Shedding a Little Light on Affect and Effect

Effect and affect are two of the most confusing homonyms (words that sound similar but have very different meanings), repeatedly misused for one another. The misuse of these two words isn’t necessarily because they simply sound similar, but more likely because the rules of when to use affect with an ‘a’ and when to use effect with an ‘e’ are so confusing! My job today is to try to simplify this as much as possible…

More often than not, we should follow the very simple guideline that effect with an ‘e’ is a noun and affect with an ‘a’ is a verb. If you use affect and effect in this way, you’ll be right 95% of the time!

As a noun, effect with an ‘e’ has many meanings; however, at the heart of all of these definitions seems to be the same underlying meaning. When used as a noun, effect means “a result.” If you are talking about a result, you need to use effect. For instance:

  1. The humidity today had no effect on Susan’s hair. (The humidity produced no result on Susan’s hair.)
  2. The negative effects of her attitude were noticed by our supervisor. (The negative results of her attitude were noticed by our supervisor.)

Affect with an ‘a’ is a verb with multiple meanings as well. One usage means “to influence,” as in:

  1. The humidity today affected my hair. (The humidity today influenced my hair.)
  2. Her negative attitude affects the entire office morale. (Her negative attitude influences the entire office morale.)

A second meaning for affect with an ‘a’ is that as a verb it can be used to mean “to act in a way that you don’t feel.” For example:

  1. In order to help the children remain calm, I affect a degree of serenity despite my own fears.
  2. The politician affected an air of self-confidence that most found unsettling.

As I said, most of the time affect with an ‘a’ is the verb and effect with an ‘e’ is a noun. There are rare instances when these roles are reversed, but those exceptions will have to be another Tips and Tricks entry. For now, remember this basic rule and you’ll be right 95% of the time!

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