PWA’s grammarian tackles … affect vs. effect

Some of us love grammar and live by words, and well, others just use words to convey ideas.  I love the words themselves, and the effect combined words on a page have on our senses.  How about you?  Are you affected by words or do you just use them?

Words are so powerful; using the right word and correct grammar can make all the difference in the world — not only in meaning, but in how you, the writer, are perceived.

Affect vs. effect?

How many times do you have to stop and think whether you should use affect vs. effect?  Do you, gulp, need to look it up?

Personally, I learn better when I first find out if I know the grammar rule or not – then look up the rule to learn it, if necessary.  It’s one way to see if my brain retained the rule or definition, or if it no longer resides there.

I find out by taking quizzes. In preparing to write this post, off I went to my favorite website,, online home of Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. Feeling very sure of myself, I took her quiz for affect vs. effect.  No, I did not get 100%!  (I’ll share what threw me off track at the end – look for the P.S.).

Choosing the correct word is so much easier when one is always a noun and the other always a verb. However, thanks to how doctors like to bend words to their specific meaning, particularly in psychology where they use affect, normally a verb, as a noun, you can’t always apply that rule!  Oh, and let’s not forget the lawyers changing the word usage for effect.

Test your grammar

Why don’t you head over to Jane’s site and take the online quiz before you read the simple tip I use to make sure I am using the right word in a sentence?

Synonym tip

Welcome back. Definitions are great, but knowing synonyms helps me learn the proper use of a word.  I substitute one or more of the synonyms for the word, such as effect or affect, in a sentence.  An example of the correct usage with associated synonyms inserted would be:

Inflation can affect (influence or change) food prices.

Higher prices are an effect (a result or ramification) of inflation.

An example of the incorrect usage with associated synonyms inserted would be:

Inflation can effect (a result or ramification) food prices.

Higher prices are an affect (influence or change) of inflation.

Affect is normally used as a verb and means to influence or change.  Some affect synonyms from are: Act on, alter, change, disturb, impress, influence, inspire, involve, modify, move, overcome, perturb, prevail, stir, sway, touch, transform, or upset.

Remember the exception: when the word affect is used as a noun in psychology and means feelings.

Effect is a noun meaning result.  Some effect synonyms from are: After effect, aftermath, backlash, can of worms, chain reaction, conclusion, consequence, end, end product, eventuality, fallout, flak, fruit, outcome, outgrowth, ramification, reaction, repercussion, side effect, spin-off, upshot, or waves.

Will you remember?  Maybe, maybe not.  But as Lisa Angelettie says, “You will probably most often use affect as a verb and effect as a noun.”


P.S. Back to the test.  The bugaboo was a single action having more than one effect!  I chose affect when there was more than one result — assuming it to be an influence instead.

PWA readers, what language bugaboos would you like our grammarian to tackle in her next post?

Joy Randall, founder of Wisdom House, has the gift of making the complex simple and easy to understand in the written word. She has put others’ voices in writing for over four decades. Her passion is writing and getting your voice heard and published. Aside from writing, her idea of fun is discovering new places and people, playing card and board games, cooking, gardening, and reading books curled up in an overstuffed chair.

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