‘Affect Change' or 'Effect Change?': What's the Difference?

By
Carly Forsaith,
updated on
December 8, 2022

'Affect change' or 'effect change': two expressions often used interchangeably, although they have entirely different meanings. Which one should you use? That's what we'll cover today.

The short answer is that the expression you're looking for is probably 'effect change,' which means to create or initiate change. However, 'affect change' is still grammatically correct, although it has a different meaning.

'Affect Change' or 'Effect Change?

'Affect' and 'effect' sound very similar. Are they homophones?

Homophones are words that are spelled differently but sound alike, such as 'dying' vs. 'dieing' or 'boarders' vs. 'borders.'

You could consider 'affect' and 'effect' to be homophones, although, in reality, they should be pronounced slightly differently from one another. The 'e' in 'effect' takes more of a /ɪ/ sound, like in 'igloo.'

But the difference is very subtle and only sometimes accentuated in speech. That's why it's all the more important to be able to differentiate the two expressions in your writing.

The essential thing to remember here is that they have different meanings. So to know which one to use, you need to understand their meaning.

What is the Meaning of 'Effect'?

Let's start by learning about the meaning of the word 'effect' and the different forms it can take on. Then, we'll look at the meaning of the expression 'effect change' and when you can use it.

'Effect' Definition

'Effect' is a verb and stands for 'bring about,' 'create,' or 'influence.'

It's also a noun that stands for 'change' or having been influenced. If 'affect' is the action, 'effect' is the consequence of the action.

Here are some examples of 'effect' (in its form verb) used in a sentence.

We don't want to fight; in fact, we hope to effect a settlement.

I was the one who effected the transition to paperless across the organization.

We're working on effecting new policies around here.

Top tip! 'Effect' can also be a noun meaning 'possessions' in the idiom' personal effects'. Don't worry; this has no relevance to the topic of this article, so you don't need to worry about that right now.

What Does 'Affect Change' Mean?

Here are some examples of sentences that use 'effect change':

They're trying to effect lasting change in policies associated with the environment.

That behavior is going to have little effect on positive change.

The protestors are effecting real change; we're getting back on track with discussions around worker safety.

As you can see, the correct phrase if you want to talk about bringing about change is 'effect change.'

Therefore, 'effect change' is the correct expression, not 'affect change'.

Although, as I mentioned earlier, 'affect change' is still grammatically correct. In the next section, we'll dive into what it means.

What is the Meaning of 'Affect'?

Now it's time to look at the meaning of the word 'affect' and the different forms it can take on. Then, we'll learn about the meaning of the expression 'affect change' and when you can use it.

'Affect' Definition

'Affect' is a verb that means to influence someone or something to make it different. 'Affect' is the action that brings on an 'effect.'

Let's have a look at some example sentences using the word 'affect':

Be careful what you say; your words can really affect people.

Your behavior affects the whole office.

Losing the game has affected her confidence.

Top tip! 'Affect' can also be a noun and refers to feelings or emotions. It is rarely used and is irrelevant to the topic of this article.

What Does 'Affect Change' Mean?

As I mentioned, to affect something means making a difference. That's why it's perfectly reasonable to think that 'affect change' is the correct expression if you want to discuss creating change.

However, think about it. The definition of the word 'affect' is 'to change'. Therefore, to 'affect change' is to change change.

Confused? Stick with me.

If you affect something, that means you have an influence on it. If there's a change currently taking place, and you want to affect it, that means you want to impact the change.

The change was already happening; you didn't initiate it. And that's the difference between affecting change and effecting change.

To effect change is to initiate it. To affect change is to influence a change that's already taking place.

That's why the more common phrase is 'effect change.' However, 'affect change' is still technically correct.

Let's look at some examples of sentences that contain 'affect change'.

You can't affect the changes now; everything's already set in motion.

We tried to affect the planned changes to the infrastructure.

The strikes have affected the changes we implemented to the rail system.

As you can see, while you can't place 'affect' and 'change' next to each other - because they don't make sense as a standalone expression - you can use them in conjunction with one another.

Concluding Thoughts on 'Affect Change' or 'Effect Change'

Hopefully, it's now clear which of 'affect change' or 'effect change' you should use in which situation. Most of the time, the correct expression will be 'effect change,' but 'affect change' is also correct. You just have to make sure you use it in the correct sentence.

A great way to remember it is if you want to talk about initiating the change, that means you'd like to see the effects of your efforts. Therefore, use 'effects.'

For more articles on confusing words, check out our blog.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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