Warning: if you are completely uninterested in grammar and the use of language, you will probably find this post exceedingly dull. Take my advice and skip it.
I was just reading a book (I won’t tell you what book, because I don’t want to cast any aspersions. It is actually an excellent book) where this phrase appeared: “to affect profound change.”
Is anyone else totally driven bonkers by the constant use/misuse of effect and affect?
I remember about thirty years ago, my English teacher tried to explain the usage of these two words and managed to get herself completely confused in the process. So I could understand it perfectly if some of my classmates are a little shaky on this, but I do find it disturbing that even book editors don’t seem to have a clue.
Of course, I do think it was easier 30 years ago. At that time, I rarely heard “effect” used as a verb, so it was usually a choice between “That affects me,” or “I am suffering the effects of that.” In general, you were fairly safe to use the a-word for verbs and the e-word as a noun. Pretty simple, if you knew the basic parts of speech.
Since then, the media has brought Effect into common usage as a verb, so now people try to use it that way, and that’s where it gets sticky.
In case you’re interested in knowing which one to use, here’s a quick lesson.
1. If you’re using it as a noun (if it has “the” or “a/an” in front of it) it will ALWAYS be the e-word. For example: The effect of television on children has been found to be decidedly negative. The special effects in that movie are incredible.
2. If the word is a verb, then you try to substitute other words. If you can substitute “make a difference to” or “to influence” for your word, then use the a-word. Example: It can affect the development of the growing brain. In fact, it affects all of us.
3. If that substitute doesn’t work, try “bring about” as in “make happen.” If that makes sense, then the word you’re looking for is EFFECT. This is the one that I think has become much more common is recent years. It usually will refer to change of some sort (which may be why we hear it so much more lately.)
Example: In order to effect an improvement in family relationships, it may be a good idea to limit exposure to TV in ourselves as well as our children. Or the example at the beginning of this post, which should have read “to effect profound change…”
The thing that bothers me about editors not catching these errors in books is that some people (me, for instance) learn mainly by example. I only knew how to use these words because I have always been a voracious reader, and I saw them used properly. We sort of absorb the proper usage, rather than actually being taught classroom-style. If we have a lot of books where they are not used properly, how can we ever HOPE for our children to learn?
There. Now I’ve gotten it off my chest. If you actually read this and cared, I hope you’ll comment. Just so I know that I am not the only one…
Random fact: Did you know that today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope?