Affective vs. Effective: What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of English words that have similar meanings to one another, making it difficult to tell them apart. Exactly which word is used for what and when? It’s tough to tell with some words because their meanings are so much alike.

Luckily, this is not the case with our two words today, affective vs. effective. While these words might sound similar when spoken, their meanings are quite distinct.

What is the Difference Between Affective and Effective?

In this post, I want to discuss the differences between affective and effective, both of which function as adjectives. I will go over their definitions, use example sentences to demonstrate their meanings, and give you a tip at the end of the post to remember the difference.

After reading this post, you won’t have to second-guess yourself ever again, “Should I use affective or effective?”

When to Use Affective

affective versus effective definitions and meaningsWhat does affective mean? As I mentioned above, affective is used as an adjective. It is defined as influenced by or resulting from the emotions. It is roughly synonymous with emotional. For example,

  • Such a global awakening or animation was in contradiction to concepts of neuroanatomy in the 1960s, a neuroanatomy that saw the motor, the intellectual, and the affective in quite separate and noncommunicating compartments of the brain. –N.Y. Daily News
  • One clue for beating the blahs this time of year can be found in Iceland. It has an extremely dark winter, yet the people there have virtually no seasonal affective disorder. –Washington Post
  • Judge Michael Grieve noted that Anderson, who had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, was “clearly highly intoxicated” throughout the protest and had no recollection of it. –The Guardian

The word affective is used primarily in the field of psychology. It is a technical term used to describe an emotion.

Do not confuse it, however, with the verb affect.

The verb affect (to influence) and the adjective affective (relating to moods, emotion, feelings, etc.) are wholly different in meaning. For a full discussion on the verb affect, click here.

Affective, however, relates back to noun affect, which, as the AP Stylebook states, is occasionally used in psychology, but there is no need for it in everyday language. It is a technical term that doesn’t serve much purpose outside of the field of psychology.

When to Use Effective

effective versus affective grammar rulesWhat does effective mean? Like the word affective, effective is also an adjective. Unlike the word affective, however, effective is used quite regularly in everyday language.

Something is said to be effective when it is successful in producing an intended or desired result.

  • In laboratory tests, the material was found to be twice as effective at filtering out ultraviolet radiation as traditional sunscreen compounds. –The Wall Street Journal
  • Bratton helped convince de Blasio that broken-windows policing was effective, but he also agreed that the N.Y.P.D.’s use of stop-and-frisk was excessive. –The New Yorker

As you can see, the words effective and affective have very different meanings, and once you understand their differences, there’s no need to confuse the two.

For other discussions on the word effective, see here and here.

Tricks to Remember the Difference

What’s an easy way to remember effective vs. affective?

When thinking of the word effective, ask yourself whether or not the job at hand got done. It may not have been pretty, but if it got done, whatever it was was effective. The “E” at the end of done can signal the “E” at the beginning of effective.

As for the word affective, my advice would be to avoid it unless you are in the field of psychology.

Summary

Is it effective or affective? Well, that depends on the context of your sentence of course.

Affective is mostly limited to the world of psychology and deals with emotions, feelings, and moods.

Effective is used in everyday language and means successful in achieving a desired result.

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