Saturday, November 21, 2009

Literary Lapses 101: Part 2--Possessive Perils

Today's pitfalls are more that most of us really know if we think about them, but we are either in too much of a hurry or content to let spellcheck take care of it all. Since these are all valid words, spellcheck doesn't help, and such elementary goofs look very unprofessional. The three sets of words today all include a possessive form, hence the title.


When you see them together, no doubt you know which is which. Your is a possessive adjective, something belongs to you.
This is your fault.
Your flowers are lovely.
Where did you leave your keys?

You're is a contraction for the two words you are.
You're stepping on my foot!
Where did you say you're going?
I hope you're picking up
your kids soon.


Again, when you see them together, you probably know which is which.

Their is the possessive for they: something belongs to them.
Their dog is barking again.
Isn't it their turn to buy?

There has several meanings, but it is most often either used as a pronoun or an adverb for location.
There is a better way.
There are five cats hanging around the bird feeder.
Put the sofa over there and the chair right here.
There he goes again!

They're is a contraction for they are.
They're coming for dinner.
Do you know what they're bringing?

The fun starts when more than one of the words is in the same sentence.
They're taking their kids over there after school.


These are often confused, and many of us need to think about which one to use before writing. It's easy to choose the wrong one because of the normal uses of an apostrophe.

ITS is the possessive when something belongs to it.
The bear protected its cubs.
The storm unleashed its full fury.

IT'S is the contraction for it is.
It's not easy being green.
Do you think it's time?
It's still licking its wounds.

Apostrophes are usually used for two reasons: 1) to take the place of dropped letters in a contraction. So it is becomes it's, we will becomes we'll. 2) in the possessive form of NOUNS, but not pronouns. Steve's car, the teachers' lounge, the dog's bone, Monday's child.

More on apostrophes in a later blog.

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