May 30, 2013Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation
“Affect” and “effect” are a nice pair. “Affect” can be a verb or a noun; so can “effect.” If you affect something, you have an effect on it.
Since this is a blog about legal writing, things are a little bit simpler, since some of the meanings of these words are quite rare in that context. You will—I predict—never need to use “affect” as a noun in a brief. It means the appearance or feel of an emotion, as in “George had a morose affect when he walked into the room.” If you are reaching for a noun meaning “the thing that happened,” you almost certainly want “effect.”
For verbs, the situation is slightly more complicated. You are most likely to want “affect,” which means “to influence” (and also “to put on a pretense of”; you probably won’t need that one in the brief). “Effect” as a verb means “to bring about,” as in “the abolition of deodand in the 1860s effected a change in how the English thought of property rights.”
When you’re worried about a (relatively) rare usage of “effect” or “affect,” consult any dictionary. For everyday usage, the following will solve your problem 95% of the time:
“Here is the rule of cause and effect:
When you affect, you cause an effect.”
The memory trick here is the rhyming of “cause and effect,” an easy phrase to remember, with the semantic meaning embedded in “cause an effect” in the second line. “Effect” obviously is a noun in that line, “affect” a verb. “Affect” and “effect” are in alphabetical order in that line.