Thursday, July 13, 2006

Today's English lesson

From Common Errors In English:

Affect or Effect?

There are four distinct words here.

When "affect" is accented on the final syllable (a-FECT), it is a verb meaning "have an influence on": "The million-dollar donation from the industrialist did not affect my vote against the Clean Air Act."

A somewhat rarer meaning, pictured here, is indicated when the word is accented on the first syllable (AFF-ect), meaning "emotion." In this case the word is used mostly by psychiatrists and social scientists -- people who normally know how to spell it. For example: "A child with Asperger's Syndrome displays a noticeably flat and unemotional affect."

The real problem arises when people confuse the first spelling with the second: "effect." This too can be two different words.

The more common one is a noun: "When I left the stove on, the effect was that the house filled with smoke." When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it.

The less common is a verb meaning "to create": "I'm trying to effect a change in the way we purchase widgets."

No wonder people are confused. Note especially that the proper expression is not "take affect" but "take effect" -- become effective. Hey, nobody ever said English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.

Oh -- and one more thing -- The stuff in your purse? Your personal effects.

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