If you've ever stared at the words affect and effect so long that they turned into nonsense before you could figure out which one you ought to use, this post is for you. We have two quick mnemonic devices that will help you remember how to use these almost-homophones properly--most of the time. We'll talk about the rule-breakers at the end.
A is for ACTION and AFFECT.
To affect something is an action. I might affect a chain of dominoes by tipping the first one over.
Cause and effect becomes CausEffect. You can also think of it as ChangEffect.
An effect is a noun.
He made the kids smile; he had that effect on everyone.
So I affected the dominoes by pushing them; a side effect was the clatter and the mess.
An effect of reading this blog is better editing skills.
You affect your chances of being published by working hard.
These are the standard ways of using affect/effect, so most of the time those tips will steer you in the right direction. HOWEVER. Because English is such a fun and exciting language, effect occasionally is used as a verb and affect as a noun.
Effect is still always a part of cause and effect, though, so when it becomes a verb, it basically becomes a stand-in for "cause". And it's usually used with "change" or "solution" as its direct object. So someone can effect change (cause a change) or effect a solution (cause/create a solution).
Affect as a noun is even rarer in contemporary English. It means "a feeling, emotion, or specific emotional response." It's often used in cases where the attitude or emotion the person is displaying seems false, or affected.
So to sum up: A, Action, Affect (verb). Cause and effect go together to become CausEffect (noun).
And I'll admit that after typing all of this, I don't want to see the words affect OR effect again for a very long time. That's quite the effect!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!