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The Difference Between Affect vs. Effect

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

At one time or another, all of us have had this thought: Do I use affect or effect? Read this lesson to learn the difference between these two words and how to correctly use them.

Affect & Effect

The English language is full of puzzling snags and complications, especially when it comes to spelling. Why are there words spelled completely different, but sound the same? When do you use there, their and they're? Or to, two, and too?

Words like this can be the bane of a student's existence. Imagine using the wrong one when you are writing a school essay or even on a job application. Using the wrong spelling of a word can give your writing a very negative impression. Your challenge is to figure out when to use each spelling for these types of words.

The confounding pair of words we are looking at today are affect and effect. When do you use each one? This lesson describes the difference between these two words and how to correctly use them.

The Verb Affect

First, let's look at the word affect. Affect means to influence, modify or alter something in some way. The important thing to remember about using this word is that it is almost always used as a verb, which is a word showing action or state of being. Every sentence must have a verb in order to be a complete thought. Look at the following example:

  • The kids loved the movie Searching for a Clown Fish.

What is the action in this sentence? The word loved shows the action, and therefore it is the verb. Without it, the sentence does not make sense and isn't complete. In this aspect, verbs are very important in the English language.

When you use affect, make sure it is being used as a verb. If not, then you may be using the wrong spelling. Here are some sentences using the verb affect:

  • The blue tang fish affected the clown fish's search.
  • Loss of memory affects the blue tang's ability to help.
  • The shark is negatively affecting their progress.

Each of these uses the word affect as the action in the sentence.

The Noun Effect

Now that you know that affect is always used as a verb, we can move on to when to use effect. Effect is defined as a change, result, or consequence of some action or event. Effect is rarely used as a verb; instead, it is most often seen as a noun, which is a person, place, thing or idea. Nouns name objects in our language and are also very important in sentences. Without nouns we would have a bunch of actions, but never know who or what is doing the actions. Here are some sentences using the noun effect:

  • Getting lost in a sea of jellyfish was an effect of traveling with the blue tang.
  • The effect of Darby's birthday was that the clown fish had to leave the dentist's aquarium.
  • Being swallowed by a whale had a major effect on the journey.

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