Confusing Words: Effect and Affect
In Blog 1, we discussed the potency of commonly confused words with an incalculable ability to maim and destroy in terrifying ways. Grammar grenades, we called them. But sometimes, they are not as obnoxious and frightening as we anticipate though they are still words and in no way less impactful.
Words, according to Sigmund Freud, have a “magical power.” They can incite emotion and bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair. And they can change a life forever…for better or for worse. I second that emotion.
Years ago, I was very attracted to a certain young man, and the emotion I felt was sucking the very lifeblood from my veins. But still I refused to say a word. I waited with bated breath for him to step forward in sweet declaration, but he exhibited only a cursed silence he later termed respect. When, in an effort to breathe life back into my deflating body, I finally broke my silence, he simply said: “Don’t. We are from different worlds.”
Enter Sigmund Freud.
From that day forward, I decided I would never in a million years be the first to tell a romantic interest how I felt. If he didn’t have the gumption to step forward, then, heaven help us all. We would simply have to work that out in the afterlife when we are both kittens. Obviously, his words affected me, and I am still experiencing the effect of the shrapnel some two decades later. But the good thing is that that experience is now the inspiration behind this grammar grenade: effect vs. affect.
EFFECT VS. AFFECT
Some people say these are difficult. But, as usual, there are several steps to remembering the difference between them. Let’s begin at ground zero.
Effect refers to an OUTCOME/ CONSEQUENCE / IMPACT. A secondary definition is to PUT IN PLACE OR BRING ABOUT. We’ll talk about that a bit later.
1. His smile had a tremendous effect on my mood; I was beaming for weeks!
2. The effect of the icy roads was evidenced by the 10-car pileup!
3. His surprise proposal did not have the effect he had intended.
So his smile had an impact on my mood, the consequence of the icy roads was the pileup, and his surprise proposal did not have the outcome he wanted.
Proper nouns are names given to specific nouns like Mary (a specific person) or France (a specific place)
In most cases, you can spot a noun if you can put an article in front of it like “the” or “an” or “a” to indicate a unit of some sort. That article signals the presence of a noun. Bear in mind, though, that you would not put an article in front of an idea/concept or a proper noun although some proper nouns already carry the article as part of the name, like The United States. So we would have:
— the school
— an elephant
— a candy bar
— the effect
An Easy Way to Remember
Are you talking about an outcome or a consequence that occurred? Since the article “the” ends with an “e” and effect begins with the same “e,” you can quickly assess if you are dealing with the noun by making a mental note of that “E” that belongs to both: Th-E-ffect. If that article or another one (an or a) can go before the word you have chosen (even if preceded by an adjective), then, it is a noun and the message you are communicating surrounds an outcome, consequence, or impact of some sort.
E.g. His smile had a tremendous effect on my mood; I was beaming for weeks!
Another way to determine if you are putting down the right word is to notice the many E’s in the word consequence. Three time’s a charm. E-ffect is equated with consequence. It’s an excellent choice.
A secondary definition of effect (an exception to the foregoing rule) is TO PUT IN PLACE OR BRING ABOUT. In this case, it is used as a verb because it signifies action.
1. The policy goes into effect immediately (the policy is being put in place now)
2. Stakeholders hope to effect change in higher education.(Stakeholders hope to bring about change.)
File the secondary definition somewhere in the back of your mind.
Affect has more to do with a change in feelings or state. Specifically, it means to produce a change, to act on, to impress the mind or move the feelings. It is a verb. That means something is actually doing something to something else. There is action involved.
a. His response affected me.
b. Climate change is a major factor affecting coffee production across the globe.
c. Many industries were badly affected by the pandemic.
Notice the A in the word “change” and in the phrase “to act on.” So if you are trying to say that something is acting on and changing something else, then affect is your word. Match the A with the A. A is for action.
So affect changes something and effect is the result or consequence of that change.
In my case, the effect of his words has stayed with me and affected my behavior in the love zone. I’m saying that the consequence of his words is that they have stayed with me and changed my behavior in the love zone.
Hopefully I’ve given you enough to help you. But if all else fails, consider the sufficiently popular RAVEN flying around the English community.
R — Remember
A — Affect is a
V — Verb.
E — Effect is a
N — Noun.
Until next time!