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What is the Difference Between Affect and Effect?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated: May 23, 2024

Affect and effect have similar meanings and similar pronunciations, making it sometimes difficult to know which one to use. Generally speaking, people can tell the difference by looking at what grammatical role the word is playing: affect is almost always used as a verb, while effect is usually used as a noun. Some people also use tricks to help them remember, like mnemonics. There are also several exceptions to the common uses of affect and effect, mainly in the context of psychology.

Common Uses of Affect

Affect is primarily used as a verb. It has two main meanings, which are closely related. Most commonly, it means to influence someone or something in either a physical or psychological way, as in "The painting affected him so deeply he could not speak," or "The dam breaking affected the water level downstream." It can also mean to pretend to feel or think something, such as "She affected an interest in art," or "He affected to understand what she was saying, even though he was actually confused."

Common Uses of Effect

The word effect is used primarily as a noun. It has a number of related meanings, but generally speaking, it refers to the result of something, the power something might have to get a specific result, or a natural phenomenon. For example, "The effect of the election was a new balance of power" suggests a direct result, while "The effect of the painting on him was to inspire his own work" focuses on the power needed to make something happen. Phenomena are often also referred to as effects, such as "the photoelectric effect" or "the greenhouse effect."

Exceptions for Affect

Affect is rarely used as a noun, usually in the context of psychology or sociology. In this case, a person's affect is his or her mood or mental state. Having a lack of emotion, called a flat affect, is actually a symptom of several mental conditions, including schizophrenia. Even more rarely, affect is used archaically as a word for an affectation someone might take on — a pose, or disposition, such as "Her affect was one of learning and grace, but those of us who knew her knew better." In both of these cases, the emphasis is on appearance: what type of mood a person appears to be in, and the way a person appears to behave, even though his or her real feelings or personality may be different.

Exceptions for Effect

Effect is occasionally used as a verb as well, usually to refer to something directly causing something else. Grammatically, it takes an object and often has an "-ed" ending added. For example, a person could say "The election at last effected the change the people had been hoping for," using effect as a verb to mean "caused." This use is somewhat more common than the noun uses of affect, but is still much less common than effect's normal use as a noun.

Avoiding Errors

Since affect and effect generally stick to specific grammatical roles, readers can often know which one to choose by identifying the word's purpose in a sentence. Some people also use mnemonic devices to help them remember, like that a verb is an action word, and both action and affect begin with the letter "a". One of the most commonly made errors is substituting effecting or effected for affecting and affected, since the difference between them is subtle: the first means to directly cause something, while the second means to have an influence on something. When the intent is unclear, choosing affect as a verb is much more likely to be correct.

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Discussion Comments
By amypollick — On Jan 24, 2015

@anon986116 -- Then you are extremely lucky. Most students aren't. And you can believe me when I say I know what I'm talking about.

By anon986116 — On Jan 22, 2015

Listen amypollick. Grammar teachers do teach proper grammar. I am in fifth grade and our teacher is the best I have ever had in my life!

By anon350098 — On Oct 02, 2013

I don't really understand why so many people mix affect and effect up.

Being a Portuguese(BR) speaker does make things easier for me, because the Portuguese words meaning affect/effect are similar to the English ones. They also begin with 'a' and 'e', but are very distinct from one another (mainly because of how pt-BR verbs are conjugated): "afetar" (verb), "efeito" (noun).

Nonetheless, the number of people who mistake the two is disturbing. Perhaps I'm focusing too much on mistakes made by those, like myself, who aren't native English speakers and are bound to make mistakes, but whether these people have English as a first language or not, I can't really tell.

By amypollick — On Oct 13, 2012

anon296821: Manuela, you are indeed correct. The word they should have used is "effect." Also, if you transcribed it exactly, "tornados" is also a misspelled word. The correct spelling is "tornadoes."

Good catch on the effect/affect usage!

By anon296821 — On Oct 12, 2012

The Literacy Navigator Program book Level D Foundations on Extreme Weather suggests, among others, this quickwrite to my students: "Affect of these events (tornados) on our society today." In my opinion, the use of "affect" is incorrect. I need a grammarian to confirm this for me. Thank you very much. Manuela

By amypollick — On Feb 23, 2012

@anon249838: In this sentence, you can say "Exercise has good results for the body," using "results" instead. Since "results" makes sense and is a noun, then you know you need to use "effect," since you're looking for a noun for that sentence, and "effect" is generally the noun. "Affect" is a verb.

