As we became sophisticated writers, we branched out from simple sentence structures. But even with our skills, we often confuse words, especially nouns and verbs.
One very good example of this is “effect” and “affect.”
The basic explanation
According to Merriam-Webster, affect (the verb) produces “a material influence upon or alteration in,” while effect (the noun) focuses on “a change that results when something is done or happens.” Basically, a person, place, or thing does something (affect) to provide a result (effect).
Using the above in real-world examples we can all understand:
- Increasing traffic can affect commute times.
- Increasing traffic has an effect on commute times.
Phonetic mix-ups cause confusion
Part of the affect/effect mix-up is due to their “phonetic similarity.” In other words, they sound alike.
Linguistic blogger Neal Whitman went further, tracing the words to Latin roots. He noted that afficere (origin of “affect”) and efficere (the source of “effect”) share yet another Latin common denominator. This is facere, meaning to “make” or “do.”
If that weren’t enough, affect can be used as a noun, while effect does justice as a verb.
Affect, as a noun, is found in the field of psychology, defined as “a set of observable manifestations of an experienced emotion . . .” And, the action-oriented effect (which isn’t used all that often) means “to cause to come into being” or “accomplish.”
The general rule of thumb
The confusion is real, but not insurmountable. To get around it, simply remember the following.
- Affect is a verb
- Effect is a noun
- They are not interchangeable
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Are you affected by an event? Or does that event have an effect on you? Learn more about the affect/effect conundrum, and how to remember their differences and usages.