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

Nouns Can Take an Article Such as ‘The’

affect effect aardvark

Remember how we knew that affect was a verb because we could make it past tense with the -ed ending, and that’s something we can’t do to nouns? Well, nouns also have their own special feature: You can put a grammatical article, such as the, in front of a noun, and you can’t put one in front of a verb.

Here’s an example: 

The effect was eye-popping.

Notice that I said “the effect.” The word has an article before it, so it’s a noun. You can remember that by noting that the word the ends with E and the noun effect starts with E, so if you can butt those two E’s up against each other, you have a noun.

Sometimes the article could be an, as in 

Squiggly wondered whether the news would have an effect on Aardvark.

and sometimes there could be an adjective between the article and the noun like the word special in this sentence:

Squiggly marveled at the special effects in the movie.

Nouns won’t always have the word the right in front of them. That’s not the point. The point is COULD you put the word the in front of it and have the sentence still sound mostly OK? If you could, it’s a noun. For example, you could change those last two sentences so that the is right before effect like this:

Squiggly marveled at the effects in the movie.

Squiggly wondered whether the news would have the effect on Aardvark.

That last one sounded kind of weird, but it didn’t sound ungrammatical. It makes some kind of sense. But if you try to put the in front of a verb, it just doesn’t work:

The weather the affected Aardvark’s holiday plans? (That just sounds wrong.)

The arrows the affect Aardvark. (That just sounds wrong too, because affect is a verb in that sentence and you can’t modify verbs with articles. Only nouns, like effect, can take an article.)

Those are the basics! RAVEN helps you remember affect-verb-effect-noun, and you know how to tell the difference between verbs and nouns. But what about those exceptions I mentioned at the beginning.

If the rule is affect-verb-effect-noun 95% of the time, what about the other 5%?

Next: ‘Affect’ and ‘Effect’: The Exceptions


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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