Because a good deal of communication is verbal, some people may experience challenges with homophones (words that sound the same) when it comes to the written word. This applies not only to blogging and freelance writing, but also casual e-mails, academic essays, and random content that you may post on a social networking site. It gets even more confusing when a word is spelled exactly the same way, but can have two different meanings.

Two weeks ago, I talked about the difference between its and it’s, two words that sound exactly the same way but carry quite different meanings. Today’s discussion will explain the difference between affect and effect. I see people misusing these two words all the time.

Affect as a Verb

Affect, when used as a verb, has a similar meaning as the verb “influence” or “to have an influence on”. Very commonly, people may use effect for this meaning and that is incorrect.

Correct: Tom Brady’s injury is going to affect the New England Patriots‘ season.

Incorrect: Tom Brady’s injury is going to effect the New England Patriots’ season.

Affect as a Noun

A more esoteric use of affect comes from the realm of psychology. When used as a noun, affect relates to emotion and feelings. This word is used quite often among psychologists and psychiatrists, but it’s not a word that is used in everyday language. We just say emotion.

Example: One of the symptoms of depression is persistent negative affect.

Effect as a Noun

We’re all pretty familiar with the word effect when used as a noun. As I mentioned earlier, some people may confuse effect for affect, using the former as a verb when it should be the latter. Generally, an effect is the result of something being affected.

Example: Tom Brady’s injury is really going to have a big effect on the Patriots’ chances of winning the Super Bowl.

Effect as a Verb

Even people who think they have a great grasp on the difference between effect and affect may not be familiar with this other use for the word effect. Yes, effect can also be used as a verb, but it does not have the same “to have an influence on” definition as affect. Effect can be a verb meaning “to create” or “to cause”.

Example: Barack Obama is really trying to effect positive change in America.

Note in this sentence, the meaning is that Barack Obama is trying to bring, cause, or create change to America. If I replaced “effect” with “affect” in the sentence, the meaning would change to Obama trying to influence (or to alter) positive change in America, which doesn’t really make sense.

Other Uses for Affect and Effect

As if these four definitions weren’t confusing enough, there are additional uses for the words “affect” and “effect”.

For instance, the common phrase is “to take effect” and not “to take affect”. A proper sentence would be “I’m waiting for the new rules to take effect.” The word “effect” can also be used as a noun related to belongings, as in “your personal effects”.

A very uncommon use of the word “affect” relates to making a display or showing off. For example, an actor may take on an “affected accent” when he is portraying a pretentious person. This usage is correct, but rarely used.

Affect and Effect in a Nutshell

If you were confused even further by this post, focus on the two most common definitions. Affect, as a verb, usually means to influence. Effect, as a noun, is the result of something being affected. The bad weather really affected Joe’s driving ability. The effect was a car accident. Get it?