Affect and effect

A cloud of anxious uncertainty hovers around certain pairs of similar words. One such duo is practice and practise, on which I will write a separate post. Another scary pair is affect and effect, which I have often seen confused in early drafts of museum and gallery text.

Once an editor gets their red pen out, the uncertainty usually disappears. But as probability would have it, the wrong option haunts a panel at the Yorkshire Museum spotted by alert reader Russell Dornan.

What makes effect and affect confusing? Well, they can both be verbs, which doesn’t help. But in most everyday speech, which we at TextWorkshop recommend for museum text, effect is the noun and affect is the verb. Hence:

Effect (noun) means the result of something, as in ‘the desired effect’.

To affect (verb) means to act upon or influence, as in ‘this change will affect everyone in the class’.

There’s also ‘to effect’ as a verb, but it’s more formal and less everyday:

To effect (verb) means to bring about, as in ‘we will effect the transition during September’.