Which Word Wednesday: Affect vs. Effect

By October 10, 2012 language One Comment

OK, I’ll admit it—I’ve been avoiding this Which Word Wednesday match up. Affect vs. effect? It’s not that I don’t know how to use them, because I do. But it’s more of a gut feel rather than a mental assent to the rules. But someone on FB requested coverage, so here we go, first with the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

:: verb > have an effect on; make a difference to; touch the feelings of (someone); move emotionally
:: noun > Psychology: emotion or desire, esp. as influencing behavior or action

:: noun > a change that is a result or consequence of an action or other cause; the state of being or becoming operative
:: verb [ with obj. ] > cause (something) to happen; bring about

Really? Both words are verbs and nouns? This is another case where the English language could have used a few more unique words instead of loading up words with multiple meanings.

Let’s separate the proverbial goats (nouns) from the sheep (verbs) using Dave Dowling’s entry in The Wrong Word Dictionary1:

The verb affect means to influence or change. The moon and sun can affect the ocean’s tides.

The verb effect means to bring about or accomplish. The new CEO effected a few minor changes to the company.

The noun effect means result. One effect of the drought was a skimpy corn crop.

Memory hook: If you affect something, you can have an effect on it.

Wow, that’s a lot to remember . . . so here’s the deal: Most of the time, you will use affect as a verb and effect as a noun. Use affect to describe action due to influence or change. Use effect to describe the end result of an action or change. See the aardvark for a pictorial.2

What’s my WWW verdict? Honestly, affect and effect have too many uses. When all else fails, remember the aardvark.

What’s your verdict? Do you get affect and effect mixed up? Do you have any memory hooks that help you? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 22.
2. Fogarty, Mignon. “Aardvark.” Cartoon. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Henry Holt and, 2008. Print.

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