Affect vs. Effect
Ah, what a troublesome pair! The reason these words cause so many people so much confusion is that they are homophones–words that sound the same but have different meanings. When listening casually to a speaker, it’s difficult to tell the difference, and most of us can bluff our way through the speaking process without much worry; however, sending that formal e-mail or cover letter can be quite a different story! Here a a few simple yet memorable tips to help you always distinguish the difference between these two rascals.
To start, I am stating for the record that I will not discuss affect (af-ekt) as a noun–which is someone’s emotional disposition, or “being,” e.g. He has a very flat affect; nor am I going to discuss effect as a verb–which means to “bring into being,” as in, He is going to effect change in the company. Those are for another discussion…
For now, I will only deal with affect the verb and effect the noun.
- A comes before E, alphabetically–there must always be an affect (alteration/change) before you can have an effect (end product/result).
- Affect is synonymous with Alter (to Change); Effect is synonymous with End result
- If you are going to use an article (the, a, an, one, two, etc.), you are MOST LIKELY dealing with EFFECT–a noun; this is a general statement, and there are definitely exceptions…
- If in doubt, don’t use it–use Alter (to Change) or End Result instead!
I affect the surface of the pond when I toss pebbles into it; the effect is a rippling across its still surface.
Notice I can say, “I ALTER (verb… to change) the surface of the pond when I toss pebbles into it; the END (noun…result) is a rippling across its surface.” Notice the article the comes before effect. Affect is preceded by the pronoun I.
Don’t let cranky people negatively affect your day. If you succeed, the effect may well be you brighten theirs!
Notice I can say, “Don’t let cranky people negatively ALTER your day. If you succeed, the END RESULT may well be you brighten theirs!” Notice the article the is before effect. Affect is preceded by the adverb negatively.
The effect that the burglary had on the family was that their sense of security was seriously affected.
Notice in this case that verb tense for affected changed; this is quite common. Notice, too, how I can easily say, “The End Result that the burglary had on the family was that their sense of security was seriously Altered.” Notice, again, that the article the comes before effect. Affect is preceded by the adverb seriously.
These are just a few quick tricks that can help you distinguish these two tricky homophones. Remember, A comes before E alphabetically–you must have an action before you can have a result. If in doubt, well, bail out–use the synonym!