A classic problem of English usage. Unfortunately, the commonest advice usually simplifies the matter as follows:

Affect is a verb meaning “to change or to make a difference”; effect is a noun meaning “the result of a change.”

In fact, both affect and effect can be either a verb or a noun, and there is a much wider range of meaning than indicated above.

Affect, v.

to change, to make a difference, to have a material effect

  • The weather will surely affect my plans this weekend.
  • The hole in the bucket deleteriously affects its utility.

to impress, to touch, to move, to have an emotional effect

  • His severe mien affected my perception of his character.
  • The soprano’s performance affected my mood for a week.

to pretend, to feign, to assume a display for appearance’s sake, to prefer (for appearance’s sake)

  • He affected surprise, even though he had learned of the news beforehand.
  • So persuasively did she affect a certain country folksiness that no one ever did guess that she was a multimillionaire manufacturing magnate.
  • Punk rockers will often affect a countercultural attitude so as to appear authentic to their fans, whereas the production and sale of their products belie such pretensions.

Affect, n.

a disposition, feeling, temper, affection

  • A sombre affect pervaded the funeral parlor.
  • The spring rain suggested to the poet an affect for her verse.
  • His affect was phlegmatic and elusive.

an affectation (rarer)

  • She assumed an affect of indifference [to avoid showing how much she really cared].

Effect, v.

to cause, to bring about, to accomplish or to obtain an effect, to bring to completion [perfective]

  • The signing of the law effected the long-awaited policy.
  • By no means can impossible goals be effected.

to cause, to carry out, to put into effect, to inaugurate [progressive]

  • One must pay the insurance premium to effect coverage.
  • Step by step, we can effect the changes we seek.

Effect, n.

a state or fact of being operative or in force

  • Although no longer in effect, the law still holds sway in the civic consciousness.
  • This toilet is out of order with immediate effect.
  • The insurance certificate takes effect on the first of the month.

a result, a consequence, a thing accomplished, a phenomenon

  • Although the law has been repealed, it still retains an effect in the civic consciousness.
  • Wind is an effect of the mixing of air masses of different temperatures.
  • The team hopes that the effect of their rigorous training shall be victory and glory.
  • The Pied Piper effect suggests that if we can persuade the chair, the committee will follow.

a (desirable) purpose, a (pleasing or remarkable) gestalt [related to previous sense]; often pl.

  • Mozart deploys the trombones to great effect in his Requiem.
  • Confetti at a party often has a disappointing effect.
  • The impressionistic color effects of painters like Monet helped give their movement its name.



A small fish to fry

I’ve been doing a lot of extra editorial work during COVID-19. I recently came across this startling opinion of a New Grammarian, who would have us write, “Who’s learning from who.” They (sg.) contend that the interrogative pronoun is always who, uninflected for case, and that it is only the relative pronoun who(m) that is inflected, and even then only optionally. The latter bit is well known, but the first bit arouses tears of anguish: the precept leads to such eyesores as “From who is the message,” and all sorts. Then, I suppose the apocalypse is upon us, so whom cares.