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“Affective” vs. “Effective”: What’s the Difference?

“Affective” vs. “Effective” What’s the Difference

Writing about emotions or psychology? You’ve come to the right place! Not writing about emotions or psychology? You can stick to effective and will probably never encounter the word affective again.

“Affective” describes something provoked or influenced by feelings, emotions or mood, while something “effective” is successful in achieving the desired outcome.

Let’s dive deeper into the definitions of affective and effective and learn some techniques to never confuse the two words again.

“Affective”: Definition and examples

Affective is an adjective that describes something that is related to, arises from, or influenced by feelings, mood and emotions. It is especially used in the field of psychology.

Here are some examples of affective in a sentence:

  • Harry sang to Sally about how much he loved her, causing her to cry with happiness. Harry’s music caused a long-awaited affective reaction.

  • “In seasonal affective disorder, mood changes usually begin in fall, worsen in winter, and disappear in spring and summer.”—Taylor and Levinson, If You Think You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • “By giving computers the ability to recognize our affective responses, they could pay attention to our natural ways of expressing like and dislike, and hence do a better job of adapting to us.”—Picard, Affective Computing

“Effective”: Definition and examples

Effective is an adjective that describes something that gives you the result you want. Note that, although they are dealing with similar notions, effective shouldn’t be confused with efficient—the latter describing someone or something working in a quick and organized way.

Here are some examples of effective in a sentence:

  • Applying sunscreen and wearing a hat are effective ways to avoid sunburn on your face.

  • Blastoise used Water Gun against the fire Pokémon Charizard. It’s super effective!

  • “We recognize the urgent need to develop a safe and effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and continue to work collaboratively with industry, researchers, as well as federal, domestic, and international partners to accelerate these efforts”—FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., FDA News Release, 30 June 2020

Why all the confusion?

There are two main reasons it's easy to get these words mixed up.

While yes, affective derives from affect, its usage actually comes from the noun affect, describing how someone is displaying emotion—NOT the verb affect, which means “to influence”. Affect as a noun has faded from everyday language and is rarely found outside psychology, where it is mostly used to describe emotional and mood disorders.

On top of that, affective and effective sound really similar! They are near-homophones (like elicit vs. illicit), meaning that they are pronounced very much alike—although they have different spellings. For the same reason, plenty of people get the words affect and effect mixed up.

“Affective” or “effective”: How can I easily tell the difference?

Probabilities can help here. If the word is to be found in the context of psychology and is used to describe an emotional process or response there is a good chance affective is being used. If you encounter the word outside this context, it is almost certainly effective.

This graph, comparing Google searches over the past five years, is effective at showing how effective is used far more often than affective:

affective vs. effective google trends graph

In a nutshell

To recap, affective and effective might sound similar, their meanings are clearly different. Used mostly in psychology, affective describes things impacted by, or resulting from emotions. Effective is about productivity, and describes something that produces the desired outcome.

Take a little practice quiz: “Affective” vs. “Effective”

Ready to tell the difference between effective and affective? Fill in the blanks in the sentences below and test your skills.

  1. Drinking 2 L of water a day is generally an _________ way to avoid dehydration. (affective/effective)

  2. Cats are an _________ deterrent for mice in the house. (affective/effective)

  3. Judging from Jared’s _________ reaction, he clearly didn’t want to go to the high school dance with Jamie. (affective/effective)

Quiz answers: 1) effective 2) effective 3) affective

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Michael Landis, Senior UX Writer at Wix

Michael Landis, Senior UX Writer at Wix

He’s passionate about science and technology and enjoys falling asleep to David Attenborough narrating documentaries about the ocean.

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