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Affect vs. Effect: What's the Difference? (Audio Lesson Included)


Title header for the difference between AFFECT and EFFECT in English.
How do you use 'affect' and 'effect' correctly in English?

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Quick Reference

  • In most cases, affect is used as a verb and effect is used as a noun. (Ex: "The decision didn't affect me." / "The decision had no effect on me.")

  • In most cases, to affect something or someone means to have an impact or influence on it or them (Ex: "Your final election speech affected people's votes").

  • Effect has several meanings and uses as a noun, including: the consequence or result of an action, cause, person, thing, or event (Ex: "The effects of this policy will not be seen for at least two years."); an influence (Ex: "You are the only person who can have an effect on Mia's decision."); an artificially created image or sound (Ex: "I love the sound effects in this game."); a person's belongings (formal) (Ex: "I will gather my personal effects and prepare for my departure."); possession of a similar meaning through paraphrasing (Ex: "He said he was tired, or something to that effect."); the subtle character or quality of something (Ex: "That dress gives her a distinguished effect.")

  • Effect can also be used as a verb. In its most common usage, it means "to cause something to happen." For instance, "There are many factors which effected the French Revolution." If a law is passed or established, it is effected. (Ex: "We must effect new laws if we want to maintain order among the people.")

  • Affect can be used as a noun if you are referring to the display of a person's mood or emotion. (Ex: "His tears were not meant to be funny, but they had a humorous affect nonetheless.")

  • Pronunciation:

affect (verb) - uh-fekt / əˈfɛkt

affect (noun) - af-ekt / ˈæf ɛkt

effect (verb or noun) - ih-fekt / ɪˈfɛkt


The question of when to use "affect" and when to use "effect" confuses even some of the most learned English minds. This is because the words sound and are spelled almost exactly the same, and they have a similar meaning in some cases. However, there are some clear differences, and there is a simple way to avoid the most common confusion between these words.


So, when do we use "affect" and when do we use "effect"?

The first thing you need to know about "affect" and "effect" is that one is typically used as a verb, and the other is typically used as a noun. "Affect" is usually a verb and "effect" is usually a noun. If you struggle to remember which is which, there is a useful acronym to help you. That acronym is RAVEN.


Remember:

Affect (is a)

Verb

Effect (is a)

Noun


(As a quick side note, this type of memory tool is what is called a pneumonic device.)


So, by remembering RAVEN, we can remember that "affect" is usually a verb, and "effect" is usually a noun. Great! Here are two example sentences to illustrate this difference:


"The storm didn't affect our region."

"The storm had no effect on our region."


In these examples, we see that the storm had no impact on our region. It didn't influence--of affect--our region at all. Moving on, we often talk about the side effects of medication. With that in mind, here is one more common situation which shows "affect" and "effect" in action:


"This medication affected my digestion."

"This medication had an effect on my digestion."


Once again, we see that "affect" is being used a verb and "effect" is being used a noun.


Now, let's take a closer look at each word and some of their common contexts.


Affect

"How will this affect me?"
"Affect" is usually a verb

This is the easier of the two words, as it has fewer uses. As a verb, "affect" means to have an impact or influence on something or someone. Let's take a look at some examples:


"Your words won't affect my decision."


"Will this affect my final grade?"


"I don't drink alcohol because it negatively affects my mood."


"Luckily, the company restructuring hasn't affected my position."


"The pandemic affected millions of people."


"Do I have to attend the meeting if it doesn't affect my department?"


"Is this going to affect us in any way?"


"Was your neighbourhood affected by the power outage?"


"You should talk to him. You're the only one who can affect his decision."


"What's a book or movie that has strongly affected you and your worldview?"


"I had two cups of coffee, but the caffeine didn't affect me much."


As you can see, you must affect something, or in the passive sense, be affected by something. Our decisions are affected by many things. Our thoughts and beliefs are typically affected by our experiences and the information we have been exposed to. In all of these cases, we are talking about the impact or the influence of the things and people in our lives.


Our environment affects us in a very real way. The media we consume (or don't consume) affects our perspectives, and the people we spend time with affect our moods and opinions.


To practice, think about and answer this question:


Which books, movies, artists, and/or people have affected you in a significant way?


Now, let's ask one more important question about "affect."


Can you use "affect" as a noun?

