Grammar Check: Affect or Effect?

Oct 02, 2017 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


Words are funny little things. Each letter matters. Words that sound alike, called homophones (homo = same, phone = sound), have different spellings and different meanings. As such, they are easily confusable and often used incorrectly. Affect and effect are two words that confuse many people and for good reason. Depending upon context, each of these words can function as either a noun or a verb.

So how does one decide which to use? There is a general rule that’s helpful to know. Affect is almost always used as an action verb meaning to influence or to change something, while effect usually appears as a noun and refers to the actual results of the change. Here are a few examples to help illustrate the concept:


Affect as a verb:

Lydia wanted to know how the extra credit she earned would affect her grade.

In this example, affect is functioning as a verb meaning to influence or to change. The extra credit is changing (affecting) her grade.

By contrast, effect frequently appears as a noun. Here is an example:

Lydia wanted to know what the effect to her grade would be from earning extra credit.

In this example Lydia is wondering about the actual change to her grade as a result of doing the extra credit assignment. A good hint that the word is a noun is that the article the appears immediately before it. The articles a, an, and the always announce that a noun is not far away.

So far, all seems pretty simple, affect = action verb. Where things get sticky, though, is that each of these words, affect and effect, have alter egos and switch their parts of speech. Fortunately, though, this is a rare occurrence.

When affect is used as a noun, it is related to the field of psychology and is a technical term. Unless you are reading or writing a psychology paper dedicated to the subject of affect, it is unlikely you’ll encounter it in your everyday life.

Effect as a verb, on the other hand, does appear slightly more often, although it is a more advanced term. As a verb, it means “to bring about” something. Here is a sample sentence:

She will effect the disappearing act with smoke and mirrors.

In other words, she is bringing about the illusion with her use of smoke and mirrors.

By and large, if you keep in mind the first two definitions—that affect is an action verb and effect is a noun—you will be in solid shape.


Would you like to learn more about homophones? Check out Fix It! Grammar where homophones are taught in the context of editing a serial story.

Editor’s note: If you still find these words confusing, you aren’t alone. Even professionals get it wrong, as in the following example:
“The smoke from area wildfires will continue to effect air quality at least through Friday evening.”
Rosemarie Stein,, "Portland Metro Friday Weather: Cloudier and a bit cooler - some may see an isolated morning shower," 11 Aug. 2017.

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