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A Word, Please: In general, 'affect' is a verb, 'effect' a noun

April 23, 2014|By June Casagrande

A user on Twitter asked me recently about the difference between "affect" and "effect." Specifically, she wanted to know which to use in the phrase "the affect/effect of celebrity endorsements."

The difference between "affect" and "effect" is Grammar 101. It's one of the first things any aspiring copy editor is sure to note. And it's something I've written about so many times that I'm always surprised when people ask about it.

So, naturally, I answered the question wrong. In a moment of haste, I glossed right over the words "the" and "of," instead reading the example as something like "Such and such will affect celebrity endorsements."

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Had that been her question, my answer would have been right. Unfortunately, the words "the" and "of" in the phrase "the effect of celebrity endorsements" make all the difference in the world, rendering this a passage clearly in need of a noun. Yet I told her to use the verb "affect."

There's an important lesson here about carelessness. Unfortunately, I may be more in need of that lesson than anyone reading this. But here it is anyway: When you're minding your Ps and Qs, mind your Ps and Qs. A great many language errors are born not of ignorance but of haste.

Of course, slow, cautious reading and writing aren't the only ingredients for proper use of "affect" and "effect." You have to know the difference too.

In most cases, the difference is simple. "Affect" is a verb, and "effect" is a noun. So if you're using it as an action, as in "Caffeine doesn't affect me," you usually want the one that begins with A. If you're treating it as a thing, as in "Caffeine has a bad effect on me," you usually want the one that begins with an e.

To remember this, I used to think of the term "side effect," which is clearly a noun, and I would note that the E at the end of "side" prompts me to use an E to start the next word as well.

"Affect" and "effect" are usually simple. But like many things in language, there's a twist. Luckily, it's rare and hardly ever comes up in casual writing. If you're still on shaky ground with "affect" and "effect," you might want to just think of the former as a verb and the latter as a noun and leave it at that. But if you can handle a wrench thrown into the works, here it is: Sometimes "effect" is a verb and sometimes "affect" is a noun.

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