The Red Pen: “Affect” vs. “Effect”

We Need to Talk About Grammar is a weekly feature in which I complain about grammatical mistakes I encounter all too often. Feel free to commiserate below, and check out the archives here!

The affect/effect conundrum is one that has confused writers pretty much forever. It doesn’t help that the rule we’re taught in school—that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun—has exceptions. Yes, “effect” can be used as a verb and “affect” can be used as a noun, and knowing the situations in which you should use each of them can get confusing and frankly kind of annoying. This is going to be a long one, so…

Vol. 27 hold onto your butts gif

Let’s start with what everyone thinks they know—namely, that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun:

Man, Trevor’s breakup with Catherine has really affected his game.
Catherine has this weird effect on Trevor; whenever she’s around, he gets all weird. 

Affect (v.) – to act on; to produce a change in
Effect (n.) – something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence

To remember which to use, think about alphabetical order: affect, the verb, has to come first to produce an effect. In probably 99% of cases, you’re going to be using “affect” as a verb and “effect” as a noun.

Now, hang on hard to that thought, because it’s about to get weird.

The best way to effect change is to work closely with the board of directors.
Her affect was observably happier after the rain stopped.

And now both words look like gibberish because I’ve been staring at them so long.

Effect (v.) – to bring about; to implement
Affect (n.) – attitude, demeanor; almost exclusively used in psychology/psychiatry

It’s probably fair to say that if you’re using a form of “affect” as a noun, it will likely be something more along the lines of “affectation,” meaning a studied display of real or pretended feeling. It’s pretty rare to use affect as a noun unless you’re talking psychology, so that’s not one you really need to worry about. Using effect as a verb, though, isn’t all that uncommon and certainly something you’ll run into on occasion.

Just remember, if you’re not sure of yourself, ask someone or Google it! There’s no shame in proofing your work, only in not preventing totally preventable mistakes!

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3 thoughts on “The Red Pen: “Affect” vs. “Effect”

  1. I clicked on post because affect and effect trip me up ALL THE TIME but I got to the GIF and stopped for some memory lane. That is one of the few movie quotes that I know and say. Annoyed and amused my kids at the same time. Ok, I’m going to go back and finish reading post now. lol

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