Make Your Editor Cry: Affect, Effect

Make Your Editor Cry:  Affect, Effect

The words affect with an “a” and effect with an “e” have no senses in common.

As a transitive verb, the word affect is most commonly used in the sense of “to influence” something or someone.

SIDE NOTE: For the nit-pickers, yes “affect” as a transitive verb can have an alternate meaning which is “to to put on a false appearance; to pretend to feel, have, or do; to feign.”

I affected a knowledgeable air as I read this mostly incomprehensible article.

That’s not the meaning of affect which this article mainly targets. This article primarily deals with the meaning of affect as “to produce an effect upon someone or something.” So affect an air of nonchalance and read on if you so desire. Now back to the article.

As a noun, the word effect means “the result or impact” on something or someone.

Most of the time, you’ll use affect as a verb meaning to influence something (or someone) and effect for the something (or someone) that was influenced.

SIDE NOTE: The difference between affect and effect is so slippery that people have started using “impact” as a verb instead of either of these words. DO NOT do that. That’s an entirely different article, so I won’t go into it here other than the caution to NEVER use “impact” as a verb, particularly in the past tense as in “impacted” because that word applies to teeth and bowels almost exclusively. Thank you. You’ll thank me later. Now, back to the article.

Are You Affected by the Law of Cause and Effect?

Try this. Think of the the law of “cause and effect” where there is an action or influence then an end result.

Another trick is to remember that affect comes first alphabetically, and an action, influence, or cause (to affect) has to occur before you can have a result (an effect).

Examples:

Correct:

His ability to work was affected by the effects of years of smoking.

The effects of years of smoking affected his ability to work.

The effects of illegal drugs affect a person’s ability to succeed.

The flood had a negative effect on businesses and farms in areas that were affected by the damage.

In the above examples, both words refer to the consequence of an action or event, but the word “affect” is always a verb while the word “effect” is usually a noun.

SIDE NOTE: For the nit-pickers, yes the word “effect” can sometimes be a verb. At the outset I specified that this article pertained to “effect” as a noun. But for the peanut gallery, it can be a verb though this is rarely-to-seldom the case, and I believe these rare cases lend to the very confusion I am attempting to dispel.

Example:

We will need to change leadership’s attitudes if we hope to effect change.

The duty of the legislature to effect the will of the citizens.

In these two examples, “effect” as a verb is an action that causes a consequence. Webster defines effect as a verb as “to cause to come into being.” You can still remember the difference between “affect” and “effect” in common use by understanding that to be “affected” by something is the result of something else (a precipitate cause) happening, while “effecting” something is an action in itself (the cause itself).

If that’s too convoluted, just use effect as a noun. If you place the article “the” in front of it and it works, then it’s a noun.

...the effects of years of smoking.

The effects of years of smoking...

The effects of illegal drugs...

... [the] negative effect on businesses...

All of the above are from the previous examples. As you can see it works because effect is always a noun in these cases. But try placing the article in front of “affect” in those same examples.

Incorrect:

His ability to work was the affected by...

The effects of years of smoking the affected his...

The effects of illegal drugs the affect a person’s...

...in areas that were the affected by the damage.

The reason this doesn’t work is because in all of the examples, “affected” was never a noun.

How to remember that Affect is a Verb and Effect is a Noun? Take Safe HAVEN in this mnemonic.

H=How to remember

A=Affect

V=Verb

E=Effect

N=Noun.

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