The short answer is "yes." "Affect" is used as a noun in a very specific case. Specifically, when we refer to a display of conscious emotion as a result of circumstances, mood, or relationships, we talk about the type of affect--or feeling--that a person exhibits.


When used as a noun, "affect" is often preceded by an adjective, as in "a happy affect," "a depressing affect," or "a humorous affect." You can also use the structures "an affect of happiness," "an affect of depression," or "an affect of humour." While these are the most common structures, there are others, and they usually sound quite formal. Let's look at some examples:


"He smiled, giving him the affect of someone who had just received some very good news."


"When the play finished and the final line was spoken, the crowd erupted into applause, a joyful affect upon all of their faces."


"He accepted the award without affect. He showed neither joy nor sadness."


"An affect of sad acceptance came across her face."


As you can imagine, this usage is not as common, but it's good to keep it in mind when reading books which use a more formal voice.


Now, let's move on to "effect."


Effect

"Will it have any effect on me?"
"Effect" is usually a noun.

"Effect" has many different uses as a noun, but its most frequent uses refer to the results, consequences, or influences of an action, cause, person, thing, or event. For instance, "Dustin was having a negative effect on team morale, so we referred him to our HR department."


To avoid confusion, let's look at some of the different uses of "effect" one by one, with examples.


1. the consequence or result of an action, cause, person, thing, or event

"The effects of this policy will not be seen for at least two years."

"Losing her job had a detrimental effect on her mental health and on her personal life."


2. an influence

"You are the only person who can have an effect on Mia's decision."

"Metallica has had a major effect on heavy metal music."


3. an artificially created image or sound

"I love the sound effects in this game."

"The movie was really bad despite its impressive visual effects."


4. a person's belongings (formal, archaic)

"I will gather my personal effects and prepare for my departure."

"I believe I left my effects in the living room. Please excuse me while I get them."


5. possession of a similar meaning through paraphrasing

"He said he was tired, or something to that effect."

"She said something to the effect of not wanting to be bothered while she is in the kitchen."


6. the subtle character or quality of something

"That dress gives her a distinguished effect."

"He has the effect of someone who is in full control of his capacities."


There are many collocations with the word "effect." Note the following:


special effects or visual effects (in movies)

side effects of prescription medication / drugs / etc.

take effect (Meaning to become active. For example, "These changes will only take effect at the beginning of November.")

have an effect

a negative effect

a positive effect

a dramatic effect

a profound effect

a long-term or short-term effect

a significant or insignificant effect

in effect (which means "in essence" or "basically")


And many more! The commonality these collocations share is that they all use "effect" as a noun.


To practice, think about and answer this question:


What kind of effect has the internet had on human communication?


Now, let's ask one more important question about "effect":


Can you use "effect" as a verb?

Yes, you can. In its most common usage as a verb, "effect" means "to cause something to happen." Typically, it is used in the collocation "effect change." For instance, "If you're serious about effecting change in your community, you need to be ready to work hard." "To effect" can also mean "to pass or establish a law or policy." For instance, "A new law was effected last month." Here are some more examples of "effect" as a verb:


"The goal of the summit is to effect a peace settlement between the two nations."


"The protests helped effect fair laws for businesses."


"He's not content to maintain the status quo with his policies. He wants to effect real change."


"This law was effected five years ago." (You can also say "This law came into effect five years ago.")


Well, that's enough about "affect" and "effect." Let's do a quick recap.


Conclusion: What's the difference between "affect" and "effect"?

"Affect" is typically used as a verb and "effect" is typically used as a noun. In their most common meanings, both words refer to influencing or having an impact on something or someone. "Affect" can be used as a noun when referring to a display of emotion. "Effect" can be used as a verb which means "to cause something to happen," or "to pass or establish a law or policy." If you're not sure which one is typically a verb and which one is typically a noun, use the acronym RAVEN: Remember: Affect is a Verb and Effect is a Noun.


Thank you for learning with me! If you found this useful and you would like to level up your English vocabulary, check out 200 Practical English Idioms. It has over 1,000 example sentences of common, everyday idioms. When you purchase one of my books, you support your own English learning while supporting my work at the same time. Check it out and let me know if it has an effect on your English skills!


11 Comments


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Jun 03
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Jun 03

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D. K.
D. K.
May 31

I believe I understand the difference but sometimes I am not sure when to use the word "affected" instead of "influenced." These words seems to be too similar and sometimes, it is hard to decide whether to say I was affected or influenced.

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