The Grammarnatrix

This grammar lesson takes effect immediately

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This week the Grammarmatrix answers the never-ending question, “How do you know whether you should use the word affect or effect in a sentence?”

If you look up the words affect and effect in the dictionary, the Oxford American Dictionary says those two words “have totally different meanings and should not be confused.” The American Heritage Dictionary states “the tendency to confuse the words must be guarded against closely.” We have never seen a dictionary warn against the wrong usage of words! A very ominous sign! There’s no warning in the definitions of affable and effable, or frail and fragile, so the logical conclusion is that it’s pretty darn serious to confuse the words affect and effect!

This brings us to the very serious lesson in learning the difference between affect and effect. So here it is: As a verb, affect means to have an influence on, as how exercise affects our health. It also can bring a change in emotions, as in how laughter affects our attitude. Effect as a verb is to bring about, or to accomplish, as how a decision can effect a settlement. As nouns, affect is limited to use in psychology, as someone’s flat affect, and effect is a result or outcome.

So there it is. You will never have to ponder the difference between affect and effect again! However, if your curiosity gets the best of you and you delve into why the dictionaries have chosen to warn against confusing those two specific words, let the Grammarmatrix know! I’m sure the inquisitive Insider readers would relish the follow up.

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