Usually I like to put the picture after the first paragraph, but he represents most people’s attitude about both my convoluted title and the differences between affect and effect so well that he had to be at the beginning.
So what do you do with two words that look similar and sound exactly the same and have confusingly similar meanings? You have to memorize. To help, I’ll give some general principles and then get into the specifics.
In general, affect is a verb that means “to influence.” And, in general, effect is used as a noun meaning “result.” If you can never remember the difference between the two, always using affect as a verb and effect as a noun will almost always put you on safe waters.
Now it’s time to get into the more obscure, fun, and difficult-to-remember definitions of these words. A not uncommon secondary meaning of affect as a verb is “to feign.” For example, “He affected ignorance to seem innocent.” A very obscure, and mostly technical, definition of affect used as a noun is “emotion.” This is almost exclusively used in psychological writings.
Now on to effect. Although it is most common to see effect as a noun, it can also function as a verb meaning “to bring about.” For example, “Global warming hasn’t effected much change.”
As a reader (not necessarily as an editor; I like correcting these sorts of things), I love seeing the less common uses of affect and effect. It especially feels good to see affect used as “to feign” and effect as “to bring about.” Both of these usages represent a higher register but not so high that most can’t understand them. Both usages add a nice flavor and a nice variety to a sentence. So this week see if you can affect a higher tone to effect joy to your readers’ hearts by trying out some of the more interesting usages of affect and effect.