Affect vs Effect

The English words affect and effect are often confused by native speakers – don’t let their mistakes affect your English.

Affect

Affect is a verb with several different meanings.

1. To have an influence on, contribute to a change in

What you do affects all of us.

This decision will affect the outcome of the elections.

Inflation is affected by natural disasters.

2. To touch, move; to act on the emotions of

I was profoundly affected by this movie.

His actions were not affected by her pleas.

3. To simulate

He likes to affect a British accent.

She always affected her eccentricity.

In psychology, affect is a noun which refers to a "feeling" or "emotion":

Your son’s lack of affect explains why you find it difficult to gauge his moods.

 
Effect

Effect is most commonly used as a noun, and has three meanings:

1. Result, something brought about by someone or something

What was the effect of her decision?

Side effects include nausea and fatigue.

I don’t think it will have any effect on the outcome.

The law will go into effect tomorrow.

You can clearly see the cause and effect.

2. Something that gives the impression/sense of something else

The special effects were amazing.

Mirrors will give the effect of a larger space.

He said that just for effect.

3. Effects can refer to belongings.

Did you bring any personal effects?

As a verb, to effect means "to bring about, lead to a result"

The only way to effect change is to participate.

What is the best way to effect these improvements?

This should effect a whole new way of thinking about it.

 
The Bottom Line

The confusion between affect and effect comes out of the fact that affecting something leads to an effect. The two questions "How were you affected?" and "What was the effect on you?" mean almost exactly the same thing.

When you want to use one of these words as a noun, the one you want is probably effect. When you want a verb, most of the time you want affect. Effect is used as a verb only when it has a direct object and only when you mean "to bring about, lead to."

The difference between to affect and to effect can be seen clearly here:

To affect the results – To influence, have an impact on the results

To effect the results – To bring about, lead to the (desired) results

 
More English Difficulties

2 comments for “Affect vs Effect

  1. Robert Wacker
    17 September 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Affect vs Effect is not really clear…..look at these two statements:
    This decision will affect the outcome of the elections.
    I don’t think it will have any effect on the outcome.

    In essence , both words seem to be functioning in the same way. Can you explain the difference? Are there other clues that might help us understand when its proper to use one and not the other?

    • lkl
      18 September 2014 at 6:45 am

      The difference is that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. You can tell by substituting other words.

      For example, “improve” is a verb but not a noun, so you can only use it in the first sentence.

      “Improvement” is a noun but not a verb, so you can only use it in the second sentence.

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