Effect vs. Affect as Noun and Verb

Summary

The word effect is used most often as a noun, while affect is used most often as a verb. An effect is a result (effects of climate change), an impression on the mind (a calming effect), and how much a thing succeeds (to great effect). To affect something is to act upon and change it or influence it (Pollution affects our health). Effect is also a verb: it then means to bring something about or be the cause of it (We have effected a change in policy).

When to use effect

Use effect (and not affect) as a noun to speak of a result or a consequence.

Examples
  • We must enact measures to tackle the effects of climate change.
  • Farley’s speech had no effect on the outcome of the election.
  • A country’s political stability has considerable effect on economic growth.
  • Parents have limited effect on their children’s future.
  • What are the side effects of this medication?
  • The human body can adapt to the effects of high altitude through acclimatization.

You can also use the word effect to speak of an impression made on someone’s mind. Think of how this word is used in the phrase “a calming effect.”

Examples
  • Lavender tea has a calming effect on the nerves.
  • Violent movies can have an undesirable effect on impressionable minds.
  • The room was a mishmash of décor ideas, but the overall effect was strangely impressive.

When you want to speak of the extent to which something has succeeded, use effect, not affect.

Examples
  • She uses mustard to good effect in her signature salad.
  • The director has used the film’s soundtrack to great dramatic effect.
  • I have pled with Farley numerous times to quit driving but with little effect.
  • The protests occur like clockwork every four years, with almost no effect.

To that effect

The phrase to that effect implies that something has a specific meaning or purpose.

Examples
  • She thought he was wrong and wrote an email to that effect.
  • A space designated a mask-free zone should display a notice to that effect.
  • She decided to withdraw and issued a statement to that effect.
  • He disagreed with the new policy and sent a letter to that effect to the newspaper.
  • Hats are now mandatory, and we will soon make an announcement to that effect.

The phrase words to that effect provides a rough idea of what was said, without quoting someone’s words exactly. It is used to vaguely report the general meaning of what someone said.

Examples
  • I told him I loved him, or words to that effect.
  • “Did she say she would call back?” “Well, words to that effect.”

Effect: Also a verb

To effect is to bring something about or be the cause of it. Thus, the word effect is used not just as a noun (the effects of change) but also as a verb (to effect change, or bring it about).

Examples
  • We must effect a change in policy to save our forests.
    bring about a change in policy
  • The new president has effected numerous reforms.
  • By effecting such controls, we hope to limit the damage caused by a breach.
  • At 0430 hours yesterday, our divers effected a successful rescue operation.
Caution

If you brought something about, you effected (not affected) it. You almost always effect change rather than affect it. Spell-check can get this wrong, so you should check this spelling yourself and use effect instead of affect when you mean that one thing caused another.

When to use affect

To affect something is to influence it: to act upon something and change it. You then use the word affect (not effect) as a verb.

Examples
  • A country’s political stability affects economic growth.
  • Parents can affect their children’s future but to a limited extent.
  • How the pandemic has affected our lives cannot be ignored.
  • Pollution is affecting people’s health in cities.
Tip

If you have an effect on something, you affect it.

You might also say that something affected you if it moved you emotionally.

Examples
  • Anita was deeply affected by Farley’s grief.
  • This book affected me powerfully when I read it ten years ago.
  • Tumkin was visibly affected by the tragic tale of loss and redemption.

To affect can also mean to pretend to feel something or to act in a pretentious and artificial manner.

Examples
  • Rita affects loathing for the modern world but is quite happy buying flat-pack furniture.
  • Maya sat sipping tea, affecting an air of supreme indifference to the furor around her.
  • Poco affects a French accent whenever he orders wine at a restaurant.

Affected, affecting as adjectives

The adjective affecting can be used to describe something that moves or touches you emotionally.

Examples
  • We were moved to tears by his affecting account of growing up in captivity.
  • Her pole vault was the most affecting display of courage at this year’s Olympics.

The adjective affected is used to refer to behavior that is fake or pretentious.

Examples
  • She speaks in an affected accent over the phone.
  • His affected pose for the cameras did not help, nor did the speech itself.
  • The play was ruined by the lead actor’s affected delivery of what was essentially well-written dialogue.

Affect as a noun in psychology

Affect in psychology means the experience of emotion. You probably haven’t encountered this term often, unless you read books on psychology.

Examples
  • Joy is a form of positive affect.
  • The therapist focused on affect during our session today.
  • Positive affect can help one face adversity.
Tip

Affect when used as a psychological term is pronounced quite differently from when it’s a verb or from the word effect. The “A” is pronounced like the “A” in apple: A-fekt.

Examples from literature

Here are some examples from writing that show how effect is used as a noun to mean a result or a consequence.

Examples
  • Who is to say that prayers have any effect? On the other hand, who is to say they don’t?
    Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad (2005)
  • One of the most damaging effects of the greenhouse warming is likely to be a significant increase in violent weather.
    Isaac Asimov, Our Angry Earth (1991)
  • Darcy mentioned his letter. . . . She explained what its effect on her had been, and how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed.
    Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

And here are some sentences that show affect used as a verb: to influence, to move someone emotionally, or to pretend.

Examples
  • She was much more interested in him than she was in her own situation, which affected her as the prospect of a matineé might affect a ten-year-old child.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Offshore Pirate,” Flappers and Philosophers (1920)
  • I dare say no words she could have uttered would have affected me so much, then, as her calling me her child.
    Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1849)
  • I felt he was only affecting fervour in order to put me off my guard, to induce me to come out in return, so I scarcely even smiled.
    Charlotte Brontë, The Professor (1857)

Remember that effect can also be used as a verb, but then it means to bring something about, as seen in the following examples.

Examples
  • But though the moment for the change has come again and again it has never been effected, because capitalism has never produced the necessary enlightenment among the masses.
    George Bernard Shaw, “Socialism,” Encyclopædia Britannica (1926)
  • A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished. . . . I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.
    William Wilberforce, Speech to the House of Commons of Great Britain (1789)

Finally, the following examples show how the words affecting (something being emotionally moving) and affected (pretentious) are used as adjectives.

Examples
  • Diana and I had such an affecting farewell down by the spring. It will be sacred in my memory forever.
    L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  • It was an affecting time. The women cried over Cathy, so did even those stern warriors, the Rocky Mountain Rangers.
    Mark Twain, A Horse’s Tale (1907)
  • I can’t stand Paris. I hate the place. Full of people talking French, which is a thing I bar. It always seems to me so affected.
    P.G. Wodehouse, Big Money (1931)

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Did You Know?

The 24-hour clock is preferred in situations where confusion between “a.m.” and “p.m.” could result in dangerous or expensive mistakes.
Know more:Time of Day: How to Write Correctly