Last month I said I would write some posts about my own grammar challenges with the hope that I help a few writers who suffer the same fate. Today I thought I’d look at the troublesome words affect and effect.
For years I had no clue about these words. To be honest, I just used them haphazardly. At one point, I put all of my bets on effect, and banned affect from my writing completely, and hoped that at least half of the time I’d be right. I write science textbooks. I’ve never done any research on it, but I believe that science textbooks use the words effect and affect at least 50% more than any other type of writing, so you can imagine the headache I became for my publisher.
I’d looked up the words many times trying to get a handle on their use, but one day in my searching, I realised the thing that sorted it out forever for me.
Affect is a verb.
Effect is a noun.
Now I could say such things as-
The effect of sulphuric acid on your hand is not something that you’re going to enjoy.
If you think that sulphuric acid affected you, wait until you dip your tongue in the sodium hydroxide.
-and confidently know that I was a-okay- grammatically at least.
This is not exactly set in stone as you can have effect behaving out of character, as English words are prone to do, and become a verb. An example would be:
The headmaster effected change in the science lab by banning all play involving acids and bases.
In this case, effect, instead of meaning the end result of an action, means to start, cause or initiate.
Affect also, very occasionally, misbehaves and becomes a noun, though pronounced differently with emphasis on the first syllable as in:
Despite the fact that many students were burned by the acid, with her psychological pathology, she showed very little affect.
You won’t use this often (it’s not even in my dictionary) so it’s best to do like me and forget about it entirely. It will just confuse you. Rather remember effect = noun, affect = verb, but just keep a careful eye on that wily effect when it wants to start something as it will have likely transformed itself into a verb.
As long as you do that you’ll be fine.
Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Botswana and blogs at Thoughts from Botswana. She is a member of the One World group, a group of international writers who met on the internet. They put together a collection of short stories and went searching for a publisher. New Internationalist stepped up to the plate and the book, which includes stories from Orange Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, is now on sale at Amazon. Buy it! All royalties go to Doctors without Borders.