Homophones can be confusing. Luckily, there’s an easy way to remember affect vs. effect.
I see it all the time: affect and effect mixed up as if they were completely interchangeable.
But they’re not.
These two homophones may sound exactly alike, but they don’t even belong to the same parts of speech!
If you’ve ever written one of these words and scrunched up your eyebrows wondering whether to spell it with an a or an e, then this grammar lesson is for you!
Affect vs. Effect
In the ongoing wars between homophones, affect vs. effect is one of the most brutal fights on the battlefield. One is usually a noun (but not always) and the other is usually a verb (but not always). So the war wages on, and in the meantime misspellings and typos run rampant whenever one of these two words appears in print.
Affect is almost always a verb. It is something that happens. You are affected (by someone or something) or you affect (someone or something). This word is never preceded by an article such as an or the because it’s not a thing, it’s an action. When you’re writing, or speaking for that matter, and are unsure of the spelling, ask yourself if the word is being used as an action. If it is, then go with affect.
a = action
a = affect
Effect is a noun, and that is a thing. It’s not something you do, it’s something you have or give or something that just is. We hear this word most commonly in reference to fancy film making — you know — special effects. “The special effects in that movie were groundbreaking!” Note the use of the article, the, as in the effect. See that? Easy!
the = article
effect = noun
If you are using effect as a noun, you can pair it with the: the effect
Also note that if used with an adjective (or noun phrase), it’s effect (with an e):
- After effect
- Special effect
- Greenhouse effect
- Sound effect
- Effects of alcohol
- In effect…
- Adverse effects
- Positive/negative effects
- Cause and effect
- Side effects
Notes for Consideration
Some people will pronounce these words different, but pronunciation is often indistinguishable. As with all things pertaining to writing and grammar, there are exceptions to every rule, including how these two homophones are used. This post covers the most common usage. Your mileage may vary.
That’s all for today! Do you think the battle of affect vs. effect can be won? Will we eventually learn how to spell these two homophones correctly or will they someday merge into a single word?
If you have any tips or tricks for remembering how to spell affect vs. effect please share your knowledge. If you are stuck on any homophones, drop a comment. There’s a good chance your grammar question will be answered in the comments or in an upcoming post.