affect vs. effect

elephant-84186_640I was recently asked by a devoted reader of my blog (okay, it was my husband) to do a post on how to remember when to use “affect” and when to use “effect” so one would never forget. Coincidentally, around that same time I watched a Ted Talk on a technique called the memory palace that anyone can learn and apply to improve his/her ability to remember things. So – would the memory palace approach work for remembering grammar rules? I decided to put it to the test.

First, I needed to make sure I understood the difference between the two words before figuring out how to remember them. Here goes. Both “affect” and “effect” have a verb form and a noun form. The rule of thumb is that “affect” is most commonly used as a verb, while “effect” is most commonly used as a noun. To remember:

“Think of Edgar Allen Poe and his RAVEN: Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun.”

  • “Affect” as a verb means to influence, more subtle than directly causing something. An example: “The rainy weather will affect the number of people camping over Memorial Day weekend.”
  • “Affect” as a noun should rarely be used. You see it most often in psychology to describe someones emotional state, as in this example: “He has a flat affect.”
  • “Effect” as a noun means the outcome or result. It’s easiest to remember it as part of the phrase “cause and effect.” In the sentence, “The project’s success was a direct effect of her hard work,” the “cause” is “hard work” and the “effect” is the project’s success.” “It’s also commonly used in the phrase “had an effect,” such as “His history of tardiness had a negative effect on his work performance.”
  • “Effect” as a verb means to bring about. You most often see it used in the context of “effecting change.”

Update: It’s now been more than a week since I drafted this post to this point. In the interim, I have ruminated on visuals that would do the trick, something like, “An aardvark (with a flat affect) affectionately affected…” or “An elephant did [something] that was a direct effect of its efficient work.” But that’s as far as I’ve been able to develop the idea, and I have been getting the feeling that I would never meet this challenge. Today, my hunch was confirmed. I was writing brochure copy for a client and used the phrase “effect change.” I felt reasonably confident that this was correct, but still couldn’t bring myself to write on without Googling it to confirm. It was a valiant effort, but I’m throwing in the towel. #memorypalacefail

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