Grammar/usage: affect versus effect
July 27, 2018 9:31 AM   Subscribe

This sentence, "Sarah felt good knowing she could ______ positive change." is presented to you on a test. The two possible answers provided are A) affect and B) effect. You chose B and your answer is marked as incorrect. Is this an obvious mistake on the part of the test-preparer or does "affect" work as the better answer?
posted by fuse theorem to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Obvious mistake.
posted by supercres at 9:35 AM on July 27, 2018 [24 favorites]

It's "effect".

If Sarah is causing positive change to occur, she is effecting positive change.

If Sarah is AFFECTING positive change, her actions are in some way influencing the positive change that is already happening. I'm sure this is not the intended meaning. It would be a very clumsy sentence if so.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:36 AM on July 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

Well, mistake at any rate. This is a classic example of English weirdness.
posted by supercres at 9:36 AM on July 27, 2018

You are correct.

This one is especially confusing because both affect and effect can be used as a noun or a verb.

“She had a flat affect.”
“It doesn’t affect me.”
“This is an example of the coriolis effect.”
“I tried to effect change.”
posted by mai at 9:36 AM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's effect. They're wrong.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:36 AM on July 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

My partner agrees with you that they’re wrong. More specifically, that sentence can be understood in two different ways, depending on the use of affect or effect, both of which are grammatically correct.
posted by pharm at 9:37 AM on July 27, 2018

Copy editor here.
If there's only one answer here, it's B.
"Effect" as a verb means "cause," so it absolutely makes sense.
It seems weird to me to "affect" positive change - it's suggesting that Sarah could make positive change worse or better. That doesn't really make sense.
I think the test preparer did a poor job here.
posted by FencingGal at 9:37 AM on July 27, 2018 [13 favorites]

"affect positive change" doesn't make any sense to me. It should be "effect" as in "cause to happen.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:38 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Former copy editor here as well to agree: mistake. "Effect" is the better answer here. You could maaaaaaybe try to torturously make a case for "affecting" how positive change comes about but as your copyeditor I'd advise you to reword that sentence if that's what you were actually try to say.
posted by Stacey at 9:40 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Former copyeditor also here to agree it's a mistake.

Previous discussion by language folk.

More on affect versus effect.
posted by fraula at 9:45 AM on July 27, 2018

Current copy editor here: effect is correct.

The quiz writer made a mistake. Show 'em this thread!
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:49 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah. Agreed that this is a mistake on the part of the test writers. This is one of the classic examples of "English is weird." The thing I learned is something along the lines of "effect is always a noun and affect is always a verb, except when talking about someone having 'a flat affect' or talking about 'effecting a change'."

I mean, the confirmation from people who do this for a living (and know the reason behind it) is probably the most useful here, but it's hard to understand how a test writer would make this mistake with the canonical exception to the affect/effect rule.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:51 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

B is certainly the correct and expected answer, so if it's marked as incorrect, it's a mistake.
posted by vunder at 10:25 AM on July 27, 2018

The answer you gave is the better usage and should be marked correct. Answer A is not necessarily incorrect. This can only happen when the question is poorly constructed. Somebody's got some 'splainin' to do.
posted by theora55 at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

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