The “Effect or Affect?” Conundrum

Posted by – May 10, 2009

When should the word “affect” be used rather than “effect?”  Despite my English-Majorness, I’ve never mastered this rule.

I understand affect as noun that are refers to someone’s countenance (e.g. “he has a flat affect”) or as a transitive verb meaning “to make a false display of” (e.g. “he began to affect a British accent”) but the verb baffles me.   Wiktionary’s explanation just left me more confused, especially since it lists “effect” as a synonym of “affect.”  WHAT??

Saying “I want to affect policy in Washington” means I want to influence policy, yes?

And “the devastating effects of this policy” uses “effect.”

But for “this policy will negatively effect/affect people with disabilities,” which should be used???  AGHHHH!

English is a very difficult, irregular language!

Why?  Why is our grammar and usage such a mishmash??

Because of this:

This pie chart from Wikipedia displays the origins of English language words.  French and Old Norman: 28.3%, Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%, Other Germanic languages (Old English, Dutch, Old Norse): 25%, Greek: 5.32%, No etymology given: 4.03%, Derived from proper names: 3.28%

This pie chart from Wikipedia displays the origins of English language words. French and Old Norman: 28.3%, Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%, Germanic languages (Old English, Dutch, Old Norse): 25%, Greek: 5.32%, No etymology given: 4.03%, Derived from proper names: 3.28%

  • Mary Marshall Fowler

    Nick
    English certainly is a difficult language. I remember when I was a kid in grammar school, hearing “you spell it like it sounds”. And I knew even then that that statement was not true. Or, “just sound it out.” Ha!

    For myself, I just try to keep the “affect” and “effect” simple. I use “effect” mostly as a noun meaning “the results”. And, “affect” gets to be the verb. But, that doesn't clear up what some one else intended to say.
    And, quite a few people use either of those words incorrectly.

  • I really don't think that this is an accurate chart. Or it is typical colonialist intolerance for indigenous peoples. It ignores the influence of the celtic (Brythonic) languages completely, and lumps other with unknown, and there are very many words that we know where they came from, like from the periods of colonialization. English is far more international than this chart suggests. Don't end your search with wikipedia 🙂

    I think the challenges of english stem not only from its roots but from the breadth of its present usage. I love the fact that English can be spoken so differently around the world, as a local language, unlike say French or Japanese which are still centralized in one controlling institutional context