“Affect” vs. “Effect”

You’re not alone if you sometimes have trouble differentiating between the English words “affect” and “effect.” The distinction can be tricky, even though on the surface the difference between the two words is simple.

“Affect” vs. “Effect”

“Affect” is almost always a verb meaning “to influence” or “to change.” Having a cold might affect your performance on a test, for example. Or the weather can affect your disposition. Other times, “affect” can also mean “to put on an act of some kind.” For example, someone who wanted to get out of shoveling snow might affect a sprained wrist. Or great actresses like Meryl Streep are able to affect many different accents.  

On the other hand, “effect” is almost always a noun meaning a “result” or “outcome.” The effect of your cold might be to make you lose concentration, while sunny weather will almost always have a positive effect on your mood.

But this information is only useful if you know the difference between verbs and nouns. So here are tricks to help you distinguish them:

  • If you can add “ed” to the end of the word, or if you can put “will” in front of it and the structure still sounds right, then you are dealing with a verb. That’s why you can talk about how quitting smoking affects or affected or will affect your health.
  • On the other hand, if you can put “the” or “an” in front of the word, then you are dealing with a noun. That’s why it makes sense to talk about the effect or an effect of quitting smoking.

You’ll have noticed that I’ve been hedging a bit here: I’ve said “affect” is almost always a verb and “effect” is almost always a noun. The truth is that there are special circumstances when this situation is reversed. Psychiatrists talk about their patients’ affect (a noun). And “effect” is occasionally used to mean “to achieve something.” For example, you might read a news report that says a union effected a satisfactory settlement without having to go on strike.

But 95% of the time you’ll be fine if you use “affect” for verbs and “effect” for nouns.

Test yourself on the following sentences:

  1. Don’t let the boss’s impatience ____________ you.
  2. The cat’s constant yowling at night is have a terrible _________ on my sleep.
  3. This science lesson is about the ___________ of mixing an acid and a base.
  4. One possible side __________ of this medication is a runny nose.
  5. Adding new words to your vocabulary can _____________ the quality of your writing.

Scroll down for answers:











  1. Affect   2. Effect    3. Effect     4. Effect     5. Affect

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