The Writer’s Toolbox – Special Effects

The CGI wizards discussed effecting some special effects that would affect each viewer’s affect.

Tongue tied in knots? Try spelling it! Effect and affect are commonly confused and misspelled even by grammar gurus. This week’s Toolbox will sort the two words and their various usages and meanings.

The Verb Effect Does Not Mean Influence
This is where most of the mix-ups occur: the verb effect does not mean “to influence.” That’s affect (which can also mean to influence emotions specifically). Effect, when used as a verb, means “to produce” or “to bring about”?as in the following examples:

Example A: The council voted to effect changes to the organization’s charter. The council wanted to “bring about” changes, so you should use effect.

Example B: Ariana’s letters effected several new policies toward foreign students. This is a tricky one, but if you’re trying to say that because of Ariana’s letters, new policies came into being, use effect.

Contrast that with these examples showing the common verb use of affect:

Example C: I think the heat has affected my appetite. The heat influenced the appetite, so use affect.

Example D: The movie deeply affected him. Again, the movie influenced him emotionally, so affect is correct.

What about these?

Example E: When the school districting by-laws are effected, it may affect your child’s placement. The first is effect, since it refers to something being brought about (the by-laws); the second is affect, since it involves influencing something or someone (placement).

Example F: Ariana’s letters affected the new policies toward foreign students. Compare this sentence with Example B above; here, using affect instead of effect changes the meaning. Now you’re saying that Ariana’s letters influenced the new (presumably pre-existing) policies rather than bringing them about.

A final note: it’s fun to go through some of the trickier examples, but as a general rule, mixing both forms can cause confusion to your reader. If there’s a chance your sentence will be misread, find a different way to say it.

Almost Never Use the Noun Affect
The noun effect is much more common; it means “outcome” or “result.” The noun affect is a real word, but it’s a psychology term that’s not used much outside that field (it refers to a person’s emotional state).

The majority of the time, if you want a noun, use effect.

Example G: Ariana’s letters had a surprising effect on the student body.

Cheat Sheet
Still a little confused? This quick two-question process may help.

Noun? Use effect (unless you’re writing a psychology paper).

Verb? If you’re writing about influencing a thing or state already in existence, use affect (the two a’s go together). If you’re writing about bringing about changes that have (had) not yet happened, use effect (the two e’s go together).

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.

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