How to use affect and effect in English

by Erin McGann
February 10, 2021
woman practising how to use affect and effect in english

These two words cause problems even for native English speakers, so don’t feel embarrassed if you’re having trouble remembering the difference between affect and effect. I have to consciously double check whenever I use them, and I admit avoiding using them at all for years just so I didn’t make a mistake!

The differences between affect and effect in English

Noun and verb

Most often, you will see affect used as a verb and effect used as a noun. For example: ‘The weather affects my mood’, and ‘Getting wet in the rain and standing in the shower with my clothes on has the same effect’. To remember this, I always recall the phrase ‘sound effects’, which describes the extra noises in a film to make the explosions sound really big, or the noises I make when I make something go really fast. It’s a noun, so that helps me remember.

There is also the mnemonic ‘A is for action’ and affect starts with A, and it’s the verb. Another good test is to try substituting affect for another verb – if it works, you’re using the right one. ‘The candy affected his concentration’ to ‘The candy improved his concentration’ – unlikely, but it works as a sentence so you know you’ve got the right word.

Is it an adjective or an adverb? The ultimate guide!

They almost sound the same

When spoken in many dialects of English, affect and effect sound nearly identical. British, Canadian, and Australians lean more on the first syllable than American speakers do, so you’re more likely to hear that different ‘a’ or ‘e’. Most people won’t notice if you say the wrong one, but it’s obvious in writing, so it’s good practice to be clear in your head about which one you’re using even when speaking.

Definitions of affect and effect

It also helps to think about what each word means in detail.

To affect something is to change something –  to change something’s position, to make someone feel something, to change the state of something.

For example: ‘When you held that little bird in your hand, it really affected it’, or ‘You can’t touch a cold thing and expect it not to affect you’.

Effect refers to the result of a change – so the outcome of something you affected, is the effect. I know, but this isn’t as confusing as it sounds. For example: ‘Your warm hands had the opposite effect – the bird is asleep now!’ 

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Of course there are exceptions

In psychology, doctors and researchers use the word ‘affect’ as a noun to describe a person’s mood, for example ‘The man had a flat affect’. This would mean the man isn’t reacting normally but is very subdued. This usage of the word is very technical and you won’t hear it in regular conversation. Effect shows up as a verb, particularly when talking about ‘effecting change’ or ‘effecting a solution’. This means to bring about change, or bring about a solution. It appears in business jargon-filled articles sometimes. 

Affected or affected by

This is a bit of a tricky one, and the difference is big. Affected as an adjective is not a nice term – it means someone is a bit puffed up, trying to look more important than they are, particularly when it comes to money and social class. Pretentious is the word I would also use in this situation. To be affected by something, however, means to feel deeply emotional about something or someone. For example: ‘I was deeply affected by that speech.’ This is the regular verb usage of the word, but in past tense, it can get mixed up with the adjective. 

Now you can make use of affect and effect, effectively! But never affectively, because that isn’t a word at all. 

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