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Is there an easy way to remember when to use the word affect or effect in a sentence? It is very confusing, and I still get them mixed up.

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Possible duplicate of Effect vs. Affect. –  RegDwigнt May 6 '11 at 11:45
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@RegDwight: This question seems to be pursuing a memory aid rather than the more basic and previously answered simple difference. (but having the link here is very useful.) –  Mitch May 6 '11 at 13:28
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@Mitch: I think it merely happens to be worded that way; I don't think that that's on purpose. Had the OP seen that other question, would this one here even exist? If no, case closed. And if yes, then keeping this one open essentially allows two versions of every question: "What is the answer to X?" and "What is the answer to X and how do I remember it?" I am in favor of a merge, actually. –  RegDwigнt May 8 '11 at 12:35

6 Answers 6

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Ask yourself the question, did the object already exist before the effecting or affecting? If it did not, use effect; if it did, use affect.

Effect comes from Latin efficere, from ex-, "out", and facere, "to cause/make/do". When you effect something, you cause something to exist that didn't exist before: first it was in the darkness of nothingness, then it comes "out" into the world of reality. Notice the parallel to ex- in exist.

Affect comes from Latin afficere, from ad-, "to, in addition", and facere. When you affect something, you cause something to happen to a thing that already existed; you do something to it in addition to the fact that it already exists.

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+1: And you said it entirely without affect. –  Robusto May 6 '11 at 1:14
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What about when they are nouns? –  Mitch May 6 '11 at 1:39
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@Mitch: Outside psychological, Humean, and Robustian prose, you will be 99.9 % safe with effect for nouns. In derivations, things are a bit more complicated; but then you will probably be at such an expert level that spelling won't be too much of a problem. Or something. –  Cerberus May 6 '11 at 12:02
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The usual confusion (what I remember from HS English) is between 'affect' the verb and 'effect' the noun, where the the flip side of both are rare as you point out. But the explanation you gave was for both as a verb. –  Mitch May 6 '11 at 13:28
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@Mitch: Okay, well, in that case it is simply "write effect if it is a noun, affect if it is a verb"... heh. I don't think the verb effect is nearly as rare as the noun affect, by the way. –  Cerberus May 6 '11 at 13:31

You could think of cause and effect:

  • Use affect when talking about the influence, the cause.

  • Use effect when talking about the consequence, the result.

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Affect is a verb. It is an Action. They both start with "A". Remember that!

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You can also 'effect' a change in something. Effect is also a verb. –  gbutters May 6 '11 at 1:22
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@gbutters: 'affect' is also a noun (used mainly in psychology). In the common usages, effect is a noun and affect is a verb so the memory aid given by Robin is a quite useful guide to correct usage. –  mgkrebbs May 6 '11 at 3:47
    
Tsktsk, such affectacious pedants. –  Peter Olson May 6 '11 at 4:21
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@mgkrebbs I didn't want to downplay the usefulness of Robin's mnemonic device, just point out that it doesn't work with the lesser used verbal form of effect. –  gbutters May 6 '11 at 14:44
    
I'd say yours is a good answer to OP's question. It's true there are less common usages where 'affect' is a noun, and 'effect' is a verb, but your quick and easy mnemonic covers the majority of cases. Certainly much better than i before e except after c, which is more often wrong than right. –  FumbleFingers May 6 '11 at 17:08

I forget where I originally got this from, but this humorous comment has helped me in the past...

Most of the time effect is a noun and affect is a verb.

If you're unsure, try substituting a different verb and see if it works.

As a child, he was affected by his parents.

As a child, he was affected eaten by his parents.

A verb works here so you should use "affected".

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Cerberus did well to focus on AFFECT and EFFECT as verbs. While both are also used as nouns, most usage errors that I've seen involve their use as verbs. For example, do we say that attitude and planning affect outcome, or do we say that attitude and planning effect outcome? Do we say that our spending habits affect our ability to save for retirement, or do they effect our ability to save? Does bright light affect the eyes, or does it effect them. Does burning coal affect, or does it effect, carbon dioxide levels in the earth's atmosphere?

In each of the above cases, the correct choice is AFFECT. AFFECT, when used as a verb, commonly means "to influence." Note that when we say that X affects or influences Y, we're not providing the reader with information about the nature of the influence -- whether it's positive or negative, for instance. In the last example above, were not saying whether burning coal raises, or lowers, carbon dioxide levels. Nor are we asserting whether that influence is slight, significant, weak, or decisive.

On the other hand, if we want to assert that a particular action or condition will reliably produce a particular result, then the correct choice is EFFECT. For example, we would say that exposing the eye to bright light effects the contraction of the pupil (bright light causes contraction of the pupil). Or we might assert that the hallmark of an effective political leader is that she or he is capable of effecting needed reforms. EFFECT, when used as a verb, means "to bring about; produce as a result; cause; accomplish" (Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition).

You might have noticed that the examples I gave above for using AFFECT as a verb are quite familiar to you, whereas the examples I gave for using EFFECT as a verb were not. If that is the case for you, then you can use AFFECT whenever you're not sure, and you'll usually be right. Hence the advice given by others to use AFFECT when it's a verb, and EFFECT when it's a noun.

One more observation: When I started using MicroSoft Word (R) many years ago, the spell checker would respond to "It seems like everything I do affects what other people think of me?" by asking me if I meant to use "effect." At first, I ignored it, then I started doubting whether I was using the right word. After the second or third time, I tried changing it to "effect," then asked the spell checker to recheck my work. It came back with
"did you mean 'affect'?" !! Then I realized what was going on: The spell checker DIDN'T KNOW which was correct, but it wouldn't admit that it didn't know! Instead it would ask me if perhaps I should be using the other one. So I suspect that much of the confusion prevalent today regarding affect vs effect can be laid at the feet of -- you guessed it -- Bill Gates. Thanks, Bill.

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AFFECT - "a"fter the act EFFECT - befor"e" the result

What say you? Too simple to be true?

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