By anon249838 — On Feb 23, 2012

Which one should I use: "Exercise has a good effect or affect on the muscles?"

By anon206651 — On Aug 17, 2011

The document will take affect/effect in January?

By anon205542 — On Aug 12, 2011

Is this correct?

"She was affected by her husband leaving her because it effected her eating habits."

By anon196896 — On Jul 15, 2011

anon151179: In your current sentence, the correct answer is "effect". The pill will not have an *effect* on you. However, if you change the sentence around a little, you'd say "This pill will not *affect* my ability to drive home." "Effect" is quite often used as a noun, while "Affect" is quite often used as a verb. Both words can be used as either nouns or verbs, however, which is why it's so confusing.

By anon165623 — On Apr 05, 2011

Affect means to -Have an effect on. So if you're not sure on which word to use in a sentence, try filling in the sentence with "Have an effect on". And if the sentence makes sense then the correct word to use is "affect." If not, then the correct word is "effect."

Ex. Heavy snows will ___"Have an effect on"___ the first crops this winter.

"Have an effect on" fits into this sentence, therefore the correct word to use is affect!

Ex. We shall never know the full __"Have an effect on"___ of the drink.

In this sentence "Have an effect on" doesn't make any sense, therefore the correct word would be effect!

Generally speaking, this will work 99 percent of the time.

By anon151179 — On Feb 09, 2011


this pill won't have an affect/effect on me?

By Beammerman — On Jan 09, 2011

"The election at last effected the change the people had been hoping for."

Just asking, not criticizing! The aforementioned sentence appears in the effect/affect application article. Should this sentence be stated so as to not leave a preposition hanging?

Consequently, The election at last effected the change for which the people had been hoping.

By anon139826 — On Jan 05, 2011

Remember: To affect something, causes an effect. Simple~

By anon136835 — On Dec 24, 2010

My belief was that affect was used if there was emotion being displayed as in affection or an act of feeling was being described.

Effect is simply an effect on something or someone.

By anon133554 — On Dec 11, 2010

These two have got to be the most confusing of the entire English language, and yes this helped, but I am still not certain. basically I use effect.

By anon126017 — On Nov 11, 2010

Thanks, this was a huge help. I kept getting confused by which word to use where.-futuremrsstyles

By anon123139 — On Oct 31, 2010

supposedly the history of these two words are some people spelled it "effect" while others spelled it "affect." Therefore, technically, either word will suffice in either context.

It was only later a rule was drawn up to differentiate between the two words, though in all honesty, the meaning is so unclear, students as well as teachers become lost in their meanings.

By amypollick — On Oct 30, 2010

@anon122792: I agree with you. This is just my personal opinion, but I think it's because teachers do not have time to really teach good grammar any longer. So often, they find themselves having to "teach the test" (as in standardized tests) because that is how their students, and by extension, they will be judged.

A good English teacher will make sure his/her students have the basics in hand and this means building a good grammar foundation.

I'm something of a grammar nut myself, and this routinely drives me bananas.

By anon122792 — On Oct 29, 2010

I seem to see this one confused much more now than I ever did in years past. Does anyone know why?

By anon110364 — On Sep 11, 2010

The article is excellent, however a few key things should be noted to those who are slightly confused:

"To effect" (vb.): "To bring about"

"To affect" (vb.): "To influence" (Although there are other meanings)

Personally, I find this comes in handy, whenever I need to determine which to use.

By anon102905 — On Aug 10, 2010

There's another one! Bowel/bowl - but not a homonym this time. Bowel rhymes with towel and growl and bowl is what you do on a green, or what you put your greens in.

By anon89751 — On Jun 12, 2010

Is this correct: "We sing about the things that are effecting us in present and that have affected us in the past.?

By ezbeat — On Jun 07, 2010

Unless you are going to be using the archaic version of effect (in which case you are better versed in its usage than I) try replacing 'affect' with 'change' and 'effect' with 'result' and see which fits better. It's not a perfect swap but gives a good indication of which to use.

e.g. The election resulted (effected vb.) removal of the labor government. The result (effected n.) of the painting on him was profound. The election changed (affected vb.) the course of history.

By amypollick — On Apr 27, 2010

@Anon80485: No one ever said English was required to make *sense."

However, the sentence "The sun has an effect on weather" is correct because, in this sense, "effect" is an abstract noun -- a "thing."

