Rogue Words from A to Z: Abracadabra! Addressing Affect vs. Effect

A to Z 2015 Letter AWelcome to A to Z! To kick off my alphabet series on rogue words, I’m addressing the many magical properties of the words affect and effect. These slippery tricksters can give us all sorts of spelling grief.

The most important thing to remember is that affect with an “a” is usually a verb, while effect with an “e” is usually a noun. Let’s look at these most common usages first.

Affect as a Verb

One meaning of affect is “to pretend, feign, or assume a characteristic.”

Zan_Zig_performing_with_rabbit_and_roses,_magician_poster,_1899-2Albert the magician affected an air of confidence as he prepared to cast, but in truth, his insides were trembling.

The second (and most common) meaning of affect is “to influence or have an effect on.”

More than anything, Albert wanted his spell to affect the red-haired woman in the front row. He yearned to hear her declare her undying love for him.

Effect as a Noun

There are three main ways that effect is used as a noun.

One usage is the bizarre term “personal effects” to describe the things you keep in your purse or pockets.

Esmeralda wondered why the magician had needed one of her personal effects to perform a simple stage illusion.

Another meaning comes up a lot in stage work and movies:

As the magician waved his wand and chanted some words, Esmeralda waited for all the sound and light effects to kick in. Nothing happened.

The most common meaning of effect is “result or consequence.” Affecting something means you have an influence on it (like a magician’s influence on another person). The result of this influence is an effect (like a declaration of love). Which brings us to…

Albert looked expectantly at the woman to see the effect of his spell.

Affect as a Noun

Let’s look at the unusual case where affect is a noun. In psychology, affect is used to describe someone’s emotional state.

The red-haired woman’s affect had changed, but it wasn’t lustful happiness — more like terminal boredom.

Effect as a Verb

And finally, effect can be a verb that means “to bring about or produce.”

Albert was dismayed to find that his spell had not effected the change he had wanted. Instead, his stage rabbit jumped up and began to compulsively nibble on his ear.

The moral of the story?

Affect is almost always a verb, which has an effect that is a noun. To remember the rest, just think about Albert and Esmeralda.

And don’t give strange magicians any of your personal effects.

Bonus Word: Address

Since I am addressing affect vs. effect, it makes sense for me to talk about address, which can be difficult to spell. Think of add + dress – the first has two “d”s, and the second has two “s”s. Put them together and you have address.

Esmeralda was not going to add that magician’s name to her address book. Not only was he an awful magician — he was terribly dressed. And that rabbit accessory sure wasn’t helping.


This post is dedicated to Nicole de Courval and Olivia Berrier.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Definitions are from Garner’s Modern American Usage, with some help from the site Common Errors in English Usage

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will blindside the bothersome letter B…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

69 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: Abracadabra! Addressing Affect vs. Effect

  1. Alakazam 🙂 Great article. Thanks for sharing this. I’m looking forward to your A-to-Z posts this month! I hope they don’t disappear 🙂 This is my first year to participate in A-to-Z. If you are so inclined, feel free to drop by and leave a thought or two.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Roger! I think grammar is a necessary evil for a lot of people, and so I wanted to try making it fun. It’s nice to meet someone else who works with English. Looking forward to checking out your writing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL – I admit that I am someone who says “my stuff”… sometimes you know a lot of words, but it doesn’t mean you actually get around to using them. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. thank you Sue for that educative & amusing post! Albert & Esmeralda will be great tools to remember the verb & the noun. Looking forward your “blindside” of boring “b”!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your theme. And a very timely post since I was just discussing the difference in these very words late last week, to the EN101 students I teach at a local community college. I will have to send them to this blog as a resource (so they, hopefully, never forget the difference!) Looking forward to the rest of your posts this month in the challenge. Happy blogging!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Kat, that is excellent timing. That’s fantastic news that you think my post will be helpful for your students. I love teaching. Happy blogging to you as well! 🙂


  4. Affect and effect used to give me such trouble when I was younger until I learned about the verb vs noun trick. Looking forward to the rest of the alphabet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure you should thank me in that case, N J! 😉 The more I learn about grammar and style, the more I find out that hardly anything is black and white. It’s an adventure!


  5. Well done! When I’m about to use “affect” or “effect,” I always have to stop and think to make sure I get the correct one. Thinking about the stage magician’s act will help me remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ooh this was a good one. Affect/effect, tricky little beasts. I particularly like how “effect” is used in the definition of “affect.” 😀

    Interestingly, “address” in Swedish is spelled “adress” so, yeah, I get confused there sometimes too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sara! I didn’t know “address” has only one D in Swedish – thanks for sharing that tidbit.

      It’s amazing how many words in the dictionary are defined in that circular way. Apparently even dictionary writers have a hard time explaining things. 🙂


  7. It is tricky, but it gets my goat when people get it wrong, I can’t help it! I can’t think of “effect” as a verb being used in anything other than “effect a change”. Which is quite odd, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Nick! I think we all have our different blind spots when it comes to words. I don’t have trouble with affect and effect, but I certainly do with some others!


  8. Hee, hee. I certainly will not give any personal effects to any magicians. I usually remember the two words by the noun/verb distinction, but there are the exceptions, and now I have a great way to remember those, too. 🙂 Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my goodness!!!! I don’t think I’ve EVER been so delighted by a grammar lesson 🙂 I’ve never seen anyone have their example sentences tell a story. Thank you so much for this! I am SO sharing this on facebook. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi, your blog was recommended to me and so I’ve just through all your fantastic A to Z posts – excellent articles, enjoyable reading and useful tips 🙂 I look forward to visiting again

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Apologies for not popping by sooner – wow! You HAVE been busy – I’ve got a LOT to catch up on…
    Wherever u go, I Follow… several parsecs behind it seems!
    This affect/effect business is a vital call – I mastered that long ago anyway! but I see people get it wrong time and time again
    Great Post, great service

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries, Brad! I have been busy, yes – as soon as I can find the time I will be sure to come by your way and see what you’ve been up to. 🙂 Glad you liked the post, and that you’ve already mastered affect and effect!

      Liked by 1 person

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