This is the reason that people who speak more sensible languages approach English with stumbling trepidation. English is insane. It has the capacity to confuse even the smartest of its native speakers—including scientists, engineers, and company presidents—especially when it has to be put down on paper.
This I know from experience. As a copywriter, a large part of my job is to translate pages upon pages of “writing written by non-writers” into copy that is short, persuasive, easy-to-read, and yes—perfectly spelt and grammatically (or at least colloquially) correct.
Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.
For the most part, each person is unique in terms of writing disability (myself included). But there are some crimes of confusion—particularly when it comes to spelling—that I come across on an almost daily basis. And like overstaying guests, they’ve begun to grate on my nerves, becoming more and more unforgivable with each unwelcome appearance. Such as:
1. YOU’RE and YOUR
If you have no idea when to use which … well, you’re not on your own. This is perhaps the most common mistake of all. Heaven knows why. The distinction is really quite simple:
- You’re is used to substitute the words you are.
- Your is a word you use when referring to something that belongs to the person you’re speaking to. “Your purse,” “your coat,” and so on—and not “Your late!” or “Your wrong!”
Close cousins of you’re and your, it’s and its suffer about the same amount of misuse.
- It’s (with an apostrophe) replaces It is or It has. (It’s easy to remember!)
- Its (with no apostrophe) refers to something that belongs to “it.” (Its meaning is clear!)
Ah, the triple treat … or terror, as the case may be.
- They’re is short for They are.
- Their refers to something that belongs to “them.”
- And there is simply “not here.”
4. TO and TOO
When you mean overly, please remember to add the extra O—or face the consequences. I once received a heated text message that was meant to make me angry: “TO BAD!” it shouted in loud, aggressive capitals. I ended up in uncontrollable giggles instead. Too bad indeed.
5. LOOSE and LOSE
This one really drives me batty. And when I lose my mind, I often let loose a string of expletives. When what you want to say is the opposite of find, then lose the extra O. Loose (with two o’s) is the opposite of tight.
Like I said, these little confusions are pretty common. They don’t actually bother me half as much as the non-words I often find littering notes, emails … even official business memos. Words like:
Hundreds of people use this word (often with passion!), both in speech and writing, every day—but the truth is, it doesn’t exist! The real word is regardless.
Anyone who insists this is a word is spouting ALOT of baloney. If you’ve ever written this non-word, what you probably meant was either a lot (meaning “many”) or allot (to ration or allocate).
Boy, would I love to get a hold (two words, not one) of the person who decided to just forget the space and make up “ahold new word.”
Guilty? Don’t sweat it. Its nothing to loose sleep over. Your not to bad. Their are alot of people in the same boat, irregardless of what you may think. Just get ahold of you’reself, take a few mental notes, and move on from here.
Updated September 22, 2010