The English language contains more than 500,000 words, many of them borrowed from other languages. Its closest competitor in the language sweepstakes is German, with just under 200,000 words. Because of these verbal riches, English is more semantically complex than any other language.
One indication of this complexity are homophones: words that have the same or similar pronunciations, but different meanings and functions. Here are some examples:
meat, meet, mete
right, rite, write
their, there, they’re
to, too, two
Affect vs. Effect
Affect and effect are a particularly tricky pair of homonyms, since each can function as a noun and a verb. The definitions listed below are those most frequently used, but if you consult a dictionary you’ll see that there are others, as well.
Both of these words came from the Latin word facere, which means “to do” or “to make.” The words “effective” and “feckless” share the same root.
Let’s take a look at the ways affect and effect are used.
Affect is often used as a verb to describe change—or something intended to look like change.
Affect (verb): 1) to alter, modify, or change; 2) influence emotionally; 3) adopt, feign, pretend
- The medicine will affect your balance for a while.
- Losing him has affected her deeply.
- He affected a hearty laugh to hide his disappointment.
But affect can also be used as a noun; in this context it refers to a person’s appearance, often with a medical connotation.
Affect (noun): facial expression, especially as it conveys emotion
- After hearing the traumatic news, her affect became wildly contorted and she began to laugh hysterically.
- Changes in affect can be caused by psychological disorders.
Pro tip: The most common way to use the word affect is as a verb meaning “to change something.”
Using effect as a verb does NOT mean to change something, and that’s a common error people make.
When used as a noun, effect describes a result or appearance
Effect (noun): 1) result; 2) impression; 3) outward, usually deceptive appearance
- The opioid epidemic shows the devastating effects of addiction.
- Simple furnishings and cool colors gave the room a calming effect.
- Her tears were purely for effect.
As a verb, effect means “to make happen.”
Effect (verb): 1) cause, prompt, elicit; 2) make operative
- Streaming has effected widespread changes in the music industry.
- The terrible news effected heartfelt sobs.
- We were elected, the senator said, to effect the will of the people
Pro tip: The word effect is most often used as a noun meaning the results of an action.
Here are some sentences that use both affect and effect. See if you can identify which are nouns and which are verbs.
- The effects of heavy drinking can affect your whole day.
- Although the news should have effected sadness, her affect remained immovable.
- He affected indifference, which created an uncaring effect.
- He was deeply affected by the tragedy, the effects of which were scattered around him.
If you’d like to delve more deeply into the affect/effect pool, take a look at the Grammarly.com article on this subject