Affect v. Effect

This one comes up a lot in nearly everything I edit. Quick tip:  you’ll almost always use affect as a verb and effect as a noun.

Affect means “to produce or have an effect upon; to produce a material influence upon or alteration in; to act upon so as to effect (cause or produce) a response.” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.)

Effect has many subtle definitions, but most often it is used to mean “an outward sign; something that inevitably follows an antecedent (as a cause or agent); an influence.”

Exceptions to the verb/noun rules. Affect, as a psychological term meaning mood or emotion, is a noun. Effect is rarely used as a verb, as the style is rather old fashioned and more formal than typically used these days, but if you use it properly, you’ll sound smart. When used as a verb, effect means “to bring about” or “make happen.” In its most common usage as a verb, affect means “having an effect or influence,” while the verb form of effect “refers to actual achievement of a final result.” (Webster’s)

Examples:

  • The new tax laws will adversely affect the rich, but will have little effect on the middle class. (Affect as a verb, with effect as a noun)
  • The weather will affect our choice of activity for the weekend. (Affect as a verb)
  • The weather will have an effect on our choice of activity for the weekend. (Effect as a noun)
  • The government effected change the moment it passed health care reform; insurance companies have to cover children regardless of pre-existing conditions. (Effect as a verb)
  • Insurance companies, doctors, and patients are all affected by the changes in health care laws. (Affect as a verb)
  • The patient’s affect was cheery, but the doctor knew it was a facade. (Affect as a noun)

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