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Problem pairs can cause confusion

Prime candidates for confusing words are affect/effect and effective/efficient.

It's possible that both affect and effect make sense in a sentence:

Sarah's English skills affected her promotion.

Sarah's English skills effected her promotion.

What's the difference? In the first, Sarah's English skills influenced her promotion – either because her skills were good and therefore benefited her getting promoted or because Sarah's skills were not good and so negatively impacted her promotion. In the second, Sarah's good English skills resulted in her being promoted. So here it all depends on the context.

But most of the time, affect is used as a verb meaning to influence or to change in some way:

Steven's sleepless night badly affected his performance in the job interview.

While effect is used as a noun meaning result or outcome:

Steven's sleepless night had a negative effect on his interview.

It can also be used in the plural:

Steven felt the effects of his sleepless night during the interview.

To help remember the difference in these very common cases, the effect is the noun and the verb affect starts with an 'a' for action.

In addition, the verb affect can sometimes mean to pretend or to put on a show:

Steven affected a British accent during the interview.

Less common is the noun affect (pronounced with stress on the first syllable) used in psychology as a term for feeling:

Positive affect is important for a successful interview.

There's also the verb effect (pronounced with stress on the second syllable) meaning to achieve or to cause something to happen:

Sarah effected her promotion by networking well with senior managers.

We could also say:

Sarah got promoted through effective use of her network.

as the adjective effective means something is able to achieve its purpose

Could we use the adjective efficient instead?

Sarah got promoted through efficient use of her network.

Yes, the meanings are similar and Sarah's networking can be both effective and efficient. However in the first, the focus tends to be on quality and purpose whereas in the second, there's emphasis on speed and not wasting time or effort.

What other words cause you confusion? Please email me your questions and subscribe to The Trunk.

© 2015 Christina Wielgolawski