'Affective' or 'Effective'?

Like affect and effect, affective and effective have different meanings. Effective is the more common word, but affective is often used by psychologists and education researchers. Here are some examples of both.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

affective or effective

This tip is essentially an add on to last week’s show about the difference between affect and effect because once people get that difference, they often ask, “What about affective and effective?


The good news is that it’s easy: Effective is almost always the right choice. That’s the word you want in sentences like these:

  • Squiggly is a particularly effective leader.
  • Squiggly and Aardvark had an effective meeting.
  • Effective immediately, we’ll have chocolate at every meeting.


Affective with an A has more specialized meanings that relate to psychology and emotions, just like affect the noun that we talked about last week in the affect or effect episode.

Because I grew up in Seattle where it’s dark a lot in the winter, the use of affective that I’m most familiar with is in the name of a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The lack of sunlight in the winter causes some people to get depressed, so the word affective in seasonal affective disorder is there to refer to people’s psychological state. 

Effective is almost always the word you want.

The word affective is also used in education. People who research teaching categorize different types of learning and sometimes refer to something called the affective domain, which has to do with feelings and emotions. Other educational domains are the cognitive domain, which has to do with learning information, and the psychomotor domain, which has to do with learning physical skills.

Affective is sometimes also used just to describe something that relates to emotions. Here’s a great example from the novel The Girls He Adored by Jonathan Nasaw that I found on the Wordnik site

“Pender was a proponent of what was known as the affective interview, so he made sure to add an extra dollop of warmth to his voice as he returned the grin.”

As you can see, affective has its uses, but they aren’t the kind you’re likely to use much unless you work in education research or psychology. 

That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: The word you almost always want when you’re thinking of something that’s effective—meaning useful, functional, or efficient—is effective, with an E.

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. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.