Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Affect or Effect: The Big Showdown


My nephew Charlie has asked me to address the difference between affect and effect. Because Charlie is a member of our armed forces, off in the middle of nowhere, away from his family, fighting to keep the world safe, getting seasick on an aircraft carrier (okay, I doubt that he gets seasick), I have agreed to answer his question. Also because he's my nephew,and I love him. Also because I answer everybody's questions.



Okay. Moving on.

Now Charlie assures me that he knows the difference between affect and effect; he was just having trouble explaining it to someone else. He's my nephew, and I believe him. Okay, then.
Let's start with some simple definitions
Affect is a verb meaning "to do something that produces an effect or change in something or in someone's situation."

Effect is a noun meaning "the result of an action or event."

Okay. So affect is an action, and it must act upon something else:
  • How will the rain affect the crops?
  • How does that kid who won't stop talking affect the nerves of his teacher?
  • How will this missile affect that group of terrorists?

Since effect is a noun, we're using it to name the outcome or result of an action, not the action itself.
  • What is the effect of the rain on the crops?
  • What effect does that kid who won't stop talking have on his teacher's nerves?
  • What is the effect of this missile on that group of terrorists?



Easy, right? Let's have a quiz. Fill in the blank with either "affect" or "effect." The answers are at the bottom of the page. 
1. Dramamine had a soothing _____ on Charlie's seasick stomach.

2. The U.S. Air Force has had several important _____ on the War on Terror.

3. Johnny's habit of hiding a comic book in his text had a negative _____ on his grade in class.

4. As an _____ of the teacher's excellent work, all of her students are above average.

5. His mother's constant nagging did not ______ Harold's habit of wiping his mouth on his sleeve.


Very simple. Affect is the action, and effect is the result of the action.


 On a side note, the adjective form of effect is effective. This is commonly used to describe something that results in a desired outcome.

  • The class's behavior was effective in making their teacher hide under her desk.
  • Is solar power an effective source of energy?
  • Becoming concerned about your grade the last day of the quarter is not an effective strategy.


 Answers to the quiz:

1. Dramamine had a soothing effect on Charlie's season stomach.

2. The U.S. Air Force has had several important effects on the War on Terror.

3. Johnny's habit of hiding a comic book in his text had a negative effect on his grade in class.

4. As an effect of the teacher's excellent work, all of her students are above average.

5. His mother's constant nagging did not affect Harold's habit of wiping his mouth on his sleeve.



Very good! That's it! Now some of you picky people and grammarphiles might want to read the next little bit, but I don't recommend it. It's about some unusual uses of the words, and most people never need to know about this stuff. So just skip right to the comments, and let me know if this little lesson was at all helpful. What other topics do I need to cover in coming days?

I'm linking this one up with Wordful Wednesdays and to The Blogging Bash.
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*Now there is a word, "affective," but it has nothing to do with what we're talking about, so forget about it. Just pretend it's not there. The average person will never use it. It's a psychological term dealing with emotions, and we just don't want to go there. People who have Seasonal Affective Disorder are affected by this word, but not your average sailor, so forget it.

**Also, sometimes "effect" can be used as a verb in formal English (that's not your everday English). For example:
Many parents lack confidence in their ability to effect change in their children's behavior.
It means produce/create something, like "change." Now just forget it.