Easily Confused Words: “Affect” vs. “Effect”

Jen Dziura —  March 26, 2012 — Leave a comment

Many students have been quite confused by questions like this one:

An outspoken advocate of reform, Olympia has long worked to ________ change in what others see as an irreparably corrupt system.

Select two choices:
censure forego prompt effect impede hinder

This would be a pretty easy question if we only had to pick one answer — prompt works pretty nicely and is a correct choice.

The other correct choice is effect.

Really? Is that even a verb?

Affect vs. effect is confusing because both words can be used a both nouns and verbs! However, some of those uses are rare.

Most commonly:

Affect is a VERB, as in, “That movie really AFFECTED me.”

Effect is a NOUN, as in, “The treatment has some side EFFECTS.”

Much less commonly…

Affect as a noun is a term in psychology (“the emotion associated with an idea”), but you will probably never hear this.

Effect as a verb is more interesting — it means to bring about, to cause to occur. That is how we are using it in the question above.

The verb effect is most commonly used as a sort of “business speak,” often in the expression “to effect change.” For example, “An appreciation of diversity is needed if we are to truly effect change.”

Consider these two correct sentences with different meanings:

My mother’s phone call really AFFECTED my decision. (Whatever my mother said influenced my choice.)

My mother’s phone call really EFFECTED my decision. (My mom forced me to decide right now.)

Jen Dziura

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Jennifer Dziura is Manhattan Prep's GRE Blog Editor and Lead Content Developer. She writes books and curricula for the GRE, and is the author of Manhattan Prep's 500 Essential Words and 500 Advanced Words flashcard sets. Also a GMAT and SAT expert, Jennifer uses her obviously copious spare time to co-host an adult spelling bee in a bar and travel to colleges and universities to give humorous talks about philosophy and punctuation. She is working on a book about speed mathematics.

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