What I Learned About Affect vs. Effect and Learning from Mistakes

One of the very best ways to learn something new is by making a mistake. But despite my love of learning, I get all prickly and defensive when I discover I’m in the wrong. It’s one of those conflicts between personality and values that I try to create in fictional characters to make them seem more human. I guess it makes me more human, too.

Being able to learn from mistakes is a skill, one I need to improve. So I was pretty pleased this evening when I practiced learning from a mistake with something approaching a positive attitude.

This week I received a story rejection in which the editor offered feedback. Much like learning from mistakes, the opportunity to learn from a rejection is invaluable. Getting comments from any industry professional instead of a form letter is gold.

While reviewing the helpful editor’s comments, I noticed a line item concerning misuse of affect and effect. I’d long ago classified affect as an adjunct of the word affectation: a pretense, putting on a certain mannerism that’s not quite genuine. In fact, if you check out the Merriam Webster Dictionary, this is still the definition emphasized for affect.

However, according to the helpful editor who rejected my story, the Oxford English Dictionary, and one of my go-to online grammar references, Grammar Girl, when in doubt, I should use effect as a noun (cause and effect) and use affect as a verb (the cause affected the result). Even Merriam Webster will agree that using effect as a verb implies the actual achievement of a final result, not merely influencing a result, which is what I intended in my offending sentence.

Use effect as a noun, affect as a verb. Pretty simple, but I have years and years of incorrect habit to overwrite. Thanks to the helpful editor pointing out my mistake, I hope to remember correct use in the future. More importantly, if I can be grateful instead of prickly and defensive when this error was pointed out to me, maybe I can have that same attitude the next time someone lets me know I’m in the wrong.