Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Affect and Afflict

The word affect can have quite a few meanings. It can mean:

1. Have an influence on; make a difference to; have an effect on

  • Their criticism did not affect (Their criticism did not influence me in any way.)
  • Television is affecting his studies. (Because he watches television for long hours, he is not doing well in his studies.)

2. Attack by a disease or infect:

  • Pollution has affected his lungs.
  • Taking too much coffee has affected his sleep. (He doesn’t sleep well because he takes too much coffee.)

3. Touch the heart of; make sympathetic or sad:

  • We were affected by the plight of the refugees.
  • Sunsets affect my emotions. (Seeing sunsets causes me to feel emotional).

4. Try to show off by doing something

  • She affects a British accent. (She speaks in a British accent to try to impress others.)
  • He affects a bow-tie when he comes to work. (He puts on the bow-tie just to make an impression on others.)

5. Put on a false attitude:

  • The thief affected (He behaved like he hadn’t committed the theft.)
  • Though he was deeply moved by the incident, he affected a lack of emotion. (He pretended he hadn’t been moved by the incident.)

The word afflict is not as versatile as the word affect – which is to say, it has fewer possible meanings. In fact, generally speaking, it is used largely in only one way:

1. Cause distress or pain to:

  • Malnutrition afflicts large sections of the population in the poorest countries.
  • The northern coast was afflicted by a severe cyclone.

Can Affect Mean Afflict?

Are there occasions when afflict means more or less the same as affect? If you look at all the meanings of affect, you will notice that the second meaning, ‘attack by a disease or infect’, is quite similar to the meaning of afflict. In fact, in the sentence about malnutrition given above, the word affect can correctly replace afflict:

  • Malnutrition affects large sections of the population in the poorest countries.

Now, how about saying?

  • The northern coast was affected by a severe cyclone.

Can you apply Meaning No. 1 (make a difference to) of affect here?

Yes, you can. In that case, the sentence would mean, ‘The cyclone had a bad effect on the northern coast.’

Which choice is better? Is one as good as the other?

I would say that, in the context of the sentence, afflict is a much stronger word than affect. It gives you a better sense of the damage the cyclone caused.

Another difference between affect and afflict is the prepositions they are followed by. While you are affected by an ailment, you are afflicted with a disease.

Affect and Effect

Though some people may confuse affect with afflict and vice and versa, the fact is that many more people confuse affect with effect. Can you say which of these words have been used correctly in the following sentences?

  • The medicine had a quick affect on her headache.
  • The medicine had a quick effect on her headache.

The first sentence is incorrect, and the second correct. Affect is always a verb, and effect a noun. The medicine affected her headache in a positive way, that is to say, the medicine had a positive effect on her headache. The two words are related, but they are used differently. You can say the same thing in two different ways, using affect for one construction and effect for the other. Thus, I was deeply affected by the movie means the same as The movie had a deep effect on me.


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