Mixing up affect and effect can affect the effect of your message

Sometimes the English language is just mean. It gives us two words that have connected meanings and only one letter difference.

Like affect and effect.

When you’re talking you can sort of get away with this one – speak fast enough with your hand over your mouth and nobody will notice if you make a mistake. In the case of affect and effect, I think we’ve actually invented a new letter that has a sound somewhere between ‘a’ and ‘e’. But rather than invent a new letter (which, admittedly, would be fun) I’d like to give everyone a nifty way of remembering which word to use when.

First, let’s understand what the difference is. (And before everyone starts jumping up and down, I’m talking about the common, modern usage of the two words, not the less commonly used definitions or archaic meanings. There are many of them, after all.)

Affect is a verb. To affect something means to produce an effect on it.

Effect is a noun. It means a result.

The simplest way to remember which is which is that you can affect an effect – a comes before e in the alphabet. But it’s always better to have a picture in your mind, so how about this:


Image courtesy of davidhofmann08

Raven. Remember: affect verb, effect noun.

Lovely, isn’t it? The simple ones always are. I’ve remembered this for years without trying.

But just for fun, I Googled ‘affect effect mnemonic’. I must admit, it’s made me feel a bit stupid. All this talk of aardvarks being butchered with sharp sticks… I don’t think that’s going to help me at all. One website even suggests that you can remember what affect means because it sort of rhymes with infect. Really.

This has inspired me to find the best and worst mnemonics ever. Any suggestions? Add them to the comments below, email me at thelucyg@gmail.com, or Tweet me at @LucyGoodchild. We could pull together a great collection, and maybe give out a few awards.

Anyway, back to affect and effect… all sorted? Raven. The important point is that people really notice this in writing. It pops out of the page/screen/phone when I see this mistake, and it’s so very common. It makes me discount whatever the author is trying to say.

If we all just think about ravens, maybe we’ll all make sure we get this right. (And if you find something better than my raven, please share it… they’re not the prettiest of animals.)

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