Affect vs. effect

Affect is usually a verb, and effect is usually a noun. To affect something is to change or influence it, and an effect is something that happens due to a cause. When you affect something, it produces an effect. Here are a few examples of the words used correctly in these senses:

The storm knocked down power lines, affecting several thousand people in rural communities. [CBC]

Gauging the disaster’s effect requires assessing economic activity that might be lost. [Wall Street Journal]

The regulator has estimated that its new rules will affect up to 11.3pc of borrowers. [Telegraph]

But the smell of freshly baked bread may have positive effects far beyond the obvious ones. [Independent Online]

But the words have other, less commonly used senses that can make them tricky. Effect does function as a verb when it bears the sense to bring about. For instance, it is the correct word in phrases such as effect change and effect solutions where these phrases mean to bring about change and to bring about solutions. It’s possible to imagine where the phrase affect change might make sense, but it would mean to have an effect on change rather than to bring about change.

These writers, for instance, use affect where they obviously mean effect (i.e., to bring about):


His genuine desire to affect change was thwarted by a system which is stale and often ineffectual. [Independent]

This event shows that the press still has power, that written words can still affect change. [Indiana Statesman]

And these writers use the verb effect correctly:

Plenty of footballers do use their income to effect change, notably African players working in their home countries. [Independent (U.K.)]

Indeed, rushing to the Supreme Court is not always the wisest method for effecting legal change. [New York Times]

Affect, meanwhile, has a secondary, less-used verb sense—namely, to put on a false show of. For example, you might affect surprise when someone gives you a gift you knew they would be giving you. Affect also has a potentially confusing noun sense—a feeling or emotion, especially as expressed through body language. Most of us will never have use of this sense, though, so its existence is no excuse for letting affect encroach on effect‘s territory.


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  1. Darque Wing says:

    It’s hard to treat the Grammarist as an authority on grammar when, in the course of explaining a bit of arcane grammar, the author uses the phrase, “It’s main definition…”

    Back to the Google search for a more trustworthy source.

  2. Excellent explanation of a dicey grammatical conundrun.

  3. I hate this tangle of words. If you want to make someone hurt or angry, you can affect them badly, and effect your aim, by tripping them up. Among the effects of your action are the desired affects! Then, if you want to effect a reconciliation, you could affect to have done it by accident.

    It’s enough to make you give up on English and go and learn Esperanto.

  4. I have a conundrum. Which do you think would be correct?:
    “I always knew that I wanted to affect policy.”
    “I always knew that I wanted to effect policy.”

    I am leaning toward “effect” in the sense of “bring about” rather than change existing policy, since later he clarifies a bit by saying “And they heavily influenced me in terms of wanting to shape policy and carry it out.”

    • Grammarist says:

      That is a tough one. I guess it’s a matter of whether he wants to create policy or just have an influence on policy that already exists. I would guess the latter makes more sense here because in this case “policy” is not anything specific but rather a broad term covering all the policies. So it seems he does mean “affect.” It’s hard to know, though.

    • With the sentence written as is, the word has to be affect because you want to change policy. To use effect, the sentences could be written in one of two ways: “I always knew that I wanted to have an effect on policy.” Or, “I always knew that I wanted to effect change to the policy.” You would be using the expression ‘effect change’ instead of just the word effect, as shown in the description above explaining the difference between the 2 words.

    • Craig Jordaens says:

      They’re both valid sentences that mean different things. It depends on what you’re trying to say. Do you want to change existing policy or do you want to bring about new policy?

      • Wendy Matson Bergonse says:

        Craig, you are exactly right. That is the precise conclusion that I drew after posting my original question (posted 2 years ago!) ;-) Yours is the perfect explanation, and I was going to post something to this effect when I started receiving new comments here. Thank you!

        • They are both correct, as all the above commentators and you agree. But, reading from the context, where the writer says s/he wanting to “shape policy”, meaning influence policy, I would also lean towards affect.

      • Brian Freiberger says:

        I sort of lean toward the use of “effect” as implying intention, whereas the use of “affect” does not (imply intention). I can affect something accidentally, but to effect something I must intend it.

        • Not necessarily. I can intend to affect policy {influence}. And I unintentionally effected the vase to drop on the cat {cause}. I don’t think intention is at stake here.

          • Brian Freiberger says:

            Good point. Maybe then to “effect” an event is to cause it, while to “affect” the event is to simply produce some unspecified “effect”. Intention may or may not be present.

          • I would believe so. To affect something will change the effect ;)

  5. since effect can be used as a verb, I propose we eliminate the word ‘affect’, and use effect instead.

    • Ah but there are even more meanings than these: “personal effects” refers to one’s belongings, where as “affects” refers to emotional responses and feelings.

      If we got rid of one of the words, we’d only be piling on the confusion.

      • we could just have one word with four different meanings. That way you would always be right. No less confusing than fair, lie and bear.

        • This isn’t exactly something that you can just do. They still have distinct meanings and are pronounced differently. Refusal to learn the difference between words is called illiteracy.

      • Oh, dear. I thought I’d got all the possible meanings into my little story above. I’d forgotten about personal effects!

  6. Thank you!

  7. rugvendor says:

    I have a great idea; let’s throw one away and replace it with the other.

  8. Arthur Petron says:

    He affects you. (“He emotionally communicates with you.” [+ or – interp.] or “He brings about a false aspect of you”). Even if those options are correct, I still have no idea.

  9. Gaurav Arora says:

    Just understand the feeling guys. Words make no difference.

  10. MrWaffleman says:


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