affect or effect
Which one should I choose?
Look at the sentences below and see if you can decide whether affect or effect is standard.
- The affect of the dark wall against the light floor looks really good in here.
- “Will paying off the minimum payment on my credit card each month affect how much interest is added?”
- The news was full of the effect of the flood on local people.
- He was effected by the virus quite badly.
- The design team have used some brilliant special affects.
The answers are at the bottom of the page – if you identified the standard usage correctly, you probably don’t need to read the rest of the page!
If you’re not so sure … read on …
How can I avoid slipping up?
The key lies in recognising whether you need a noun or a verb, and in understanding the differences in meaning between affect and effect. You need to think about what you are trying to communicate, and to look at the position and form of affect/effect to help you decide.
Remember these two rules:
- if you need a noun, choose effect
POSITION: a noun will usually have a determiner, or sometimes an adjective, in front of it
MEANING: the result or outcome, a technical illusion, an impression created, a scientific phenomenon, belongings or property (in plural)
- if you need a verb, choose affect
FORM: a verb may be finite (affect, affects, affected) or may be non-finite (affecting, (has) affected, to affect)
MEANING: to act on or influence, to change or alter, to infect or attack, to move the emotions
It is possible to use affect as a noun but only in a very narrow field: it is a subject specific term in psychology meaning ‘the emotion accompanying an action, or seen in response to a stimulus’, ‘a mood or emotion demonstrated by physical signs’. You are very unlikely to use this form of the word unless you are studying or working in the field of psychology.
We observed no affect in the patient when shown images of the disaster. He seems to have shut down all emotional responses.
It is useful to remember that the pronunciation for affect as a noun and as a verb is different: we stress the first syllable in the noun (a-ffect) and the second in the verb (a-ffect ).
It is possible to use effect as a verb meaning ‘to produce, make or bring about’. If you can use ‘bring about’ without changing the meaning, then you will know that effect is the correct choice.
The government have effected significant changes to the benefit system.
The government have brought about significant changes to the benefit system.
The important thing is to decide whether you need a verb (usually affect, but sometimes effect) or a noun (effect), and then to check that the meaning fits.
In your own writing or speech, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- do I need a verb? → if the answer is YES, choose affect where the meaning is ‘to act on or influence, to change or alter, to infect or attack, to move the emotions’; choose effect where the meaning is ‘to make or bring about a change’
- do I need a noun? → if the answer is YES, choose effect (unless you are working in the subject specific field of psychology)
The standard usage is in blue. Non-standard usage is crossed through – the standard version is in red.
affectof the dark wall against the light floor looks really good in here. [effect = noun meaning ‘impression created’, preceded by determiner]
- “Will paying off the minimum payment on my credit card each month affect how much interest is added?” [affect = verb meaning ‘to change or alter’]
- The news was full of the effect of the flood on local people. [effect = noun meaning ‘outcome or result’, preceded by determiner]
- He was
effectedby the virus quite badly. [affected = verb meaning ‘to infect’]
- The design team have used some brilliant special affects. [effects = noun meaning ‘technical illusion’, preceded by adjective]
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