Its Time to Improve You’re Grammar: ‘Affect’ Versus ‘Effect’

Are you affected by the dizzying (and profane) effects of this poorly punctuated photo? I thought so…

Gentle readers, I promise not to whup your collective behinds on this one, because it can stymie even the most anal-retentive of grammarians. Seriously.

Learning the difference between the meaning of the words affect and effect is resolvable by dictionary. Knowing WHEN to use each word in the proper context so you don’t drift into semi-illiteracy is not so easy. If you want, I’ll hold your hand as we cross this sometimes scary grammatical street together. Ready?

Memorize This – Most of the Time, Affect Is a Verb: According to my beloved Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, affect means “To produce a material influence upon or alteration in…” (basically, to influence). But this is one tricky verb; affect can also mean “To put on a pretense of: feign…” (basically, to act in a way that isn’t true). What you need to remember is that most often, affect is an action word used as a verb.

Do Moonlight and Tequila Affect Your Mood?:  If you have fair skin, sit under a shady umbrella to avoid being affected by the merciless summer sun. The three-year-old boy’s wet diaper affects his skin and his mother’s patience, but not necessarily in that order. Despite everyone telling Delilah her perfume smelled like dead dandelions, she affected a coy attitude of, “Doesn’t everyone make their own cologne from weeds?”

Memorize This – Most of the Time, Effect Is a Noun: My dictionary offers multiple definitions for effect that basically point in one general direction – a result, an outward sign, an impression, etc. Because a noun is a person, place, or thing, think of an effect as an intangible thing. What you need to remember is that most times, you’ll use the word effect as a noun.

Moonlight and Tequila Have No Effect on Me Whatsoever!: If you have fair skin, sit under a shady umbrella to avoid the merciless summer sun’s effects. When will the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds finally be rewritten as a musical? According to Wikipedia, “Special effects are traditionally divided into the categories of optical effects and mechanical effects.”

I’m sure you’re catching on: use affect as a verb, use effect as a noun. Easy, right? But there are infrequent occasions when these two words flip their usage. Sorry to have to tell you this…

Rather than confuse you with a longer blog post, I’m going to let the highly respected Grammar Girl offer you her explanation for rare uses of affect and effect (scroll down after you click). She even offers snarky illustrations and a mnemonic device to help you master the whole affect-versus-effect dilemma. No more excuses regarding this one – you’ve been informed.

Do you feel you now better understand when to use affect and effect in your daily writing efforts? What other grammatical challenges would you like me to help you with in future blog posts? And now, to correct this post’s title: It’s Time to Improve Your Grammar!

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Call her (856-810-9764) or email her ( for a no-obligation project quote today!

2 Responses to Its Time to Improve You’re Grammar: ‘Affect’ Versus ‘Effect’

    • Hi Tobi,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this blog post, but I know I’m preaching to your editorial choir. So that you know, I did address both the “your vs. you’re” and “its vs. it’s” issues in a blog post from last year. I will attempt to link to it here:

      I haven’t yet tackled “their vs. they’re vs. there,” so I’ll note it for a future blog entry. Thanks for your eyeball attention, Tobi!