I have an absurd sensitivity to grammatical errors. I understand that most of us compose our writing on a computer screen these days, and I accept that most of that writing is done in haste, where timeliness is a much higher priority than clarity. Sometimes, we want our writing to have the immediacy and looseness of speech. We want it to read the same way it would sound, and so we tend to disregard the finer nuances of grammar that we might observe in more formal writing. And I also concede that there are times when one might violate specific grammar “rules” for effect, such as beginning a sentence with a conjunction, as I have done here, or purposely constructing a run-on sentence to illustrate a point, or ending a sentence with a preposition, or anything else you can think of. I get all that, but it doesn’t stop me from judging people who make really stupid mistakes and don’t seem to know (or care about) the difference.
If you’re one of these people, I apologize in advance. It’s nothing personal. Really.
That equals sign with the slash through it? That means “is not equal to,” which also means “is not the same thing as,” which also means “cannot be used interchangeably or people will think you were held back in school.”
IT’S vs. ITS
With pronouns, the apostrophe indicates a contraction, not possession. It’s means it is. Its is possessive.
As with other possessive pronouns like his, her, our, and their, the possessive form of it is its own word, formed by adding the -s with no apostrophe.
Here’s an example: It’s funny to watch a dog chase its own tail.
TO vs. TOO
To is usually a preposition expression motion, direction or purpose. Too is always an adverb expressing addition, emphasis, or intensity. Here’s an easy way to remember the difference: too adds more emphasis because it has one more -o than to.
Example: I’m too tired to go to the store.
THEN vs. THAN
Then is an adverb expressing time or order of actions. Than is almost always used for comparison.
Examples: Back then, things were simpler than they are now.
YOUR vs. YOU’RE
This one is very simple. If you can substitute you are into your sentence, you should use you’re. The apostrophe makes that a contraction. If you’re trying to indicate possession, use your.
Example: You’re eating your own face.
THERE vs. THEIR vs. THEY’RE
Their is possessive. They’re means they are. There is tricky, because it’s usually an adverb indicating a specific place or point or direction, but sometimes it can function as a pronoun introducing a verb, a noun, or even an interjection: There! See? There is no “there” there.
Example: They’re putting their things there.
WHO’S vs. WHOSE
This one’s easy now. The apostrophe is a contraction, and the possessive is a separate word. Who’s means who is, and whose is the possessive form of who.
Example: Who’s that guy from Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Now, look. I’m one of those freaky people who actually reads about grammar for fun. I text in complete sentences. I realize I’m overreacting a little. But if you spend enough time on the Book of Face, or read the user comments after practically any article posted on any website from any mainstream news source, you’re bound to see so many violations of the above that you’ll fear for the future of the English language. We have to be vigilant.
And, y’all…when you use words the wrong way, it makes the baby Jesus cry.