(Or when to use “affect” and when to use “effect”)
This was an interesting post for me to write because it highlighted that while I might instinctively know when to use “affect” and when to use “effect”, I’ve found it quite tricky to articulate. So here we go…
If you affect someone you have an effect on them
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary describes “affect” as a verb meaning to “have an effect on” or “make a difference to.” So the best way to decide whether you should be using “affect” is to see if you’re using it as a verb. If you’re not sure, see if you can use a version of “affect” to alter the tense of the sentence:
The rain affected the picnic
The rain is affecting the picnic
The rain will affect the picnic
Carol’s persuasiveness affected David’s decision
Carol’s persuasiveness will affect David’s decision
Carol’s persuasiveness affects David’s decision
If you can, you should probably be using “affect”. (There are exceptions – read on to find out what they are.)
The effect of getting it wrong could be losing credibility
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary describes “effect” as a noun: “a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.” So the best way to decide whether you should be using “effect” is to see if you’re using it as a noun. If you’re not sure, see which word you have to change to alter the tense of the sentence:
His words had a soothing effect
His words will have a soothing effect
His words have a soothing effect
The effect of this post will be to improve your understanding of these common confusables
The effect of this post was to improve your understanding of these common confusables
The effect of this post could be to improve your understanding of these common confusables
If it’s a word other than “effect”, you’re using the right version.
The key exception to this rule of thumb is if you mean “cause to happen” or “bring about”. Probably the easiest way to check if this is the sense you want is to see if you can swap “effect” for “bring about”:
I want to effect a change
I want to bring about a change
She effected her escape safely
She brought about her escape safely
As you can see from these examples, using “effect” like this is pretty formal, so in all but the most serious of documents, it’s probably best avoided.
I hope this has helped!
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