Distinguish between “Effect” and “Affect”

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  • Nancy Tuten

    3 August 2019

    Distinguish between “Effect” and “Affect”

    We deal with many confusing word pairs on this site, including lay and lie, I and me, and bad and badly. This article helps us distinguish between effect and affect, two words that cause a great deal of trouble because each of them can serve as a noun or a verb.

    Which of these sentences correctly distinguish between effect and affect?

    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 distinguish between effect and affect.


    In most situations, we use effect as a noun and affect as a verb, but unfortunately the distinction is not that simple.

    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.

    The Noun Effect

    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”).

    The Verb Effect

    Webster’s 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 just as easily could have 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.

    Affect as Either a Noun or a Verb, Depending on the Intended Meaning

    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 a lack of emotional expression (see sentence 7).

    TEST YOURSELF

    Decide whether effect or affect is appropriate in each of the following sentences:

    1. This morning’s rainfall had very little ______ on the drought.
    2. We are hopeful that Congress will act to deter malicious foreign powers that threaten to _______ U.S. elections.
    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 ________ positive changes in her moods.
    6. The psychiatrist noticed the patient’s blank ________ and eventually prescribed medication for depression.

    ANSWERS

    1. effect [noun]
    2. affect [verb]
    3. affect [verb]
    4. effect [noun]
    5. effected [verb, meaning "to bring about”]
    6. affect [n[noun]li>

    ©2001 Get It Write. Revised 2019.

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