Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Affect and effect -- the peskiest homonyms

From the AP wire (a language fossil, I know) a couple of years ago: "The way Notre Dame went about replacing Tyrone Willingham had a greater affect [sic.] on its minority hiring report card than its decision to fire the school's first black football coach."

The old affect-effect thing can trip anyone up at any time.

Homonyms are words similar or identical in sound but different in spelling and meaning.

Affect and effect are the two most frequently confused homonyms. Each can be used in several different senses, but if you learn only the meanings below, you will obviate (to prevent by anticipatory action) 95 percent of the trouble most people have with these two words.

affect v.
To cause a change to take place in, to influence (to produce an effect upon):

-Smoking affects the health. The mayor's reform will affect the life of every citizen.
-To touch or move emotionally: The play so affected me that I cried.
-To pretend, to imitate: I affect an aire of supercilious disdain. ("Affected" in "He is an affected ass" is the past participle of the verb affect as used in sense 3.)

Note: The word "affect" is never a noun, except in one sense, used by psychologists, who refer to "affective states" and "affect" - with regard to a person's face and the feeling or range of feelings expressed therein. As in: "The patient had an unusual affect that probably traced back to an unhappy childhood."

The word "effect" is a noun or a verb.

effect v.

To bring into being, to bring about, to cause to happen, to accomplish: I effected an honorable solution to a tough problem.

effect n.

A result or consequence (anything produced by an agent or cause): What effect will the mayor's reforms have upon the citizens?

The effect of the win was improved morale

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