Sometimes the English language serves up a word or rule that, try as you might, is just hard to learn how to use correctly. One such instance of this is the word ‘affect’. This word is a homonym with the word ‘effect’, and even though they technically have different enunciations, they are typically pronounced identically.
What makes these two words so tricky is that they not only have very similar phonetic qualities, but also have similar meanings. Both refer to some kind of change, however one is commonly used as a verb to show change and the other as a noun to show the result of the change.
The word ‘affect’ is most commonly used as a verb, but its similarities to the word ‘effect’ can very naturally make it easy to be misused as a noun.
If you have been wondering how to think about the word ‘affect’ so you can use it in a sentence correctly, here is everything you need to know about affect vs. effect!
The Effectiveness of ‘Affect’
To understand the proper use of the word ‘affect’ is to understand that it is used as a verb, meaning that it always has a job. A verb shows action and works within a sentence. Different from a noun, place, or thing, verbs are the action words of the English language.
Common verbs that we are all familiar with are words like work, ask, tell, leave, call, smell, taste, push, shove, ect., you get the idea. The point is, these are all words that you can immediately understand them as actions without thinking. This is because these verbs show action and do something, and just like them, the word ‘affect’ has the exact same qualities.
The word ‘affect’ as a verb shows that something ‘made a difference. This is important because it shows some kind of change or impact that was active. So, for example, you would use the word ‘affect’ in a sentence like:
The heat began to affect my skin.
This is indicative of a change, a difference being made by the heat on the skin of the person describing this experience. This usage of affect plays the part of a verb perfectly. Let’s look at another example.
His car horn affected my nerves in an eerie way.
Yet again, you see the word ‘affect’ acting like a bridge of action between the car horn, and how it made the subject's ears feel.
It may be easy to understand the use of the word affect, but how do you know when not to use the word. This is tricky. If it was only the word ‘affect’ that you had to worry about, you would never have a problem, but ‘effect’ just seems so similar. How is ‘effect’ different?
What is Effect?
‘Effect’, unlike ‘affect’, is a noun and not a verb. This means that effect will never refer - like affect - to the mechanism of the change but instead will always refer to the change itself. This can be tricky to grasp, so it’s okay to stop and think about it. The most important thing to try and understand here is how a verb and noun are unique in a stance that could use either ‘affect’ or ‘effect’.
Let’s take the examples from the word ‘affect’ and turn them into sentences that use the noun ‘effect’ instead.
Example: The effect of the heat was evident on my skin
This is an example of how we are now talking about a change that has taken place, and its result. ‘Effect’ takes on the role of a noun, describing what the heat did to the skin rather than what it is doing or how it is acting upon.
Example: The effect of the car horn was eerie
Here we see another example of how the word ‘effect’ works as a noun, pointing to a condition that exists because of the car horn.
You shouldn't be discouraged if these two words give you a run for your money. Many writers find it hard to edit their work, so finding a second set of eyes to help you catch these mistakes is a great strategy. However, for your editing work, a good way of asking yourself if you are using the right word is to indicate something that is a result or a cause/action. The verb ‘affect’ will always show action upon or cause, while ‘effect’ will show the result.