Affect or Effect?

The difference between these two words, though quite simple, is something that often confuses even native speakers. One cause of such confusion is that, in spoken English, there is no distinction in the way the words are pronounced [əˈfɛkt] since the word stress is on the second syllable.

The basic fact is that “affect”, in everyday English, is a verb, whereas “effect” is a noun*. Both are fairly formal in register.

Meaning and Usage of “affect”

“Affect” means to cause a change or effect in someone or something.

Examples

  • Alcohol affects your ability to drive.
  • The film affected me deeply.
  • The strength of the dollar will affect the US export market.

Meaning and Usage of “effect”

“Effect” means, most commonly, a result or consequence of an action

Examples

  • The effects of the economic crisis are numerous.
  • One effect of his new-found celebrity status was that he didn’t have to queue to get into clubs any more.

Did you know….?

“Effect” also forms part of a variety of compound nouns (nouns which are comprised of more than one word which are very often hyphenated) and at least one very important scientific fixed expression. Some examples are:

  • side-effects – The secondary, unintentional effect of a medication
  • special-effects – The cinematic practice of creating visual and sound effects that cannot be created using actors and standard photography alone, such as explosions, tornadoes, meteor strikes and computer animated characters. “Special-effects” is often abbreviated to “special-fx” which gives us a clue as to the usual pronunciation of the word.
  • Cause and effect – A word frequently used in science to talk about the interrelationship between different entities and phenomena.
  • As with much of the English language, you can find examples of infinitely more complex uses of both these words but remember, “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun.

    As always, I’d love to start the discussion on the various uses of these words and their related forms. Please post your comments or questions in the box below and get things started.

    *There is a special usage of “affect” as a noun but this is practically obsolete now and, whilst it may be found in some texts, it is generally considered incorrect in contemporary writing. There is also a technical use of “effect” as a transitive verb but, again, this usage is limited to very formal register or some fixed expressions that sometimes appear in a business setting such as “to effect change”.

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