Word Confusion: Affect vs Effect

Hey, Copy Bitch: Got any tips for keeping affect and effect straight? I can never remember which word is correct in a sentence like “This marketing campaign will affect/effect conversions.”

—The Copy Bastard, Sacramento

Answer: Both affect and effect can be used as verbs and nouns, which is why these words cause so much confusion. In my experience in business writing, however, I see more instances where affect is used as a verb (meaning “to influence”) and effect is used as a noun (meaning “result” or “consequence”). (Grammar experts, I realize that there are multiple definitions, but I’m trying to keep it simple for my readers.)

When we think verbs, we tend to think “action.” So when you’re writing, ask yourself if there’s an action taking place. Think “a” for “action,” and think “a” for “affect.” In your example, the correct answer is “affect,” since the marketing campaign will influence conversions (an action). This isn’t a foolproof method, but it will likely help you keep them straight most of the time. Here are some more examples:

  1. George, your rejection of my love will affect me for the rest of my life.
  2. George, your rejection of my love has had a profound effect on my life.

If anyone has a better way of remembering the differences between these two pesky words, I’d love to hear it. Leave your tricks or strategies in the comments thread.