Affect Versus Effect

When should you use "affect" vs. "effect"? Most of the time "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun, but there are exceptions. We have an example, a memory trick, and a cartoon to help you remember when to use "affect" or "effect."

Mignon Fogarty
Episode #524

Verbs Are Actions, and ‘Action’ Starts with A

Verbs are often actions, and the word action starts with the letter A, just like the verb affect. If the word you want describes an action, then you want the word that starts with an A—affect.

See if you can substitute another verb for the word you want. Here’s an example. If your sentence is The arrows affected Aardvark, you can tell that affected is a verb first because it can become past tense by adding -ed (nouns don’t do that), and second because you can substitute other verbs such as hurt, poked, and hit:

The arrows affected Aardvark.

The arrows hurt Aardvark.

The arrows poked Aardvark.

The arrows hit Aardvark.

Alternatives to ‘Affect,’ the Verb

The verb affect is vague, and when people don’t know whether to use affect or effect, sometimes they use impact instead, which besides having problems of its own, is also vague. When you’re thinking about using either of those words, see if you can use a better verb, a more specific verb, instead.

Here’s an example: Maybe you’re trying to write something like

The weather affected Aardvark’s holiday plans. 

What does affected really mean in that sentence? It’s better to be more specific, and write something like 

The weather ruined Aardvark’s holiday plans. 

Now you know what really happened, not just that the plans were affected, somehow changed, but they were changed in a bad way—they were ruined.

Now let’s move on effect, the noun.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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