Dear Editor:

Could you please explain the difference between affect and effect and farther and further? I always get these confused and could really use some help.—Jordy W.

Author and grammarian Roy H. Copperud says that the confusion about affect and effect is perhaps the most common error in the English language. So, here’s the difference.

Most of the time affect is used as a verb, and effect is used as a noun. Affect, used as a verb, means “to have influence on”: “The teacher’s praise affected Adelaide’s confidence.” Affect as a noun is used in psychology to mean emotion, but most of us don’t ever have an occasion to use it that way.

Effect, when used as a noun, means result. “John’s speech had a powerful effect on the audience.” But sometimes effect is used as a verb. Then it means “to bring about or cause something to happen”: “We all need to do everything we can to effect change.”

Now for farther and further. As adverbs, both can mean “at a greater distance” or “to a greater extent,” but farther tends to be used to refer to distance—for example: “My house is farther from the playground than yours.” Further tends to be used to mean “to a greater degree”: “Let’s look into the problem further.”

There you have it. I hope the effect of this description will serve to further your understanding of the differences between these pesky little words.

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks. If you have a question for the editor, please email Betty Sargent.