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Think 'A' ... or 'E'

By Evan Jenkins

Mark Stevens, director of public information for the Denver Public Schools, e-mailed to ask about a fairly widespread mental block: "I could use a neat way to remember the correct use for 'affect' and 'effect.' " Here's an attempt at a mnemonic formula to help keep them separate.

"Affect," except for the specialists mentioned below, is a verb, meaning to cause change in something. "His headache affected his ability to concentrate." Verbs are words of action. So think "A" — Affect, Action — something is Acting on something else.

"Effect" is usually a noun, a word for a thing, in this case a result of something.

"Aspirin had the desired effect, and he aced the exam." Think "E" for End Product.

So much for the most common situations.

A less common (but useful) form of "effect" is a verb meaning to bring about or cause to happen. "She effected a revolution with her challenge to the grading system."

A nuanced (and useful) form of "affect" is a verb meaning to move, emotionally, as in "The scene affected her greatly" or "It was a profoundly affecting moment."

And in the social sciences, alas, "affect" can be a noun, meaning a feeling or emotion as shown or described by a patient. But we can leave that one to the social scientists.

Addendum, 3/9/99

Rosalind Warfield-Brown, who teaches at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and works as a freelance editor, has a word she uses to help people get around that mental block — VANE. That's Verb=Affect / Noun=Effect. Seems foolproof for the two basic meanings.


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