In the post entitled ‘Ten Tips for Proofreading’, helpful tip number 8 stated:
‘Watch out for homophones: words that sound the same but have different meanings are commonly confused and may be used incorrectly. Examples of these are discreet/discrete and affect/effect.’
In my work as a proofreader and copy-editor I come across examples of these on a daily basis. I believe that some of these homophones merit a more detailed explanation.
One of the worst offenders is the example cited above: affect and effect.
Affect: The important thing to remember here is that affect is a verb.
Definition: ‘have an effect on; make a difference to’ (OED)
Example: Bad weather can affect people’s moods.
Effect: This is used primarily as a noun.
Definition: ‘a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause’ (OED)
Example: The effect of the bad weather on Sally’s mood was obvious.
However, just to be confusing, effect can also be a verb: ‘to cause (something) to happen; bring about’ (OED)
Example: The changes to the model have been effected.
One handy tip to remember the difference is that affect means to ‘make a change to’, i.e. the process of producing an effect/change, whereas effect describes the change that has already been (or will be) made or brought about.
For a longer list of commonly confused words and their definitions, see the Oxford English Dictionary’s extremely useful list.
Watch out for the next entry on complement and compliment!
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