Thursday, August 18, 2011

Grammar Daze - effect/affect

Tara Tyler asked that I do a post on effect and affect, so I'm going to do that for this week's Grammar Daze.

Effect is typically used as a noun. (Noun = person/place/thing/idea.) If you can use "a," "an," or "the," it's always a noun: the girl, an owl, the happiness, a city, etc.

Affect is typically used as a verb. (Verb = action word for the purposes of  "affect." It's what you do. To be or not to be. Or in this case, to affect or not to affect.)

An easy way to remember the distinction is to use alliteration. In this case, we'll use effect and elephant. They both start with E, and they're both nouns.

If you want to know whether you should use effect or affect in a sentence, replace the word with elephant to see if it's the noun that you need. If it is, use effect.  Like so:

The effect was enormous.

Effect is the subject of this sentence. To be sure, replace it with elephant.

The elephant was enormous.

Some other sample sentences:

This happened to great effect. (There's no "the" or "an" here, but you could say "a great effect," with the "a" implied.)
This happened to (a) great elephant. And there we go.

I want to have an effect on people.
I want to have an elephant on people. Check! It wouldn't be very comfortable having an elephant on you, but the sentence works.

Now, for affect. People are affected by things happening. In this case, we will find another verb that starts with A. Let's go with assassinate.

It will affect us.

Let's see if this works with an alternate verb.

It will assassinate us.

A couple of other examples:

The foggy weather affected our ability to see clearly.
The foggy weather assassinated our ability to see clearly. Check! Our ability is completely dead.

I want this to affect readers in a positive way.
I want this to assassinate readers in a positive way. Check! Super creepy, but the sentence effectively makes my point.

One more thing... a couple of exceptions! (Because English is good at those.)

In all of my years of writing, I don't think I've ever used effect/affect as described below, but it's good to know this anyway.

In a few cases, effect is used as a verb. As a verb, it's usually to show achievement of a final result, as in: "They will effect a new law."  As I said, most of the time, you'll use effect as a noun.

Likewise, as Emmy Roo pointed out in the comments, "affect" can sometimes be used as a noun. It's usually used in psychology, and it has to do with emotion and mental states, as in: "The patient's affect was disruptive." (A quick note that when affect is used like this, it is pronounced differently. The stress is on the first syllable, whereas when it's used as a verb, the stress is on the second syllable.) Again, though, this isn't used very often--unless, perhaps, you are in a field that talks a lot about affects.

Happy writing!


  1. I love that "assassinate" is your default. ;)

    (Um, this is still Kate, btw. There's a new blog I'm sharing with people, and Google was being a pain and by the time I realized it, it was too late!)

  2. excellent lesson!
    thanks for picking me! (i always have my hand up =)

  3. This is one of my husband's pet peeves - and he has a lot of grammar peeves, working in an engineering office as he does. "E-ffect, E-ffect, people!" he'll shout, while I calmly check my email and wonder what work-related project he's red-inking this time.

  4. I rely on my mother to correct my affect/effect usage. If I'm remembering her lessons correctly, the affect (which starts with A) comes before the effect (which starts with E, which is after A, alphabetically).

    So you can affect (influence) the effect (result), but you can't effect the affect. I think. Don't quote me, 'cause I suck at this.

  5. I had to comment about the assassin elephant, because it got a smile out of me. Affect/effect is one I still sometimes need to think on. My current struggle is further/farther, though. Sometimes it is obvious, other times not so much.

  6. ROFL Those are awesome substitutes words!

  7. Great tips here, they really affected me.
    I read this post, and an elephant could not remember these alliterations better than me.
    The effect your post had on me was elephantine, which is good because I'm not an assassin.

  8. Except that sometimes "affect" is used as a noun, meaning someone's emotional physiognomy. So you would say, "The patient presented with flat affect," or "affect is hysterical," or whatever.

  9. Nothing like a knife-wielding elephant to cement grammar rules in the brain!

  10. Hehehe great way to help people to remember.

    A lot of people don't seem to know the difference.


  11. 10 minutes after reading this and I'm already using it! Thanks heaps

  12. Hahaha! Completely awesome way to explain it.

  13. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  14. This is great! I always pause over effect and affect. Now I'll picture elephants wielding knives and I'll never get the words confused again. ; )

  15. I have to think about which one to use everytime. Half the time I just avoid it and pick another word. LOL. affect = action (or assassinate might help me though.

  16. Oh this one always makes me stop and think. Thanks, Laura!

  17. This is a great trick! I'll have to remember it, thanks so much. Glad Laura Pauling directed me your way.

    Have a great weekend!

  18. Hey Laura! I have just awarded you The Liebster Award! Stop by my blog for the details!

  19. Thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments and making me grin and sharing your thoughts on this with me!

  20. I've never seen the word affective used, is that because it is not effective?


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!