Confused Words: Affect, Effect

How Will You Be Affected by the Effect of Not Knowing Whether to Use Effect or Affect?

by Owen Fourie

This article will bring an end to any confusion that you might have about using either affect or effect.

Not homophones

Many lists of homophones include effect and affect. The first syllable of each word might sound similar, but there is a distinction.

Strictly speaking, they do not qualify as homophones, homonyms, or homographs, so we’ll regard them as confused words, which are particularly troublesome.

The following tabulation will help you to use the correct word in your writing:




Noun Sometimes used as a noun.


Use it to refer to the appearance of a person’s mood in facial expression or body language.


Trying not to alarm her children, the woman displayed little affect at the news of their father’s disappearance.

Commonly used as a noun.


Use it to refer to the result of something, as in cause and effect.


Whenever the price of fuel is increased, it has an adverse effect on the entire economy.

The restrictions on water usage will go into effect tomorrow for the duration of the drought.


Note that if you can place an adjective or words such as the, an, any, take, or into before it, it is a noun and effect is the right word to use.

Verb Commonly used as a verb.


Use it for the action of people, events, conditions, etc. having an influence on other people, events, conditions, etc.


Bad dietary habits will affect your health.

The prolonged heat and drought will affect their productivity adversely.

He affected an air of contrition when his friends discovered that he had deceived them. – In other words, he was pretending to be sorry for his deception.

Sometimes used as a verb.


Use it for any action to accomplish something or to produce a result.


The new director effected stern measures to save the company from bankruptcy.

The severe cutbacks in the automobile industry were designed to effect a faster recovery. (Here, effect is used as an infinitive.)

Simply ask yourself this question when faced with a choice between affect and effect: Do I need a verb or a noun? If you need a verb, choose affect. If you need a noun, choose effect. You will be correct in at least 95% of these choices.

Remember: verb: affect; noun: effect.

The boldface letters spell the word vane. Associate affect and effect with a weather vane mounted on the spire of a church building.

A weather vane indicates the direction of the wind. The direction of the wind affects the weather. The weather you are experiencing is an effect of the direction of the wind.

This can help you to remember the more common uses of affect and effect: vane: verb: affect; noun: effect.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with confused words or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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