It's easy to understand why so many people struggle to learn the difference between affect and effect. Not only do the two words sound very similar, but their definitions are also related.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines affect as a verb meaning "to have an effect on." If you're confused about affect vs. effect, this definition is supremely unhelpful!
Just in case you need further proof of how confusing these words can be, look at these two sentences, which use forms of affect and effect in four different ways:
"The presence of the party guests affected the usually obedient dog, who bounded into the dining room, snatching food off people's plates and making them spill their drinks as an effect. The dog maintained a happy affect even though his actions effected a dramatic change in the demeanor of the guests, who were now very annoyed and somewhat sticky."
Because the two words are so easy to mix up, it is imperative to take the time to truly understand the difference between affect vs. effect. This article will walk you through the four main uses of the words, two of which are common and two of which are more obscure. By learning all the ways in which affect and effect are used, you'll be able to select the right one every time.
The Difference Between Affect vs. Effect
We've outlined the difference between affect vs. effect in one of our "25-Second Grammar" videos. Take a look, and read on for a more detailed explanation:
The Meaning of Affect
As the video explains, affect is primarily used as a verb that means "to influence" or "to bring somethingabout. " Returning to the above example, the guests affected, or influenced, the dog's behavior. In other words, the dog was usually obedient, but because of their presence, the dog became excited and uncontrollable.
Here are more examples that show how the verb affect is used in a sentence:
- The beautiful writing in this book affects everyone who reads it.
- The rain affected our plans to go to the fair today; we decided to go to the mall instead.
- Pregnant mothers should not take this medication, as it can affect the baby.
- The woman's poignant monologue affected the entire audience, and they gave the performance a standing ovation.
- I want to be involved in making any decision that will affect my future.
Here's where things get tricky: affect can also be used as a noun meaning someone's demeanor or outward attitude. Think of the dog's happy affect upon greeting the guests and snatching their food. The good news is that you are unlikely to encounter this usage in everyday life, as it only really occurs in the field of psychology (e.g., "The patient displayed a sad affect while discussing her estranged sister").
The Meaning of Effect
Unlike affect, which is usually used as a verb, effect is most often used as a noun. An effect is a result, or something that happens because of something else. You can easily identify the noun effect because it will have an article (an or the) before it.
In the previous example, the effect of the dog snatching food off people's plates was that the guests stand and spill their drinks. Here are some more examples of how to use effect in a sentence:
- Children need to understand the effects of their actions on others.
- What is the desired effect of this program?
- The effect that the painting had on me was immense because it made me think of my mother.
- If this story goes viral, the effects will be catastrophic.
- I could no longer ignore the effect her presence had on me.
As with affect, there is a second, less-common definition of effect. Although effect is mostly used as a noun, it can be used as a verb that means "to bring about." Keep in mind that the verb effect implies greater action than the verb affect. It doesn't just influence something; it causes something to happen. In our example, the dog's actions effected a change in the guests; because of what the dog did, the guests were annoyed. This usage of the word effect is not very common, and you'll mainly find it in the phrase "to effect change."
That's So Raven
The word raven acts as a great mnemonic device to help you remember how to use affect vs. effect. Here's what it stands for:
Beware, however, because this method does not account for the lesser-known uses of affect and effect, only their primary functions as a verb and a noun, respectively. The raven method is still worth knowing, though, as it's a quick and easy way to recall how each word should be used in most cases.
Think you've mastered the difference between affect vs. effect? It's time to put your knowledge to the test! We've created a quiz to help you gauge how well you know affect and effect. Let us know how well you did by visiting us on Facebook or Twitter.
Image source: Pawel Kadysz/Stocksnap.io, OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay.com
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Our words carry enormous weight. More than we sometimes think. They often impact people for decades, providing the courage to press on or one more reason to give up.
When I was fourteen, my family moved from Nebraska to Texas. It was the middle of my ninth-grade year. Junior high is always an awkward time, but the move during this critical year made it even more difficult.
I remember walking into the school cafeteria for the first time. I was all by myself. The other kids had the luxury of established friendships. I didn’t know a soul. The cliques were already defined.
After making my way through the serving line, I slid into the nearest open seat. The kids at the table gave me the once-over, wrinkled their noses, and then snickered. I could feel my face getting red with embarrassment. I looked down at my food.
Finally, one of the kids broke the ice. “Man! You have one BIG nose!”
I was mortified. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to cry, but I managed a little laugh—like it didn’t really bother me. But it did.
Every day from that point forward, I would look at myself in the mirror. All I could see was that big fat nose. It dwarfed every other feature. I studied it from every angle, but kept coming back to the same conclusion: I was merely a life support system for a nose. It was my defining feature.
Thankfully, I eventually grew out of this perception. But it literally took me twenty years. Even now, I’m a little self-conscious about it.
It just goes to show you how powerful words can be. A careless word can shape—or misshape—someone’s reality for years to come.
I think that is why Ephesians 4:29 is one of my favorite Bible verses:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
I don’t intend for this to be a sermon. But there are a few key truths here we should all be mindful of, especially if we’re leaders. What are they? This verse provides three characteristics of wholesome speech:
- Wholesome words build people up. This is the meaning of the word “edification.” It’s the same word from which we get “edifice” or building. Other people, the Bible also tells us, are temples (see 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19). As leaders, we have the privilege of working with God to build these living cathedrals.
I love that imagery. It applies to everyone: your overbearing boss, that rude flight attendant, the stressed-out family member, everybody. All of these people have potential, and we have the power to build them up or bring them down.
That power is mostly in our mouths. It takes more than good thoughts and deeds to build people up. The real creative power is in the words we use. This is what it takes to develop the people around us.
Wholesome words are timely. The right words at the wrong time can be just as damaging as the wrong words.
When someone experiences a major setback or disappointment, for example, we need to be careful not to dismiss their pain or frustration. Likewise, it’s usually a bad idea to to lecture about what they could or should have done differently.
Words left unsaid can also be hurtful. I once worked for a man who literally never acknowledged, affirmed, or praised my performance. He only acknowledged my mistakes. An encouraging word would have cost him nothing and meant the the world to me, but he didn’t do it.
As leaders, it takes discernment to know when and if to speak. The right word spoken at the right time can make all the difference for someone.
Wholesome words provide grace. I take this as more than merely being generous or accommodating—though those are both important. I see grace as also the power of God to do His will (see Philippians 2:13). Our words can either empower people and make them want to press on or diminish them and make them want to quit.
I remember going through a horrific business failure. My partner and I lost everything. We didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and I had no clue how I was going to provide for my family.
I called my dad, and his words provided grace. They were just what I needed: reassuring, encouraging, confidence-building, and more.
That call was like Red Bull for my soul. It gave me the energy to hang in and keep fighting. And it gave me the grace I needed to do the next right thing for my family, for my business, and for my future.
King Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Every day, we are shaping reality for someone by the words that we use with them.
The choice is ours. How will our words impact others?
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