Affect and effect. What’s the difference? One tiny letter at the beginning of the word. Use the wrong one, and you’re “ffect.” (Go on, say it out loud. I’ll wait here.)
The main difference between the two, aside from that pesky vowel, is that “affect” is a verb, or action word, and “effect” is (usually*) a noun, or a thing that is.
So: when you affect something, you take action and by doing so, you alter that thing. The end result is the effect. The vowels help to build our memory devices:
Affect: Actively Alters
Effect: the End rEsult
Let’s look at some examples:
- Did the hot weather affect your appetite? You’re not eating.
- The loud music negatively affected my hearing; I was nearly deaf for hours.
- The effect of the new tax was that those in the middle class had more money to spend.
- The reprimand had a profound effect on the child, who became quiet and still.
In the first two, you can clearly see that affect is used as a verb, while in the latter two, effect is a noun. If you’re still confused, use the same-vowel memory device and switch the word out, as demonstrated here:
- Did the hot weather actively alter your appetite? You’re not eating.
- The end result of the new tax was that those in the middle class had more money to spend.
Remember that you can’t spell “affect” without “act.” To affect something, you have to act. If there’s no action, but simply a result (listen to the long eeee sound in the word result), use “effect.”
Let’s be honest: this is a hard one. There are so many ways to build a sentence around both of these words and it’s easy to get confused. It’s just another example of why English is ridiculous. But if you use the tricks above, I think it should help you get it right more often, with the effect of making you look smarter and affecting your happiness as well. At least, I hope so!
*In the interest of simplicity, if you’re someone who is unsure about the proper use of these words, I think it’s wise to just ignore the fact that “effect” can occasionally be used as a verb, and stick to using it as a noun. (I think using it as a verb sounds a little pretentious, anyway, and I try not to do it myself.)