Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Affect and effect, and adding to the confusion

Leona said:
I keep getting pulled out of my story because I'm not sure how to use 'affect' and 'effect'. I had it explained by others who claim to know more than us mere mortals when helping my husband with his homework.

Okay, you know, I used to work on a Grammar Hotline, and yes, there was such a thing, back when the phone was the dominant means of communication. :) It was part of the IUPUI writing center, and when we weren't tutoring students (our real job), we were answering this phone.

And the number one question was "Affect or effect?" (Second was lay/lie.) So you're not alone.

It's complicated because usually it's one way, and then (esp. in psychology) it's the opposite.


Affect is the verb, and effect is the noun, and both refer to having an impact on something.

My lovely song affected my listeners, and caused a poignant effect especially on my mother.

Easy enough, huh? Just remember:

...Except they can both mean something else! In psychology, Affect is a noun that means something like "expression" mixed with "experience". (Anyone who has studied this, please correct me if I've got this wrong.) Someone with "low affect" probably doesn't express or maybe experience emotion the way most of us do, so "Jeffrey Dahmer exhibited low affect when he spoke of his murders."

And "effect" can also be a verb, but it doesn't mean "affect" or "cause an effect" exactly then. It means more to cause or make something happen, so "Dr. King effected a great change in the civil rights of our nation." It's a stronger, more "effective," verb than "affect".

So when affect is used as a verb, and effect is used as a noun, they are just different parts of speech meaning the same thing, to influence or cause an impact (though perhaps a little "softer" than impact).

But when affect is used as a noun, or effect is used as a verb, they are really no longer related to each other-- they are different activities. They are each related to the central meaning of impact, but they're sort of like "My sister's brother-in-law" in relationship; he is not MY brother-in-law.

This means, I guess, that you always have to stop and figure out what part of speech or role the word is playing in the sentence (noun or verb), and then whether you are meaning those related but not exact terms (effect-verb, affect-noun).

This is the BEST example of how the part of speech/sentence role is essential with word choice! Thanks!!

Will foreblog this, just because I find it interesting!

(The grammar hotline, alas, is no more. Funding dried up, but more than that, the web kind of took over. Here is a great link:I was looking up e.g./i.e. (YET AGAIN... some things just won't take up residence in my brain-- thank goodness for Google) and came across this helpful site that lists common usage errors (like auger/augur... okay, some NOT so common ones) and explains when to use each. Here's the page where the reasoning is explained.)



Skeptic said...

You are dead on correct with affect in psychology. Flat, blunted, restricted, etc., are all words we use with to describe "affect". It is our observation of the expression of emotional response.

It's sick and wrong, but whenever I read the word "affect", I have to think about what the writer means. My brain immediately goes to psych.

/back to lurking... (p.s. I love this blog!)

Edittorrent said...

It's even pronounced diff in psych, right?

Aaaffect. (almost long a)

At least that's the way I hear it.

And EEEEEffect is the verb. Not like Ehffect, noun.

Skep, can you give an example of a sentence with that form of affect? (noun)? I don't think I can come up with a good one.


Skeptic said...

Yeah, we tend to forward drawl affect, or as one of my southern siblings would say "Y'all put the emPHASIS on the wrong sylLABLE."

Mackenzie's affect was calm, as though nothing unusual happened today. He stood in the middle of the living room, blood dripping from his ear, Glock aimed at Halloran's head. His boot pinned the assassin to the floor.

Not a great example, but there is affect as a noun - describing an affect incongruous to the event.

Leona said...


Now all I have to do is book mark this blog as I have the links therein and I will at least be out of my dilemna quicker with the right answers at my fingertips :)

Skeptic, loved the example sentence :D

You have no idea how many times I refer to this blog and its grammar usage. My husband was smiling at my antics at getting help, even if my full understanding will be late in coming :P

I'm writing a fantasy for nanowrimo and it seems that affect/effect happen alot when people's husband/fathers are getting killed, magic goes awry, and dragons shapeshift! LOL

I think I said this but I'm over 40k now after big push yesterday. If I'd been smart and asked this question earlier, maybe I would be at 42k I was on a roll making up for lost time.

