How to Choose “Affect” or “Effect”

People in business writing classes have been asking for ways to know whether affect or effect is correct. Here are my best tips for choosing the appropriate word.

If you are choosing a noun, your correct choice will be effect 99 percent of the time.

  • The medicine had no effect on her condition.
  • In the lab it is difficult to duplicate the effect of the weather on the siding.
  • This change will have no effect on your retirement funds.
  • This setting softens the harsh effect of the ceiling lights.
  • His mood always has an effect on mine.

If it is not easy for you to distinguish between a noun (a person, place, thing, or idea) and a verb (a word that generally shows action), here is a tip: If you can insert the word bad or good in front of the word and it makes sense, it is a noun.

Applying the bad or good tip to choosing affect or effect, if you can insert bad or good in front of the word, 99 percent of the time your correct choice will be effect. Examples:

  • The medicine had no [good] effect on her condition.
  • In the lab it is difficult to duplicate the [bad] effect of the weather on the siding.
  • This change will have no [bad] effect on your retirement funds.
  • This setting softens the [bad] effect of the ceiling lights.
  • His mood always has a [good] effect on mine.

Compare these sentences, in which neither bad nor good makes sense before the word without restructuring the sentence. That means you need affect, the verb:

  • The medicine does not affect her condition.
  • The weather affects the siding.
  • This change will not affect your retirement funds.
  • The ceiling lights affect the feeling of the room.
  • His mood always affects mine.

If your word ends in -ed or –ing, it is probably a verb. That verb will nearly always be affected or affecting.

However, occasionally you will need effect, the verb. You will only use that form when you mean "to bring about":

  • The new CEO plans to effect change–that is, to bring about change.
  • She has been hired to effect a culture shift–that is, to bring about a culture shift.

Review the examples above. Then try this test. Each blank needs affect or effect. Answers appear at the bottom of the post.

    1. How will this change ________ me?
    2. Do you believe his personal life ________ed his work?
    3. What _______ does the temperature have on product integrity?
    4. Stress in the workplace can negatively ________ safety.
    5. Of course, his smoking has an _________ on his health.
    6. The team's cliquishness did not ________ him.
    7. These proposals may ________ our benefit plans.
    8. Do you think the new VP will ________ changes right away?
    9. Can you demonstrate the ________s of your social media programs on sales?
    10. The rainy weather has not had an __________ on our exercise plans.
    11. How is her illness ________ ing her children?
    12. The chemical spray had no apparent ________ on the root weevils.

 

Before you compare your answers with the key below, see whether you have six affect forms and six effect forms, as I do.

 

 

Do your answers match these?

1. affect 2. affect(ed) 3. effect 4. affect 5. effect 6. affect 7. affect 8. effect (bring about) 9. effect(s) 10. effect 11. affect(ing) 12. effect

Does my affect-effect approach work for you? What is your method for recognizing whether affect or effect is correct in a sentence? Please share.

Lynn
Syntax Training

12 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

    Lynn

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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!

    Lynn

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    Lynn

  9. 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.

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