 2010

I found this lesson very EFFECTive and hope will will AFFECT others the same. So, glad I found your site. Going to make sure others do!

nrhatch - October 4, 2010

Thanks, Karen.

For those who haven’t met her yet, Karen’s blog, Mirror, Mirror, is a look at life as we know it.

She’s on my blog roll. Head round and say hey!

9. Arvik - October 25, 2010

Ah, thank you for this! English is such a persnickety language… although with words like “persnickety,” it’s still a wonderful one.

nrhatch - October 25, 2010

I agree. As I said on Greg Camp’s post today (addressing who/whom):

“The English language = an eclectic mix of ingredients thrown into the pot to create a relatively tasty melange which only occasionally gives us heartburn.”

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