Understand The Affect/Effect Difference

"Find out how the changes will effect you" proclaims the banner on the website for soon-to-be-closed phone retailer Crazy John's. This means Crazy John's customers who already face an uncertain future now have proof that the team at Vodafone can't even be bothered to use accurate spelling when communicating with them.

Confusing 'affect' and 'effect' is a very common error. The difference is a simple one: 'affect' is the verb, and 'effect' is the noun. As such, "Find out how the changes will affect you" is the correct version. Those changes might have an effect on which carrier you choose.

Yes, pedants, I know; 'affect' is used as a noun in psychology, and you can deploy 'effect' as a verb in a sentence such as "I plan to effect some changes". But those are outlier cases that won't help the linguistically confused, and the word 'make' would be a better choice in the second example.

Indeed, if you can't readily tell if you've used the correct spelling when selecting between 'effect' and 'affect', using a different word is the best strategy. Had Crazy John's written 'Find out what these changes mean for customers', we wouldn't be having this discussion. Accuracy matters, and simplicity helps accuracy.

Thanks Joshua for pointing out the Crazy John's error. You'd think a company which must have suffered from years of horrendous apostrophe abuse would know better.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


Comments

    Haha yes.. I used to not even think about this one till I started to write for a living... now it's something that I always think about when the time to use one or the other comes around.

    Hi, you did this with the previous article - "accurate" spelling. Would it be better to say "correct" spelling? I feel "accurate" tends to be more for things that are analogue, and "correct" for things that are binary, like spelling, which can either be right or wrong.

    When I type in "accurate spelling" into google, I get 86,700 result. When I type in "correct spelling" into google, I get 5.2million results.

      Yes.

      And in fact the spelling is correct. But the correct spelling of the wrong word.

      No, accurate would be correct.

      The spelling of effect or affect is correct; however it is not accurate.

      Yes, @greenlego, you are right, it should be 'correct' because 'correct' is absolute, and 'accurate' is relative. The spelling of a word is either correct or not. A description is 'accurate' when it is factually close to the truth, but there is room for subjectivity or interpretation so it cannot be simply right or wrong, therefore it would be incorrect to say it is 'correct'.

      Last edited 11/02/13 6:28 pm

    I'm unable to read anything containing a/effect without consciously checking to ensure it's correct. It drives me nuts (both incorrect usage, and the fact that I need to check).

    if you can’t readily tell if you’ve used the correct spelling when selecting between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’, using a different word is the best strategy.

    Not really a solution, Angus. How could you fail to mention the RAVEN acronym? Remember: Affect Verb, Effect Noun

    Last edited 11/02/13 4:32 pm

    'Affect' as a verb means make something happen. Example, you 'affect' change, meaning you make change happen.

      'Affect' as a verb means 'to act on'. 'Effect' as a verb means 'to bring about'. The difference in meaning is subtle but important. To 'affect change' means to act on change (eg. to alter change itself), but to 'effect change' means to bring about change. The latter is much more commonly intended.

    Bet yer glad you started this conversation Angus, huh.... !

    'Affect' is the verb. Simply remembering that has stopped me from ever getting it wrong.

    Correct spelling is only something that will concern the literate. Move on.

    I use the mnemonic 'RAVEN': Remember, Affect - Verb, Effect - Noun.

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