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Difference Between: Effect vs. Affect

Effect is a noun that means ‘result, consequence of change’ – e.g. cause and effect. Affect is a verb that means ‘influence, make a difference to’ – e.g. The accident affected her health. We confuse the spellings of these words because their pronunciation and meanings are very close. Simple rule: Effect (End result) vs. Affect (Action).

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Effect or affect?

This is the easiest rule to remember the difference between effect (noun) and affect (verb).

Ask yourself: Is it an end result (noun) or is it an action (verb)?

You will choose the correct word 99% of the time if you follow this rule. However, there are rare situations when affect can be used as a noun and when effect can be used as a verb (we will look at this later in ‘Exceptions’).

In many situations, we can choose to use effect (noun) or affect (verb) to express the same thing. To do this, we need to change the sentence construction. Both words can be used in past, present and future tenses, and to express a positive or negative.

Different word, same meaning:
TimeEffect (noun)Affect (verb)
PastThe accident had an effect on her health.The accident affected her health.
PresentWhat are the effects of this medicine?How does this medicine affect the patient?
FutureWe will all feel the effect of climate change.Climate change will affect us all.

What does effect mean?

Effect (noun) means: ‘the result of a specific influence or change’.

Synonyms: result, consequence, outcome, end result, fallout, impact.

Set expressions: come into effect, have an effect on/upon, take effect, in effect, for effect.

Additional meanings: Special effects are visual and audio features in a movie that make a stage scene appear like real life. Effects can also be used in a formal situation to mean ‘someone’s personal possessions’.

Examples with effect (noun) in a sentence:

  • Smoking has a negative effect on our health.
  • The new Spiderman movie uses a lot of special effects.
  • What are the effects of global warming?
  • Scientists are studying the effects of diet on life expectancy.
  • John’s infidelity had a lasting effect on his marriage. 
Watch out for a determiner or quantifier in front of effect to make sure it is being used as a noun. For example, an effect, the effect, any effects, some effect, the desired effect.

What does affect mean?

Affect (verb) means: ‘to influence or cause a change’.

Synonyms: alter, change, influence, modify, disturb, impact upon.

Set expressions: be affected by (something/someone).

Additional meanings: Affect can also formally mean ‘to pretend or imitate’ as in: She affected a northern accent.

Examples with affect (verb) in a sentence:

  • Did your parents’ opinions affect your choice of career?
  • Tides in the sea are affected by the moon.
  • I hope the new tax changes won’t affect me!
  • Does your bad eyesight affect your ability to drive?
  • Living abroad certainly affected my life in a big way.
Most of the time, we can assume that affect is being used as a verb. It is an action so you will not see ‘a, an, the’ before it in the sentence. It is very rare that we use affect as a noun. This is only done in specific medical language (psychology / psychiatry).

Exceptions to the simple rule

As we mentioned earlier, it is possible for effect to be used as a verb and for affect to be used as a noun. This is rare in English, but it is important that we understand this usage so that we do not make mistakes when spelling these words.

Effect as a verb

As a verb, effect means: ‘to bring into existence or put into operation.’

For example: The Prime Minister is determined to effect the will of the people.

We are often confused about when to use effect and affect because these words are pronounced in a similar way. In some accents and dialects of English, they even sound identical (e.g. in American English). The standard pronunciations in British and American English are:
Effect = /ɪˈfekt/ (British), /əˈfekt/ (American)
Affect = /əˈfekt/ (British), /əˈfekt/ (American)
Affect as a noun

As a noun, affect refers to: ‘a display of emotion via facial, vocal, physical expressions.

This is only used in a medical (psychology / psychiatry) context and is very rare in English.

For example: The depressed patient presented with a melancholy affect. (The patient appeared to be sad)

Quiz: Effect or affect?

Try these exercises to test your understanding of the differences between effect and affect. There are a couple at the end that deal with ‘exceptions to the rule’ so watch out for these!

  1. How did Sue’s divorce _______ her family life?
    a. effect
    b. affect
  2. What _______ did the new coach have on the team’s performance?
    a. effect
    b. affect
  3. Alcohol can have a negative ________ on your memory.
    a. effect
    b. affect
  4. Drinking too much can _________ your memory.
    a. effect
    b. affect
  5. The original Avatar movie was famous for its special _________.
    a. effects
    b. affects
  6. These policy changes will come into immediate _________.
    a. effect
    b. affect
  7. The news had an unexpected _______ on Tony.
    a. effect
    b. affect
  8. She didn’t let the rain ________ her mood that day.
    a. effect
    b. affect
  9. The President believes in his ability to ________ change in the country.
    a. effect (noun)
    b. effect (verb)
    c. affect (noun)
    d. affect (verb)
  10. A sad _________ can be associated with depression in some patients.
    a. effect (noun)
    b. effect (verb)
    c. affect (noun)
    d. affect (verb)

Answers: 

  1. b)
  2. a)
  3. a)
  4. b)
  5. a)
  6. a)
  7. a)
  8. b)
  9. b)
  10. c)
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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Alex Jude —
ESL Specialist & CEO at Online Teachers UK.
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