Affect or effect?

Posted on 6 May 2014 by Lucy Gregory

Affect or effect?

Both words refer to the impact that something has on something else. But their meanings are subtly different.

‘Affect’

‘Affect’ is a verb (an action word). It means to have an influence on or to produce a change in something.

Examples:

The 10 cups of coffee I drink every day may affect my health.

These changes should significantly affect productivity.

If I get drunk at the office party, will it affect my chances of promotion?

For completeness, it’s worth mentioning that ‘affect’ can be used as a noun. It’s a technical psychology term meaning an emotion or desire. This is irrelevant for most business writers, but I don’t want to insult my psychologist readers by leaving it out.
 
 

‘Effect’ as a noun

‘Effect’ is most commonly used as a noun. It means the result or consequence of something on something else.

Examples:

The 10 cups of coffee I drink every day may have an effect on my health.

These changes should produce a significant effect on productivity.

If I get drunk at the office party, what will be the effect on my chances of promotion?

 
You’ll notice that in each example ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’ comes before ‘effect’. These words are known as ‘articles’, and they often come before a noun. If you need to write one of these words before your affect/effect, then the correct choice is ‘effect’. (The only time this won’t be the case is if you’re referring to the psychology meaning of ‘affect’ I mention above.)
 
 

‘Effect’ as a verb

Very occasionally, you might use ‘effect’ as a verb. In this context, ‘effect’ means to bring about something or to cause something to occur. This use of ‘effect’ is quite formal and bureaucratic. Best to avoid it if you can.

Examples:

The lawyers worked hard through the night to effect the transaction.

Please effect changes to your report by Friday.