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The difference between effect & affect

Jul 20, 2011

Two of the most commonly searched words in the dictionary are 'affect' and 'effect'. So what is the difference between these words? We offer the following as some advice:

There is an overlap in meaning between 'affect' and 'effect' which is why the dictionary alerts people to the possible confusion. For most purposes 'affect'  is a verb meaning 'to produce a change of some kind in someone or somebody.'  E.g. The news affected him badly.

On the other hand 'effect' is usually a noun meaning 'a change brought about by someone or something'. E.g. The news had a bad effect on him. You can see the overlap and possibilities for confusion. And there is a further use of 'effect'  as a verb meaning 'to bring about'. E.g. They will effect a rescue.

The best way to remember which word you are dealing with is to substitute the meaning in the sentence:

         They will affect (produce a change in) a rescue. This substitution does not make sense.

         They will effect (bring about) a rescue. This substitution does make sense.

         The news effected him (brought him about) badly. This substitution does not make sense.

         The news affected him (produced a change in him) badly.This substitution does make sense.

Sometimes a sentence is complicated by being in the passive. E.g. Success was effected by the government.  Effected or affected? If we swing it around into the active it becomes:

         The government effected (brought about)  this success.  This substitution does make sense.

        The government affected (produced a change in) this success. This substitution does not make sense.

We hope this helps!

Update

The shift from the phrasal verb 'to impact on'  meaning 'to have a strong effect on' to a transitive verb 'impact' as in 'This impacts me badly' can seem odd, even irritating, to those who have not grown up with it. It has great currency and it not likely to go away. We suppose it has the appeal of simplicity. You can use it in the active (misfortune impacted him badly) or the passive (he was badly impacted by misfortune) without finding a stray particle on your hands that forces you to rethink the sentence. It has the same meaning as 'affect' but, at least initially, it did have more clout. It has perhaps been overused now so that it is no longer striking, but, for the reasons given above, it is still useful.

Want some help with other common confusables? Check out our other comparison blogs

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