Intensive Purposes: Affect vs. Effect

writing editing essay

writing editing essay

Take a moment and say the following words aloud: Affect. Effect.

Did you hear a difference in your pronunciation?

Maybe, and then again, maybe not. Depending on where you’re from, your pronunciation of the two words may sound quite similar, which is only one of many reasons why this pair of homonyms is so easy to confuse. As impossible as telling the two apart may appear, there is a way to tell when to use which!

‘Affect’ is typically used as a verb (unless you’re talking about the psychology term) that means to have an impact on something or someone. ‘Effect’, on the other hand, is used as a noun when talking about a ‘result’ (though there is also a verb form of ‘effect’ that means ‘to bring about’, usually in the sense of someone ‘effecting change’.)

In the sentence below, we can see both words at work…

The effects of the medicine affected me strongly.

Simply plugging in the respective short definitions, we can see that the sentence makes sense and thus is grammatically correct – “The results of the medicine impacted me strongly.”

Understanding the commonly used part of speech for each word isn’t a surefire way to tell the two apart, as both “affect” and “effect” have meanings beyond even the three mentioned above (personal effects, anyone?) but understanding their common parts of speech is a start. When worse comes to worst, remember this:

When you affect something, you cause an effect.

(Or an A/V cable. Affect/Verb, get it?)

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

  • I LOVE the title of this series. Such a pet peeve for me.

  • Oh my gosh, my boss JUST asked me to explain to her the difference between these two recently while she was typing up an e-mail! This series is so perfect! 🙂

  • Thanks, Kristin! I always know when to use effect, but affect is so much more confusing!
    P.S. — I’m sharing this post in my Fave Things on Monday! 🙂

    • Aw, thank you! I started trying to list ALL the different ways you could use affect/effect, but it got out of control. These are the most common, so I went with it to avoid mass confusion 🙂