University Writing Center Blog

Posted on March 28th, 2018 in Language by Katie Sams

“Effects” and “Affects”

Written By: Haneen Aldebasy

Learning the differences between “EFFECTS” and “AFFECTS” can positively affect your grades in school and effect changes in your written expression.

Students are constantly confusing these two terms.  Let’s remember that both terms operate as nouns and verbs and that the meanings of each one change notably depending on its grammatical form.

Effect” is most commonly employed and encountered as a noun meaning the real, finished impact or result of some prior action or thing on something else:

“What effect [noun] did the earthquake have on Robbins’ house?”

“What were the effects [plural noun] of the workers’ strike on management’s bargaining position?”

Affect” used as a noun or adjective (“affected”) is a more pejorative term:

“He has a peculiar affect” [that is, he has an odd behavior or curious habit.]

“She behaved in a very affected manner” [she conducted herself oddly or in a weird way.]

Effect” used as a verb means to cause something to happen or to come into being:

“The ships in the fleet and the marines effected an audacious landing on enemy shores” [they did or accomplished that landing, they effected it, they carried it out.]

“The horse and rider effected a brilliant jump, winning the equestrian match” [they carried out the jump, they did it.]

Affect” used as a verb means the capacity of one thing to exercise an influence on something else.  Thus:

“History affects (verb) everyone differently; although we may feel its effects (plural noun) in various ways, we cannot deny that it affects (verb again) everything we think or do.”

By contrast, one could not rightly say that “history effects us,” since in normal parlance it is not credited with causing us to be born or with bringing us to some higher state of being.   For modern writers, unaccustomed to thinking about the nuances of language, these distinctions may be imperceptible or seem unworthy of sustained attention.  Ah, but as they say, “God (or the Devil) is in the details.”  The more details you know of proper written (and oral expression), the cooler you will be in the company of people (like academics) who value carefully composed, compelling, accurate speech and prose.  Thinking out loud, orally or in writing, is prettier when we have given adequate consideration to what we want our brain to say and how it can most clearly be said.

And, of course, “effective,” meaning “efficient” or capable of accomplishing some appointed task or outcome (an effective cure), differs from “affective,” a word which refers to our emotional attachments or sentimental lives–our affections, “his affective relations were defective,” etc.