Friday, March 27, 2009

Affect or Effect Conundrum

Today's post about the affect/effect conundrum is a result of a reader submission. Stan Kost e-mailed the Proofreader inquiring about a questionable word choice in an A.P. story on Alaska's frequently erupting Mount Redoubt that he saw recently on Yahoo! News. Mr. Kost wrote, "This Yahoo! News story used 'affects' as a noun. Shouldn't it be 'effects'? Or is it a legitimate alternate spelling?"

No, when used as nouns affect and effect are not interchangeable. When to use affect or effect is a dilemma that's stymied many a deadline-driven writer, because the affect/effect rules are really hard to remember, even for pro writers--maybe because they don't lend well to a catchy mnemonic device. Referring to a style guide, such as The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, would swiftly resolve the matter, but sometimes writers don't have time or forget to check. Hence the existence of copy editors and proofreaders who should catch these kinds of subtle mistakes most people never even notice.

As you can see, highlighted in the above screen shot, the last sentence of graph twelve reads, "She was experiencing other affects, too." Interestingly, in the preceding paragraph, the word "affect" is used correctly--as a verb meaning "to influence or change," according to page 10 of the Times style manual. An argument can be made that affects is the correct word choice in the above sentence because it's being used as a noun meaning "an emotional response or feeling," as is noted on page 11 of the Times style manual. It's plausible somebody living next to an eruption-happy volcano could be experiencing feelings of fright or concern. But the very next line of the article shoots a bunch of holes in that theory:

The woman quoted here explains the effects (not affects) or physical "results or consequences" the volcanic ash in the air had on her eyes. Affect/effect confusion is a common problem and this is a subtle mistake that only the most alert readers catch, but it's certainly a mistake that should've been caught by someone at the A.P. or Yahoo! News.

The Proofreader thanks Stan Kost for submitting the mistake.

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