After one academic quarter spent as a college English teacher, introducing a lively bunch of undergrads to Chekhov, Gide, and Ian McEwan (a joy!) and grading their papers (often a joy!), I can feel a whole new slew of these grammar posts coming on.
The things I’ve seen done to subject-verb agreement, people. *shudder* I swear, it’s worse than surviving the Hunger Games.
I’m glad that so many of our readers seem to share my enthusiasm for these posts. Though they’re a bit of a departure from pop culture overthinking, I like to think that insufferable pedantry is always in the OTI spirit.
Let’s ease back into this, with a taxonomy of four commonly mistaken words. They are effect, affect, affect, and effect. Allow me to break it down:
- affect n. emotion
The serial killer displayed a marked lack of affect.
- effect n. result
The effect of prolonged exposure to UV rays may be skin cancer.
- affect v. to have an effect on
This news, though shocking, won’t affect my decision.
- effect v. to bring about, to accomplish
We hope to effect an improvement.
(Note that affect v. can also mean “pretend” or “put on,” as in, “The stuffy professor from Nebraska affected a British accent.”)
H.W. Fowler, a professor very far from stuffy and Nebraska, whose Modern English Usage sets the standard for (mostly good-natured) usage-related pedantry, elaborates about the verb forms thus:
These verbs are not synonyms requiring differentiation, but words of totally different meaning, neither of which can ever be substituted for the other.
(Tell that to my students, H.W!)
With characteristic concision and wit, Fowler drops the two words into the same sentence as examples: This will not affect (change) his purpose. This will not effect (secure) his purpose.
With affect welling up inside me, I urge you to effect
cautions cautious attention to your spelling, the effect of which, I hope, will be to affect the quality of your writing. Whatever you do, don’t sound affected.