• Debbie Rasure

Sorting out affect vs. effect

Every writer has certain stumbling blocks, words or rules we routinely get wrong or have to look up. For me, one of those is whether to use affect or effect.

I’ve read several explanations that seemed clear when I was reading them, but in the heat of the writing moment I would still have trouble figuring out which was correct. And afterwards, I’d have writer’s remorse, never feeling confident I’d done it correctly. I suspect many writers (and people in general) have the same problem because I often see or hear the word impact being used – and in my mind, that’s just wrong! I know English is a living language, but to me, the word impact will always mean to hit or crash into something. But, more on this later.

Recently, I discovered an explanation for my affect vs. effect quandary that makes more sense than anything I’ve encountered in the past. It came by way of Microsoft Word’s smart lookup function which is “powered by” Oxford Dictionaries, part of Oxford University Press, a department of the University of Oxford. Yes, that Oxford. Here’s what those wondrous word nerds had to say about my conundrum:

Affect as a verb means to have an effect on (I know, not much help here, but bear with me) or to make a difference to.

Hmm . . . make a difference to. Now that started to clear the fog, but my understanding was still a little fuzzy. Then I read the synonyms and found the word influence, and it clicked.

So, affect means to make a difference to or to influence.

That’s a little better.

Now on to that pesky word, effect.

Effect can be used as a noun or a verb. Well, of course it can. That’s what makes it so dang confusing!

Our friends across the pond say as a noun, effect means a change that is a result or a consequence of an action or some other cause. Ok, that’s pretty clear.

And as a verb, effect means to cause something to happen. Again, easy enough to understand.

So, there you have it:

Affect means to make a difference to or to influence.

Effect as a noun means the result or consequence of something.

Effect as a verb means to cause something to happen.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?


Then our lovely British friends had to go and spoil all the warm fuzzies by defining impact.

Impact used as a noun means the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another. I can buy that.

As a verb, impact means to come into forcible contact with another object. I have no argument with this explanation either, but then they continue with a second definition. Impact as a verb means to have a strong effect on someone or something.

Whaaaat? Now this is where I start to reconsider my affections for old Blighty. Why go and muddy the waters again?

It’s just like the Oxford comma. No. Wait. I like the Oxford comma.

What words or rules make you stumble? Please share in the comments below.



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