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Affect vs. Effect [What is the Difference?]

Affect vs EffectIf you’ve confused affect and effect before, you’re not alone. This word pair is one of the most common errors in business writing. Through this article, you will understand when which word is appropriate, learn a simple trick to remember the difference, and be able to navigate their proper use and exceptions.

The Difference

Simply put: affect is a verb and effect is a noun. They are defined as:

affect (verb):  to produce an effect or results 

effect (noun): something that is produced by a cause; a consequence

 

Why do we confuse affect and effect?

These words are confused for very legitimate reasons. First, these words are related in their meaning. Both words are referring to an impact or consequence. Affect is the verb enabling the outcome, while effect is the noun referring to the result. Knowing each word’s grammatical role is critical to differentiate the two.  

Second, the two words sound very similar. Affect is articulated with an a-sound called ‘schwa’ (the ‘a’ pronounced in the same way as ‘allow’) while effect has a long e sound (the ‘e’ pronounced in the same way as ‘e-mail’). These words are near-homonyms but each has a distinct sound.

Affect vs effect raven easy mnemonic deviceWhen to use affect and when to use effect?

When describing a result, use affect when the term is in the action word and effect when the term is the subject or object. A common mnemonic to recall the difference between affect and effect is to think of a raven. Specifically:

R: Remember
A: affect (is a)
V: verb
E: effect (is a)
N: noun


The following examples highlight how to use affect and effect correctly in a similar context:

  1. If I take a day off, I know it affects my team’s work flow.
  2. If I take a day off, I know it has an effect on my team’s work flow.
  3. Our new education program affected our productivity in the way the VP expected.  
  4. Our new education program had the effect the VP expected.
  5. The sales department’s poor performance will negatively affect our quarterly report.
  6. The sales department’s poor will have a negative effect on our quarterly report.

Exceptions

English is full of exceptions. Affect and effect have their own deviations to the ‘RAVEN’ rule. These uses are less common, but it’s important to be aware of their existence.


Effect can be used as verb when to effect means to ‘make happen’:

Example: The citizens want to effect change after hearing about the corruption charges.

Affect can be used as a noun for a psychological term referencing an emotional response.

Example: The patient is able to express a range of affects.

Affect can be used as a verb to mean ‘to put on’ or ‘to feign.’

Example: She affected a British accent when traveling abroad.


For even more examples, check out this helpful explainer video:

Affect and effect are useful vocabulary words when used correctly. Remember the RAVEN mnemonic and use them confidently in your business writing.

 

Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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