Affect, Effect—and Impact
- On March 3, 2015
I received an email the other day from someone who sends a monthly financial newsletter. He opened his email with the following sentence:
This issue is packed with useful information and unique insights that will no doubt expand your understanding about economic issues that effect us all.
The writer should have said affect—which means to influence or have an effect or impact on—not effect. I’ll get to effect in a moment, but first let’s get impact out of the way because it plays a role in all of this.
The role became clear in a recent workshop. I was in the section of my presentation where I beg people to lay off the leverage, put the brakes on drive, and use the verb affect instead of impact when one participant—thank you, Chelsea in Boston—said she resorts to impact because she’s not sure whether to use affect or effect in its stead.
Here’s the skinny on affect and effect—as verbs and nouns—and two other edits for the email opener.
Affect: In business communication, you’ll use—and see—affect almost always as a verb. For example: The fallout from NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’s recent scandal is starting to affect more than just his career.
As a noun, affect means an emotional state. For example, “Since her children left home and her dog died, she’s had a sad affect.” You’re not likely to have much use for it that way, unless you’re writing for health journals.
Effect: As a noun, effect means result, outcome, or impact. For example: What effect will the layoffs have on staff morale?
As a verb—and you may go months, years, or forever without using it this way—effect means to bring about, cause, produce, or implement, as in “The board effected a sweeping policy change.” As a verb, effect has so many synonyms that you can reserve its use for the noun form—especially if doing so will help you remember to use affect (the verb) instead of impact, which should be used only as a noun.
Now, here’s how I would rewrite the first line of that email: This issue is packed with information and insights that will expand your understanding about economic issues affecting us all.
- Packed with conjures up a strong visual image that the issue is filled with good stuff, making the subsequent word useful unnecessary. Besides, would you send out something filled with useless information?
- As for unique, it is a rare occasion when that claim is factually correct—or necessary. I would bet that another financial advisor somewhere in the world is offering similar insights, but that does not diminish the value of what this particular author, whose opinions I trust, has to say.