Is it effect or affect?

Here are two words which cause many problems and head-scratching among the English. Strangely, those learning English as a foreign language often grasp these quickly, as their spelling in other languages is not as close as it is in English.

The everyday use of ‘affect’ is the verb, meaning ‘to influence’ (his methods affected me greatly), but it also means ‘to feign’ (he affected nonchalance).

The everyday use of ‘effect’ is the noun, meaning ‘result’ (the effect of this has been to make him proud) or ‘influence’ (he has had such an effect on me).

Confusion arises in this last case, where the noun ‘the effect’ (his words have had such an effect on me) would correspond with the verb ‘affect’ (his words have affected me).

Let’s do this methodically:

Effect

This is both a noun (a thing) and a verb (a doing word), so there can be ‘an effect’ or we can say that ‘something is effected’. Both noun and verb are used, but the noun sense of this word is the more common, so let’s deal with this first.

As a noun, it means ‘something brought about by a cause’; ‘a result’; ‘the way in which something acts on something else’.

Examples:

  • The effect of a drug on the body is amazing.
  • The main effect was that he smiled.
  • The first effect of winning this lottery was laughter.
  • The rule will come into effect tomorrow.
  • His words had a great effect on me.

 

As a verb, this means ‘to bring about’; ‘to cause to occur’; ‘to produce as a result’.

Examples:

  • How can we effect some cost-savings?
  • We should have effected a rule to avoid this confusion.

 

Affect

This is both a noun (a thing) and a verb (a doing word), so there can be ‘the affect’ or we can say that ‘something is affected’. Both noun and verb are used, but the verb of this word is the more common, so I will deal with this first.

As a verb, it means (1) to influence; move; touch; impress. It also means (2) to simulate; pretend; imitate; assume.

Examples (1):

  • I was affected very much by his words.
  • Her knowledge affected the way I think.
  • I am affected every time I see him standing there.

Examples (2):

  • He affected indifference to my suggestion.
  • They affected an American accent, in order to survive the war.

As a noun, this is rather uncommon and means ‘a feeling or emotion, as distinguished from cognition, thought or action; a strong feeling, having active consequences’.