Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When Homophones Attack

by Annette Lyon

One of the banes of the computer age is the usually wonderful invention of the spell checker on your word processor.

The problem occurs when you type something that is wrong but that is technically a word—just not the one you meant.

One of my personal demons is the word, "from." I tend to type it as "form." Spell check will never catch that, so I have to be vigilant on that as well as other words.

But one major problem is that sometimes we aren’t sure ourselves which word we mean, or our fingers pick the wrong one.

Two common sets of mistakes involve pronouns: it and they. A quick review of the issues involved can help clarify:

It’s vs. Its
This one is so prevalent it’s almost epidemic.

It’s is a contraction of two words, IT and IS, and they’re connected with the apostrophe, in exactly the same way that DO and NOT are connected with one in the word, don’t.

Somehow because we add an apostrophe to people’s names when making them possessive (such as Bob’s cat/Mary’s car), people assume we do the same with pronouns.

Not so. Think of other possessive pronouns.

You wouldn't ever consider writing hi’s or he’r or who’se or thei’r.

Likewise, we don’t write it’s tire when referring to the car’s flat. The pronoun should be ITS.

Some examples of correct usage:

It’s going to be a hot day. (IT IS going to be a hot day.)
It’s a golden retriever. (IT IS a golden retriever.)

The tree has shed its leaves.
The truck was rear-ended, so its bed needs to be replaced.

The triple threat. But if you take just a second to think about which one you need, making the right choice is really very simple.

This is simply the possessive form of they.

Their house has a beautiful maple out front.
For the second year in a row, their business ranked #2 in sales.

Add the word "over" to this one, and you’ll never get meaning wrong. There (or over there) refers to a location.

Put your coat down there.
I’ve been to Paris and hope to visit there again.

We’re back to the wonderful world of contractions. How do you know that? By the trusty apostrophe hanging around. This time the two words it’s shoving together are THEY and ARE.

They’re such a great couple.
I love home-grown tomatoes; they’re much more flavorful than store-bought.

Always, always print out and reread your work to make sure your fingers didn’t type a mistake that your spell checker won’t catch. It only takes a few extra seconds, but the time is well spent if it makes you look professional.

1 comment:

Julie Wright said...

I have the same issue with from and form. Drives me bonkers. Great info. Good to remember. :)