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01/29/01: Effect and Affect

Which of these sentences are correct?

1. Rising oil prices will have an effect on nearly everyone.
2. Her emotional outburst was purely for effect.
3. The new policies go into effect next month.
4. The trade embargo effected the rise in oil prices.
5. Rising oil prices affect nearly everyone.
6. The elderly couple next door was severely affected by the cold this winter.
7. The psychologist on the witness stand noted the alleged murderer’s disturbing affect during the confession.

All of these sentences correctly employ “effect” and “affect.”

In most situations, we use “effect” as a noun and “affect” as a verb.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) lists eight different meanings for the noun “effect,” three of which are used in sentences 1, 2, and 3.

In our effort to clarify the difference between the most common uses of “effect” and “affect,” we can remember that the noun “effect” often will follow an article (“an effect,” “the effect”) or an adjective (“negative effect,” “positive effect”).  Sentence 1 provides an example of such a construction. Nouns are also used as objects of prepositions as in sentences 2 and 3 (“for effect,” “into effect”).

Webster’s Tenth tells us that the verb “effect” means “to cause to come into being” or “to bring about, often by surmounting obstacles.” When you are tempted to use “effect” as a verb, ask yourself if the phrase “bring about” makes sense in its place. Notice that in sentence 4 we could have just as easily said “The trade embargo brought about the rise in oil prices.” Consider the difference between saying "the embargo affected oil prices" or "the embargo effected oil prices." The former phrase tells us that the embargo had an impact (an effect) on the prices, but the latter phrase illogically suggests that the embargo brought about the oil prices.

In the majority of sentences, when we need a verb, we should use “affect,” as we see in sentences 5 and 6. Unless we are in the medical field, most of us will rarely if ever use “affect” as a noun, but in the field of psychology it refers to an emotional state (see sentence 7).

TEST YOURSELF: Which word--“effect” or “affect”--belongs in each blank?

1. This morning’s rainfall had very little ______ on the drought.
2. We are hopeful that the heavy rains predicted for next week will ______ the drought.
3. Calcium supplements can positively ______ one’s moods.
4. Calcium supplements can have a positive ______ on one’s moods.
5. The calcium supplements she is taking have ________ed positive changes in her moods.]


1. effect
2. affect
3. affect
4. effect
5. effect [meaning "to bring about"]

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