Question: “I’ve always had trouble using affect and effect correctly. What is the proper way to use them?
Answer: The simple answer here is that, 90 percent of the time, affect with an “a” is a verb and effect with an “e” is a noun.
For example, to use affect, you might say: “This year’s drought has negatively affected my tomato plants.” Conversely, to use effect, you would say: “The drought has had a negative effect on my tomato plants.”
To look at it another way, to affect something is to take action to influence it. An effect is the resulting influence.
When European explorers came to theAmericas, for example, they affected the native populations by bringing in new diseases. The effect was sickness and death due to new strains of illness like small pox.
To help you remember the common noun usage of effect, try to figure out of it would require an article (“a,” “an” or “the”) before the word. If you would say “an effect,” you’ll want to go with effect with an “e.”
Things get a little hairier, however, with the other, less-common uses of affect and effect. When affect is used as a noun, it refers to feelings and emotions, or the appearance thereof. You will see this word used sometimes in reference to court cases as psychiatrists analyze a defendant’s demeanor. After the recent shootings inColorado, many news outlets reported on the flat, emotionless affect of James Holmes, the man charged with the crime. Wonderfully enough, you can also use affect in this way as a verb as well, for example: “Heath Ledger affected a psychotic demeanor for his role as the Joker.
Finally, we come to effect used as a verb, which is tricky enough that many dictionaries even define it this way: “to produce as an effect.” Helpful, right?
I find the easiest way to remember this usage is to think of it as bringing about a specific change or accomplishment. A new helmet law might, for example, effect a 10 percent reduction in head trauma in motorcyclists. A contestant on “The Biggest Loser” might effect a 100-pound weight loss – which, of course, would affect their figure. In this usage, you will find often that article we looked for earlier after the verb instead of before it (“effect a change” versus “an effect”).