Doing versus Being: Understanding Effect and Affect

Understanding Effect and Affect
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When we were in grade school, we learned how to scribble our first sentences. We began studying nouns (people, places, and things) and verbs (actions performed by those people, places, and things).

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.

Affect vs Effect

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.

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About the author

Amy Sorter

Amy Sorter is an award-winning journalist, copywriter, and principal of The WordSorters. Her work has been published in regional and national business and consumer publications. Amy's focus is on creating customized, highly engageable content in a variety of formats for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies.