Affect or Effect? Posted by Gary Locke on Jun 4, 2020 in English Grammar, English Language
Not long ago, I received a text from an old friend. “Hey!’ he wrote, “Which of these sentences is correct?
- “It doesn’t have the effect that we were hoping for.”
- “It doesn’t have the affect that we were hoping for.”
I quickly replied that he wanted to use #1. His response was, “Thanks! This is going to a client and I need to get it right. I can never remember the difference.” He went on to promise me that he’d buy me an adult beverage the next time we meet up. That’s a blatant lie, but no matter. I’m happy that friends think of me when situations like that arise.
However, this week I read two separate articles where the authors used the wrong word. This drives me crazy because a) these are paid professional writers, and b) those writers have paid professional editors to look for mistakes like that. If my friend can text me to make sure he hasn’t made a mistake, why can’t professionals get it right?
The answer, of course, is that it’s a common grammatical mistake, further complicated by the fact that the words are practically homophones. If you are in a hurry, even if you sound it out, you can easily be confused. And here’s the really crazy part – they share more than a similar sound. For instance, they have the same Latin root, facere. Affect derives from the Latin word afficere, meaning “to do something.” Effect comes from the Latin word efficere, meaning “to make something.”
In English, affect is a transitive verb, meaning “to act upon.” Put it another way, it means to produce an effect. That’s right. Look up affect in almost any dictionary and it will be defined as something which causes an effect. It’s also, and I’m not kidding, a noun meaning “an emotional state.” We get the words affection and affectionate from the same root.
Effect, in English, is a noun meaning “a result.” When my friend texted me, I simply substituted the word “result” for effect, and, presto, I knew that effect was the word he wanted. An effect is the result of an action. Also, nouns take grammatical articles, like the or an. Remember his sentence? “The effect…”
But, and I am not kidding, effect can sometimes be used as a verb meaning “to make happen.” We may say that we want to effect change. In this case, effect is a verb.
How to Avoid Confusion
At this point, I wouldn’t blame you for hating me and the English language. But there’s no need to throw your English dictionaries out the window. More than 90% of the time, affect is used as a verb and effect is used as a noun. Using a few common memory tricks, you will be right almost every time.
When you have to decide which word to use, remember Edgar Alan Poe’s big, black bird, the raven. Remember, Affect is a Verb, and Effect is a Noun. That’s it. If you can keep the RAVEN in the back of your mind, you will have this problem “nevermore.” It might also help you to know that more than one raven is called “an unpleasantness of ravens.” If you’ve had problems remembering the difference between affect and effect more than once, then you know that it is unpleasant.