"The pollen affects my sinuses" is very clear because no other word *but* "affect" could possibly be the verb, and a sentence must have a subject and a verb to be a sentence. In the above, "pollen" is the subject, "affect" the verb. "The" is an article acting as an adjective modifying "pollen." "Sinuses" is the direct object and "my" is technically a possessive pronoun that is acting as an adjective in this case (describing the particular sinuses in question).

I don't know if that clears it up, but if you think of "effect" as an abstract, not a concrete noun, it makes it easier, I think. A chair, for instance, is a concrete noun. It has shape and form. "Love" is an abstract noun. It's a thing, but has no definable form. Make sense?

By anon80485 — On Apr 27, 2010

Clear as mud! When I use the old standard "A verb is an action word and a noun is a person, place or thing," none of your sentences using the two make much sense!

By anon77824 — On Apr 15, 2010

Sometimes it is better to have a rule even if there are exceptions - because if you stick to a simple rule you may get it wrong occasionally - you will get it right most of the time.

RAVEN is a useful mnemonic.

I also like the explanation that affect refers to influence but effect implies change.

The party leaders' debate may affect the outcome of the election.

The effect of the election is the party that has won the most seats forms the next government.

By anon76896 — On Apr 12, 2010

OK. How would this one go? This price will go into affect/effect on tuesday.

By anon71304 — On Mar 18, 2010

Try explaining this to an American, mind you there is no "u" to take out so you should be OK!

By anon70486 — On Mar 14, 2010

Thank you!

By anon70485 — On Mar 14, 2010

This is so useful! Thank you!

By anon67986 — On Feb 28, 2010

Who came up with the idea of these two words? I hate the English language. I'm moving to Canada! Oh wait.

By anon66524 — On Feb 20, 2010

I have mastered other similar sounding homonyms such as two/to/too, there/their/they're and your/you're but effect/affect remain a mystery to me. Thanks anyway.

By anon60514 — On Jan 14, 2010

No, this still doesn't work for me. Your first example feels instinctively wrong. The 'how will the election...' Affect looks entirely out of place there like suddenly finding a wombat in your mouth in place of a tooth.

If 'The poison took effect' then surely you're 'effected' by it. Affected just almost looks wrong and verb/noun doesn't seem to clear up all the cases.

By anon57855 — On Dec 28, 2009

Thanks a lot! finally i understand it.

affect describes the reaction of a situation and effect talks about the outcome of a situation.

By anon57356 — On Dec 22, 2009

You helped me a lot, they were really confusing words, now cleared. thanks a lot. B.Khan

By anon56194 — On Dec 13, 2009

thanks. Now it's clear.

By anon55597 — On Dec 08, 2009

Thanks for this. I always had confusion between these two words.

By anon52788 — On Nov 17, 2009

The people are affected by flood.

Effects of the flood are destructive.

By anon51465 — On Nov 06, 2009

I give my thanks for this article. I too often confused the two.

By anon48612 — On Oct 13, 2009

I'm looking for a good source to explain this to some friends. This is pretty good, but the first paragraph uses "affect" in the broader definition of affect -- you can't use the word in its own definition.

By anon40951 — On Aug 11, 2009

All those special effects! but I wasn't affected!

By anon39864 — On Aug 04, 2009

Thank you so much for this. I was trying to explain the difference to a friend, but couldn't figure out how to put it into words. You helped a ton.

By englishmajor — On Jun 22, 2009

What determines whether to say/write "In behalf of..." or "On behalf of..."?

By anon33250 — On Jun 03, 2009

I've read many papers where people use affect instead of effect. It seems to be a very pervasive problem, because I've seen it in academic papers. Consider for example:

"It is not clear what the affect of using certain drugs is."

By anon26404 — On Feb 12, 2009

you should use "affected by the change"

By anon23106 — On Dec 16, 2008

I am having trouble deciphering the riddle of Affect/Effect in this context: "I will send e-mail to all the users affected/effected by the change to their accounts."

By anon21232 — On Nov 12, 2008

I like tacos with chicken, however, it has an effect on my bowl movements. Thank you.

By anon14735 — On Jun 23, 2008

To be fair, affect/effect is easier to get wrong than it's/its.

By olittlewood — On Dec 28, 2007

thanks for this info...i find that a lot of people mix affect and effect up! also, it's and its. that drives me crazy!!! and they're and their. i could go on and on!

By anon5141 — On Nov 14, 2007

Your high school teacher did you no favors as Effect is also a verb - meaning to bring about or cause to happen!

By anon2743 — On Jul 23, 2007

My high school english teacher gave us this to remember it by (RAVEN)


Affect is a


Effect is a


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