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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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May 21, 2012



I tell students: when in doubt, think cause and effect. Affect tends to be a cause, and effect tends to be, well, an effect. Some of them embrace this instantly. THere are, of course exceptions, but it seems to work for some of them.


I was once told that you can replace effect with the word consequence and affect with the word influence. If the sentence makes sense using the alternative, that should be the right word. For instance, if influence doesn't make sense, you should try consequence in the sentence -- if that fits, use effect. This is not always correct, but can help when all else fails.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Anthony, thank you for sharing your sensible "cause and effect" approach. "Affect tends to be a cause" is a bit complex for me. However, if it works well for some of your students, terrific.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

SG, thanks for your tip, which I will pass on to those who struggle with these words.

Because "consequence" is a noun, it does seem to work to recognize the need for "effect," the noun. Writers just need to be comfortable with the awkwardness of "consequence" when they test it in their sentences.


Cathy Miller

One suggestion I make is that verbs denote action and affect starts with the letter A. Action (verb)= Affect.

This was one of my Dad's pet peeves so I learned the difference at an early age. :-)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Cathy. I like your straightforward approach. It works for me.

Many people find it challenging to distinguish a noun from a verb, especially since some action verbs do not communicate much action (think, sleep, evolve). That is why I came up with the "bad or good" addition.

Lucky you that your Dad encouraged your good grammar!


Kevin Fernandez

Nice strategy:0 it avoids many mistakes and confusion:) As I know Effect can be used for both advantage and disadvantages, Affect can be used for only disadvantages.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Kevin. Thanks for commenting. I am not sure whether you were writing about nouns or verbs or both. "Affect" the verb CAN be associated with disadvantages; for example, "To what degree did the construction project negatively affect traffic?"

Perhaps I missed something in your comment.


Marie@ Concise Writing Consultancy

Thank you for this post, it’s been a really big help. I tend to use ‘affect’ a lot as a verb and ‘effect’ as a noun, which as you’ve stated here is correct, but I’ve always been wary of using ‘effect’ as a verb. Thanks for clearing up the proper usage.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Marie. I am glad to have been helpful.


Jason Light

Great refresher. I got 12 correct answers. This thing is very basic but easily forgotten. Thank you for this.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Jason, congratulations on your correct answers.

Glad to be helpful!


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