My personal goal is 75k or close thereof if the rough draft is finished. I tend to have to go back and add details and change it from tell to show, which adds words :)

Anyways, I'm rambling. thanks again for a woderful post that I can look back on fondly as the true goddess of grammar has enlightened me :D

and yes Murphy, that was a big smooch for the teach!

Sarah Ahiers said...

sigh. no matter how many times it's explained to me, i always forget.
Lunckily i tend to use it correctly on instinct alone. Phew!

Riley Murphy said...

and yes Murphy, that was a big smooch for the teach!

I didn't even say anything.....YET!:D

Man, oh man, Leona, have we reached that phase in our relationship where you can anticipate my every thought - complete my sentences? Preempt my sarcasm? Hey, (insert me frowning here) have you been talking to my husband?;)

Affect and effect? My dad always said: When you think of effect - think E for end because effect is the end result of the action and when you think of action think of the A in affect, because affect is current action.

Don't know how right that is - but his little explanations always stuck with me.

Alicia, after following your links I like this one too. (but, hehehe, I bet it gives you nightmares)

Hey, nobody ever said English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.


Leona said...


See me grinning from ear to ear at your previous post. I couldn't possibly talk to your husband, yet. I'd get the giggles. I see him as some sort of mystery meat with eggplant arms :P

Truly, as I wrote that last heartfelt statement I could hear your words floating around in my head. You have no idea how I've struggled with these two particular words. Thanks for the 'E for End' memory aid, by the way.

As she quoted in my post, others who have proclaimed themselves above the rest of us mortals have explained it and IT WAS WRONG. The english comp prof wrote OUCH over my husband's usage on his essay.

I am so grateful for this post and its links that I would have, at the first read, dropped on my knees in grateful prayer. The immediate relief is over, so now I'm just weak in the knees when I read it. :D

And you will probably have to tell me what you think of that over our proverbial drinks as it will be difficult for you to edit it for appropriateness for the internet public. LOL

Riley Murphy said...

Leona says:
I couldn't possibly talk to your husband, yet. I'd get the giggles. I see him as some sort of mystery meat with eggplant arms :P

Murphy says: (insert diabolical laugh here) Well, then, my work with that is done.:D

Come on! Mystery meat with eggplant arms? Now, that's a visual sure to keep his ego in check. Of course if I printed this and stuck it - front and center - on the fridge, next week (when he finally got around to noticing it) I'd be then stuck having to admit that I talk about him on the blog sometimes - which, would do nothing, but inflate his already fat head - fatter. Drat! I hate being served great material and then have no way to use it.;)

As an aside, did I ever tell you that following the evening of the eggplant - turned into a lame zucchini - I got a dozen roses with one shiny eggplant in the center of the bouquet delivered to our door? The card from him read: Just because...So, fat head and all, I suppose the guy has his moments...


em said...

Murph, you crack me up! Did you eat the eggplant?:)

Leona said...


That is so sweet! So let's get this straight, shall we.

The effect of your husband getting the wrong vegetable was a beautiful bouquet of roses with the correct vegetable. And that affected you by turning you into gooey mush. Is that right?

PS (I now see him with eggplant arms, zuchinni legs, and cabbage rose eyes :P)

Leona said...

Now after reading it I think I got it backwards. Did I? **insert groan here.

Edittorrent said...

Alicia, after following your links I like this one too. (but, hehehe, I bet it gives you nightmares)

Hey, nobody ever said English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.

There is an alternative. Know what's a problem for you and always check. Takes twenty seconds. You don't have to waste precious brain cells. Just think, hmm, I get lay/lie wrong sometimes. I'll check that nice website and make sure I have it right now.

My bete noir is-- like everyone's, I think-- its and it's. Whenever I type either, I stop and work out-- is this a possessive or a contraction? And I make sure I have it right.

Clare K. R. Miller said...

Great post! I have no trouble with affect/effect but the words make me giggle because there are so many different ways to use them. They also frustrate me because people are always getting them wrong...

