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Commonly Confused Words: Affect & Effect


Earlier this week, my husband and I were watching the local evening news when a story came on about a water main break. In large white letters against a bright blue background, the headline read, "AREAS EFFECTED." Since I was multi-tasking while only half-listening to the television, I didn't notice the error, but my husband pointed it out immediately. (I've taught him well!) "Didn't they spell affected wrong?" he asked. He was correct, but most people probably didn't even notice the error because the words affect and effect are two of the most confused words in the English language!

The following examples demonstrate some other common ways these words are misused. Remember, these are examples of what NOT to do!

●  I suffered terrible side affects from that medication.
●  They were not effected by the recent heat wave.
●  You would be surprised how many affects your words have on other people.

The words affect and effect can each be used in at least two different ways, which contributes to the confusion. However, most people use each word in only one way, unless they are psychologists or avid writers. For the purposes of this week's grammar tip, we will completely ignore the other two meanings so we can clarify how these words should be used in everyday language.

For me, the easiest way to keep these words straight is to identify whether the word is being used as a noun or a verb. According to the 10th edition of The Gregg Reference Manual (¶1101), the word affect is typically used as a verb meaning to influence while the word effect is typically used as a noun meaning result.

Try taking this quick quiz using the above rules. First try to identify whether the missing word should be a noun or verb, and then choose whether to use affect or effect. Remember: effect = noun = result and affect = verb = to influence.

A. The large donation did not ________ my vote.
B. Smoking can have an adverse ________  on your health.
C. This novel had a long-lasting ________  on my thinking.
D. That movie really ________(ed) my mood in a bad way.
E. How did the staffing cuts ________  the company's performance?

You'll find the correct answers at the bottom of the page. I hope your mood is not affected if you made a few mistakes! Keep practicing -- the effects will be worth the effort!

Please remember that both words can be used in other ways, so don't automatically assume a writer has used the word incorrectly just because it's used in a different variation.

Answers:  A. affect    B. effect     C. effect    D. affected    E. affect

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