Affect vs. effect

  • Affect and effect are two of the most commonly confused homophones in the English language. Homophones are words that are pronounced in the same way but are spelled differently and have different meanings. We will examine the definitions of the commonly confused words affect and effect, their proper use, some help in avoiding a mix-up between the two words, and some examples of that use in sentences.


    The word affect is used in three different ways. The most common use of the word affect is as a verb to mean to change or to influence something or to make a difference to something. For instance, one may act on a past mistake in order to affect it, or one may affect the stock market by trading an inordinate amount of shares. A bully will affect his victim, bad habits will negatively affect your health, and your nose is affected by pollen. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs in the fall and winter, attributed to the lack of sunlight. Occasionally, the word affect is used as a verb to mean to pretend to feel a certain emotion, to project certain feelings or to use an item or assume a certain behavior in order to impress someone. In both of these definitions, affect is a transitive verb. Related words are affects, affected, affecting, the noun form is affectation. Finally, to make things more confusing, the word affect is used as a noun when employed as a term in psychology, to mean the emotion a subject is displaying. The determination of someone’s affect may depend on his facial expression, the tone of his voice and the degree of eye contact. Someone who is displays a flat affect may be depressed, schizophrenic or a have a traumatic brain injury.

    The word effect is used in several different ways. Almost always, effect is used as a noun to mean a result or consequence. This usage is obvious in the phrase cause and effect, which means the result or consequence of an action or situation. Effect is also used as a noun in the term personal effects, which means the items that are owned by a particular person. The term personal effects is often used when discussing the disposition of possessions after someone’s death. A special effect is a camera trick or illusion used in film or television.Very occasionally one may see the use of the word effect as a verb to mean to bring about change, usually in the phrase effect change. Related words are effects, effected, effecting.


    You will avoid confusion when using affect or effect if you remember this: the most common use of the word affect is as a verb meaning to change or influence something, and the most common use of the word effect is as a noun that is the change or result that is brought about. Identify the parts of speech when making a word choice between affect and effect. Affect causes effect. A mnemonic device that may help you to remember the correct meaning of these two commonly misused words and avoid being incorrect, is that the action is the affect and the end result is the effect. Note that both action and affect begin with the letter a, and both end and effect begin with the letter e. Learning English involves incorporating the correct grammar in your writing.


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

    Adrian, born Adrian Adolph Greenberg, affected a French name and Continental manners, but he was sure to be found out by a true Frenchwoman. (Vanity Fair)

    Daum noted that during a two-hour interview with Vonachen, a lack of emotion shown by the teen, which he called a “flat affect,” surprised him. (The Hutchinson News)

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

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


    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.

      • Grammarist says

        Thank you for pointing that out to us. That’s a typo we made while recently revising this post. We are no more immune to typos than anyone else. We hope you’ll give us another chance someday.

      • Nerd

    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.

      • RedBearded T says

        I just found out about Esperanto a few days ago, I’m seriously thinking about learning it.

    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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