I always had trouble with further/farther until you explained them in the blog. That was great! I love that website too.

Leona, I have to ask, where did you learn to spell dilemma "dilemna"? It's a misspelling, but a common one, and at a language forum I belong to we're trying to figure out if there's any root to it. Your data would be helpful! ;)

Riley Murphy said...

Hi Em: Did we eat the eggplant? Yep, but only after I showed him what it looked like. After all, he didn't go into the grocery store to pick it out, right? :)

Hi Leona: Two checks for you:) But: and cabbage rose eyes? You're killing me!

Alicia: Yes, that is an alternative, but it makes too much sense, doesn't it?:) I actually liked the explanation behind the scientific and/or psychological term of affect that one writer briefly touched on. He explained the difference and then blew it off by saying that it needn't be worried about as generally the people who have to use the term are smart enough to know how to use it correctly. Oh, okay then! Hilarious!


em said...

*Waves Murphy* :)

Leona: You're building Murphy quite a catch.;)

Alicia, I try to take the time to look up words that trip me up. Sometimes I just don't know that I;m mistaken until someone like you points it out.:)

Leona said...

Like em, I don't always know I'm doing something wrong until someone points it out.

clare? Dilemna? That's misspelled? For heaven's sake! there are times I misspell, but that one isn't one of them that I let go or didn't see.

Where did I get it? Well, here's my educated guess. I learned to love reading by reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. By the time I was twelve I had quickly gone from there to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, with a little Ngaio Marsh thrown in. I love mysteries in case you aren't familiar with all those authors.

Most of my spellings are old fashioned and come from reading these particular authors.

For instance, this is a list of words that I am constantly getting a back of the head slap for:

doughnuts, honour, colour, grey, are the most common. There are others that aren't coming to the front right now. I guess I'll have to add dilemna to the list! LOL

It will take awhile as I still spell all those words just the way I like them. (Who wants to eat dognuts anyway? Maybe they'd go well with mystery meat, but I don't want any LOL)

Unknown said...


You put the U in colour and honour? For me it's once a Brit always a Brit. Until my spell checker set to American standards corrects them for me.:)

Clare K. R. Miller said...

Leona: I figured you didn't know it was spelled wrong, most people who spell it that way seem to think that's just the way it's spelled! But unlike your other examples, it's neither old-fashioned nor British. It's just an incorrect spelling that seems to have cropped up all over the place. Did you go to a Catholic elementary school by any chance?

By the way, I'm pretty sure "doughnut" is still a correct spelling. At least, I'd rather write "doughnut" than "donut"! I also write "omelette" instead of "omelet." Oddly, Firefox seems to think "donut" is misspelled and "omelette" is also misspelled.

Leona said...

As a matter of fact, I did go to Catholic Elementary from 4-6 grades.

I started at Queen of Angels in Port Angeles, WA, and moved to St. Joseph's in Sunnyside, WA.

Now, I'm very curious... Is it an old fashioned Catholic Church spelling?

Amanda said...

That's too bad that the the Grammar Hotline got nixed. It would have been nice to have around when I went to IUPUI. Go Jags!

Edittorrent said...

Amanda, a couple years ago, the Jags got into the NCAA tourney. Amazing. We love the coach-- he's a loving loon.

Clare, I also always spell dilemma "dilemna" (I go back and fix it, but I always type that). I don't know why. But I did go to parochial school, so maybe it's a Catholic thing. :)


Adrian said...

Another good explanation for affect/effect is on Paul Brians's Common Errors in English website (and book). There's a link to it under the Useful Sites for Writers list on the side of this page. His explanation covers a couple other related words and usages, like "affectation".

Note that the 's' is part of his last name Brians, so the apostrophe is often misplaced.

Edittorrent said...

Adrian, yes, I didn't think of "affected" as an adjective, but that's a very common usage too.

Natalie Ford said...

It only gets confusing when counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other p-doctors talk about "your affect". Yes, it is affect used as a noun just to complicate matters and is descriptive of our emotional condition and behaviour, from what I can work out.