I read some advice at vocabulary.com which said that

since sometimes people mix up "affect" and "effect" (for example, me), then some people tend to use "impact" rather than "affect". Don't be one of those people!

Is this good advice? Why not use "impact"?

Here is my sentence:

Certain type checks allow reordering without affecting semantics.

It seems clearer to me to use "impacting semantics" or "changing semantics".

Why use a potentially vague word when a more precise word is available?


You can make up your own mind, but it's a fact that sticklers can object to the use of "impact" as a verb. To quote the usage note at American Heritage Dictionary:

Regarding the verb use of "impact" as a verb

The verb is a different matter. Many people dislike it because they assume it was converted from the noun in the manner of voguish and bureaucratic words like dialogue and interface, but in fact impact was a verb long before it was a noun—the verb dates from the early 1600s, the noun from the late 1700s. Most of the Panelists still disapprove of the intransitive use of the verb meaning "to have an effect": in our 2015 survey, 78 percent of the Panel (down only slightly from 85 percent in 2001) rejected These policies are impacting on our ability to achieve success. The transitive version was once as vilified, but is gradually becoming more acceptable: in 2015, only 50 percent (down from 80 percent in 2001) rejected The court ruling will impact the education of minority students, and only 39 percent (down from 66 percent in 2001) found the literal sense unacceptable in the sentence Thousands of meteors have impacted the lunar surface. Although resistance to the transitive senses is waning, the intransitive use is still strongly disliked and is best avoided. See Usage Notes at contact, impactful.
American Heritage Dictionary

So as you can see, approval of this use is quite all over the place and fickle over time periods.

Of particular note is this line:

In 2015, only 50 percent (down from 80 percent in 2001) rejected "The court ruling will impact the education of minority students."

A drop of 30% rejection in a matter of 14 years is quite remarkable in my opinion.

That isn't to say you should avoid its use, just keep in mind that there are plenty of people who disapprove of its use. There's no absolute reason why you should avoid triggering someone's disapproval.

Also, personally, "affect" and "effect" seem quite clear to me (if we disregard that "affect" can be a noun and "effect" can be a verb) - hmm, actually I take that back, haha. I have much bigger problems with other areas of word meanings.

  • As a note, I would find the transitive use, "The court ruling will impact the education of minority students," to be perfectly clear, but the intransitive use, "The court ruling will impact on the education of minority students," strikes me as incorrect. This is probably because "impact on", at least to me, sounds like a physical impact. – Drazex Aug 24 '18 at 10:50
  • Maybe I'm wrong, but to say "A affects B", says there is an effect but doesn't say what the effect is. It seems to me that specifying the actual effect would improve the sentence, if the actual effect is known . "A changes B" , "A increases B", "A makes B more resistant", etc. – Jim Newton Aug 24 '18 at 11:19
  • Your dictionary is being disingenuous. 'Impact' as a verb has indeed been around since 1600 - but not in the sense of 'effect'. Instead, as a verb it meant something like 'strike'. The verb use as 'effect' is recent - from 1935 - and is indeed both a verbification and a cliched vogue word, used by people trying to sound dramatic. Ugh... etymonline.com/word/impact and en.wiktionary.org/wiki/impact – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 12:54
  • @RoaringFish The dictionary's usage note on "impact" being used as a verb as early as 1600 doesn't disagree with anything you've said, it just says its usage as a verb goes back that far. Also thanks for letting me know that "effect" as a verb is of relatively recent use (I didn't know that). But I don't see anything disingenuous about the usage note or wrong about my answer. I specifically didn't say anything about "effect" as a verb other than that it's used today as both as noun and verb. I certainly didn't endorse its use as a verb. – Zebrafish Aug 25 '18 at 13:58
  • 1
    The topic of the notes is impact=effects. To say it is not “voguish” to use ‘impact’ like that because ‘impact’ has been a verb since the 1600s without mentioning that it had a different meaning looks very disingenuous to me; a deliberate withholding of relevant information. If I were writing those notes, I would make sure that was clarified as a simple matter of professionalism and intellectual honesty. – Roaring Fish Aug 25 '18 at 16:12

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