Grammar Wednesday, Week Two!

Affect and effect seem to be problem words for a lot of my readers, so that will be the subject of the second Grammar Wednesday!

Affect* is a verb, and can have a couple of different meanings. The least common use of the two meanings is “to pretend or assume (as in, “take on”).

“I affect a terrible British accent, but my friend can swear like a drunken Scot.”

“Nervous before every board meeting, Shondra affects a calm she does not feel.”

The second, most common use of the verb is “to influence, act on, or produce an effect.:”

“The loss of the homecoming game affected the team’s morale so badly that they never won another game that year.”

“My hope is that my election to the committee will affect some change in how that body is run.”

Effect** is almost always used as a noun meaning “a consequence or result” and is used with an article:

”The effect of the sale is that the company will have to lay off 20% of its work force.”

“My joke at the funeral did not have the effect I was hoping for.”

As Kizz pointed out in one of the comments for the last Grammar Wednesday, a lot of these questions boil down to elocution. In this case, though, a little mumbling can be your friend: it’s hard to tell the difference between “affect” and “effect” when speaking. When you’re writing, though, choose the right word by trying to replace the word with whatever tense of “influence” you need. If “influence” works, use “affect.” If “result” works, use effect. For example:

“The loss of the homecoming game influenced the team’s moral…” works (but result doesn’t)

“My joke at the funeral did not have the influence I wanted.” doesn’t. (but “result” does)

You can also figure out if you’re using the right word by putting “an” or “the” in front of the word in question. Effect takes an article; affect does not.

Still confused?

Affect / Action

Effect / Result

*Affect also has a noun form, but it used almost exclusively in psychological contexts (and, I’m fairly sure, some Shelley poetry) and, as such, most of us don’t bother to waste valuable brain cells in learning the meaning. If you have brain cells to spare, however, the definition of the noun form of affect is “a feeling or emotion.”

**Effect has a verb form, too; but, again, it’s not at all common. The definition, according to my Webster’s dictionary, is “to bring about, accomplish, or make happen” and the example they give me is “The change to automation was effected last spring.” In all my years studying English and writing for college, I’m not sure I’ve ever used effect as a verb.



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11 responses to “Grammar Wednesday, Week Two!

  1. Wow, I both understand what the normal usage is and why I suck at it. I like to use that effect form shown in the footnote. I love it as a matter of fact and it totally throws me off. I could use a couple of examples to back up which one “takes the article” and which doesn’t, please.

    I believe I offered you a prize. Requests?

  2. EFFECT takes the article – it is a “something,” a result, a consequence, something that can be pointed to, a noun.

    Of course, there’s SO much more I could say in this lesson – as I was driving to teach my step class this morning, I was listening to Nina Totenberg on NPR explaining the EPA case that the Supreme Court is hearing today. In the broadcast, the word “effect” was used a bunch of different times, and I failed to explain some of those uses here. I can’t figure out how to link the story in comments, so go here to listen to it:

    That being said, I am (as always) willing to take further questions.

  3. You rock Mrs. Chili! Thanks for the lesson.

    And yeah, damn those psychological texts. Patients can be diagnosed with certain pathologies b/c of a ‘flat affect’ symptom.

  4. I’m an English major and I still find the correct usage of these words difficult to remember. Thanks for using so much detail!

  5. Mrs. Chili,
    It’s official. You are my hero!
    ~Grammar Snob

  6. I do think it is important to learn the noun and verb forms of both of them because I have used them, and come across them frequently … but I am a closet psychology nerd and a fan of Shelley, so … 🙂

    I like the trick of replacing the words with synonyms to figure out which one should be used. I’m generally good with affect/effect, but thanks to you I think I understand lie/lay for the first time in my life, even though my posts do not yet show this new comprehension.

  7. Affecting a terrrrible Scots accent, I would like to commend you on your thorrrrough and effective lesson perrrtaining to the confusion of affect and effect. Thank ye, rrreally.

  8. Oh, YES! I just had this same discussion two weeks ago in class! Just right!

  9. claudia

    Yes,thank you for the clarifications. I’m probably going to still request help at certain times of confusion, if it’s not a bother!

  10. Bother? NO! Bring it ON! Explaining things like this to people helps ME to solidify the concept for myself, too, so it’s totally win-win!

    I also want to add here that if anyone finds that I’ve screwed up – or left something important out – let me know! I’m the first to admit that I don’t know everything (sometimes, I think I don’t know ANYthing) and am never offended to be set straight.

  11. Thanks for your comment on my last post.

    I love sharing my story. I speak in gymnasiums full of middle school and high school students about my experiences but sometimes I need to hear it just for myself.

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