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Commonly Confused Words: Affect versus Effect

Affect and effect are similar enough that they often trip people up. Even as experienced writers, those of us at the Press sometimes need to check that we’ve used the correct one. So, how can you keep these words straight? 

First, let’s review what each means.


Affect (verb): to have an impact on, make a difference to, or influence. For example: “The plants were affected by the drought.”


Effect (verb): to cause (something specific) to occur, or to bring (something) about. For example: “The advent of rain effected a recovery of the plants.”


Affect (noun): an emotion or desire, usually specifically used when the feeling influences someone’s behavior or actions. For example: “Her placid smile projected a calm affect.”


Effect (noun): a change or impact that is the result or consequence of an action or event; the extent to which something has been successful or functioned as expected; the state of functioning/working. For example: “Her placid smile had the effect of calming those around her.”


Affective (adjective): relating to moods, feelings, and attitudes. For example: “Many of the treated individuals suffered from affective disorders.”


Affected (adjective): artificial, pretentious, or showy. For example: “The behavior of the individuals seemed fake and affected.”


Effective (adjective): successful in producing a desired outcome, result, or product. For example: “The treatment given to the individuals was effective in treating their symptoms.”

So far, so clear, right?

But if definitions alone were helpful, none of us would be confused. Here are some tips, tricks, and mnemonics for helping you figure out which you need!

  1. Determine which part of speech you’re using – if you need a verb to describe the influence of a thing, you probably want affect. If you need a noun to describe the influence of a thing, you probably want effect.
  2. If you can remove affect and replace it with another action verb (“The drought affected the plants” can become “The drought stunted the plants”) then affect is probably being used correctly.
  3. If you can remove effect and replace it with a construction like “X happened and, as a result, Y happened” then effect is probably being used correctly. (“She smiled placidly, and as a result, those around her were calmed” or “her placid smile caused those around her to become calm.”)
  4. You can think of the differences as: “When X affects Y, Y experiences the effect of X’s actions.” 
  5. Causes lead to effects, not to affects, so if you’re describing a cause and the result of that, you want effect. This also works for when effect is a verb: if you can replace the verb with caused, as in, “The advent of rain caused a recovery…” then effected is probably the correct verb. (Try it with affected: “The plants were caused by the draught” doesn’t make sense!)
  6. Affect” starts with “A;” action also starts with A – so A is for Affect and Action! 
  7. Synonyms for affect (v.): alter, change, disturb, influence, interest, involve, modify, touch, upset.
  8. Synonyms for effect (n.): aftermath, consequence, development, event, outcome, ramification, reaction, response

It’s still not easy. We all mix it up sometimes. But, at the most basic level, if you remember that “the verb you want is affect” and “the noun you want is effect,” the vast majority of the time you’ll be correct. If you’re still not sure, your best bet is to reword your sentence to avoid using either affect or effect – we’ve given some synonyms and other ideas for how you can do that. Sometimes, just by doing the rewording, you’ll be able to figure out which of affect or effect would have been the right choice in the first place.

We hope that our post on this topic has been effective, and that you’ve been positively affected by it! Good luck with your writing.


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