effect vs affect

Is it Effect or Affect?

Writing a paper has many challenges. You may wonder, what should my topic be? Are my sources credible? Should that be an APA or MLA website citation? How’s my grammar?

Have you ever faced the dilemma of whether to choose “effect” or “affect”? Perhaps you thought you selected the correct one but were informed it was the wrong choice after all. Or perhaps you didn’t even realize you made an error in the first place.

Whatever your concern over these two very similar words, it’s important to understand the difference. After all, their correct usage can improve your credibility with your reader, whether that means a fellow classmate or an instructor. Let’s take a look at these commonly confused words by first defining them.

Defining “Effect”

The word “effect” is a noun that means “a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.” The word “effect” is used in the phrase “cause and effect,” which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever been asked to write that type of essay. In general, “effect” can be singular or plural, sometimes changing its definition when plural.

When it appears as singular, it may be used like this:

The young woman was dizzy from the side effect of the medicine.

In this example, you can see that “effect” functions as a noun–a thing that, in this sentence, occurs because of medicine.

When it appears as plural, “effects,” there may be several definitions. In one usage, the definition remains the same and there is simply more than one effect, such as “side effects.” In another usage, “effects” are someone’s personal belongings. You may have heard people talk about their “effects”; this probably  included things like their hats and briefcases. In yet another usage, “effects” are devices used to enhance a stage or film performance, such as special effects.

No matter how you use the word “effect,” make sure you’re using it to match the sentence where it’s used. (If any of your sentences contain a quote, don’t forget to cite your sources.)

Defining “Affect”

Think about how “effect” is a noun—this is important for understanding the main distinction between it and “affect.” “Affect” is a verb (not a noun) that means to “have an effect on; make a difference to.” The word “affect” can be used to show how one thing creates change in something else.

For example, you might write:

The hot sun affected the sunbathers in such a way that they soon had to go inside.

In this example, you see how the sun caused a change for the sunbathers—they had to go inside. “Affect” can be a very handy word when composing.

What’s the Difference?

As we have discussed, these words have both different definitions and parts of speech. As mentioned above, “effect” usually functions as a noun, and “affect” usually functions as a verb. The bottom line is this: knowing whether you need a verb or a noun in a sentence can help you determine which of these words to choose for your next piece of writing.

Here is an example of these words used correctly in the same sentence:

The effect of the rain was that I caught a cold, which affected my singing performance in the evening.

Which One Should I Use?

When you’re faced with the decision between “affect” and “effect,” think about what your sentence says. If you need a noun, use “effect” in most cases. If you need a verb, use “affect” in most cases. Either way, these words are important for clear communication, something that gives your reader confidence in your words.


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