How to Choose “Affect” or “Effect”

 

Updated 14 September, 2022 – 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.

Graphic illustrating how to choose between "affect" and "effect".  When using a verb, the correct choice is affect.  When using a noun, the correct choice is effect.

How To Choose Effect Or Affect

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.

Quiz

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

Take Affect or Take Effect

an orange and white background with the words take effect or take affect

We often see the affect vs. effect dilemma present itself in the phrase “take effect,” sometimes erroneously written as “take affect.”  Remember, Since “effect” is the noun and the direct cause, one would “take effect,” not “affect.” You cannot take a descriptive word.

Here is a quick example of its use:

It is too soon to predict how much effect the central bank’s action will have on the euro zone economy. The change will take effect in October.  – The New York Times

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

As a bonus, here is a video you can watch for the more visual-oriented folks:

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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.

Comments are closed.