Professional Style

Affect vs. Effect

November 2010
Spot the Error

Fortunately, Brad wasn’t driving when he felt the full affect of the painkiller because it would surely have gotten him a DUI.

Get ready for what could be a confusing clarification. Elementary grammar terms are involved.

First, let me say that, with regard to affect and effect, the most common error is spelling. People know what they want to say; they’re just not sure whether to start the word with an “a” or an “e.” So, let me help with a mnemonic device:

Effect is most often used as a noun. Nouns are frequently preceded by the article the, as in “the effect.” The ends with an “e”; effect begins with an “e.” This gives us a connection with the article, the noun, and the letter “e.” So, if the word you’re using is a noun (which could be preceded by the article the), spell it with an “e”—effect.

Now comes the tricky part. Affect and effect are BOTH nouns and verbs. (See how it can get confusing.) Let’s take a look at their definitions.

More common usage:

  • Affect (verb) – produce an effect on or a change in (The smoke in the bar affected Ed’s breathing, so he and his friends left.)
  • Effect (noun) – something that follows a cause; result; consequence (Scientists do not agree on the long-term effects of greenhouse gases.)

Less common usage:

  • Affect (noun; used in psychology; accent is on the first syllable) – emotion or mood that someone appears to have (Camille’s affect of concern may have fooled her parents, but her friends knew that she really didn’t care.)
  • Effect (verb) – bring about (The protestors hoped to effect a change in attitudes by parading through Washington, D.C.)

As for the “driving” sentence above, that’s a simple spelling error. Since the word in question is a noun, the proper spelling is the one that begins with an “e”—effect.

~ Thank you, Christine T.-C., for the topic suggestion.

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