Correct English Grammar: Affect or Effect?

The English language can be incredibly complicated and to date the Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 words in common usage and 47,156 obsolete words.

Furthermore, this by no means covers the whole of the English language, which is thought to consist of at least a quarter of a million words!

Is it any wonder then, that we sometimes forget how to use words in their correct context?

One of the more common mistakes is confusing the word affect for effect. It’s a widespread problem largely to do with the pronunciation of each word – try saying them out loud yourself. They both sound the same don’t they? So it’s easy to see why so many people get them wrong. If this has affected you then read on to discover the difference between the two.

Affect vs effect

Meaning of Effect and Affect

Let’s take a look at their individual meanings:

  • 1. Effect (noun): the result or consequence of something.
  • 2. Affect (verb): make a difference to (bring about).

Now we can see the other reason why people get these two words so confused, for not only do they sound the same but their meanings are very similar too and in fact as with most English words, there are rare exceptions when each word can be swapped around, but let’s stick with the basic meaning and have a look at the two words in context.

Which is Correct?

The correct usage obviously depends upon the context but for a simple explanation let’s start with the fact that affect is a verb and effect is a noun.
This basically means that verbs are used to describe and nouns are used to identify. So if you are describing the influence something has on someone, you could say; “She was deeply affected by her mother’s death”.

The noun would be used to identify the result: “What effect has her mother’s death had on her?”

Take Effect or Take Affect?

Once you know the difference between the verb and the noun, this one is easy. Effect is the noun and the direct cause, so you would “take effect”. You cannot take a descriptive word. This is the same when people write “with immediate effect”. Again they are using the word to identify the result of an action.

In Effect vs In Affect

The quick rule of thumb here is that the phrase “in affect” does not exist.

“In effect” means that which is currently effective. For example: “The fire hose ban is in effect today”.

Affect or Effect – A Useful Memory Trick

Remember that a comes before e in the alphabet and that is true of these two words, you will have needed to affect something in order to achieve an effect: “The damp which affected her health was an unfortunate effect of the winter weather.”

So that’s it in a nutshell. Hopefully by remembering the difference between the two words, the effect will be a reduction in grammar mistakes!

This is just one common grammatical and technical writing mistakes almost everyone makes, at least some of the time. It’s essential to avoid things like muddling up your affect with your effect when writing for publication, especially if you’re trying to promote a business or product. Yet, it’s incredibly difficult to catch them in your own work. This is why content editors are so important! To find out more about what a content editor does, and why every business should use one, read our article on the topic.