As a writer, I’ve been keen in observing correct spelling and usage of the English language, or even Filipino for that matter. Not only it shows how educated a person is, but also how someone respects the language or dialect.
However, even educated men and women, those who have earned college degrees commit mistakes on spelling and grammar. For some it could be an honest mistake, but for the others, it could be annoying, especially if done repeatedly.
I see three usual reasons why people commit these mistakes:
- Getting confused with contractions; and
- Reliance on auto-correct tools
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings. It’s easy to commit mistakes with homophones because we say the words as it is more often than writing it down.
I was reading an e-book recently and found some misspellings in it. I thought it was just be a case of typographical error. But when I saw the misspelled word more than twice, I felt uneasy. I began to think that the author failed to consult an editor for her e-book and published it online immediately.
For one, I do have respect for authors who diligently check their grammar and have editors to check it again before publishing. But then again, the e-book I was reading came from a free e-book site where most authors are amateurs in the publishing business.
For another, this is a good case of getting confused with homophones and other grammar rules. Here are some common homophones that confuse many.
Lose and Loose
“Lose” is a verb that means to fail, to suffer, to be deprived of.
“Loose” is an adjective that means too comfortable, not restrained.
- I think I need to lose weight. This pair of pants used to be loose on me before. (I need to shed a few pounds because the pants don’t fit me anymore.)
Advice and Advise
Both terms are related in giving a comment or suggestion. “Advice” with the “c” is a noun. It is the actual comment or suggestion. “
Advise” with the “s” is a verb. It is the act of giving a comment or suggestion.
- Please advise me on what to do; I need your advice. (Remember: c is for the noun; s is for the verb.)
Breath and Breathe
Actually, they don’t sound the same. It just happens that this pair is also confusing to some.
“Breath” (pronounced as \’breth\) is a noun that means the air that we inhale and exhale.
“Breathe” (pronounced as \’brēt͟h\) is a verb that means the act of ingesting air.
- I couldn’t breathe because I could smell your bad breath.
Complement and Compliment
“Complement” is a noun that means to complete or make perfect.
“Compliment” is also a noun but it means an expression of admiration or recognition. But when used with “of” as in “compliments of” it introduces a donor of a free gift.
- That belt looks great, it complements with your outfit. (The belt completes the look.)
- “You look gorgeous,” the man said. “Thank you,” the woman answered, “I’ll take that as a compliment.” (There was an expression of admiration there.)
- We had a wonderful time at the resort, all compliments of Mrs. Lim. (Mrs. Lim gave a free stay at the resort.)
Ensure and Insure (plus two more)
The homophones in this set are “ensure” and “insure”. But I’m going to add “assure” and “secure” because they almost mean almost the same thing. They all make a thing or a person sure or certain. They could even be interchangeable to some extent but the distinction lies on how we use it in context.
“Assure” denotes removal of a doubt from a person’s mind.
“Ensure” denotes a virtual guarantee.
“Insure” implies necessary measures beforehand.
“Secure” implies action to guard against attack or loss.
- I assure you that nothing will go wrong with this plan.
- The government ensures all its employees of benefits.
- The dancer had insured both her legs and feet for two million dollars.
- The military has secured the place against future terrorist attacks.
People Get Confused with Contractions
Contractions shorten spoken forms of word groups by omitting internal letters or sounds. They are formed from words that appear together in sequence such as “you are” and “do not”. Languages (not only English) have a number of contractions that use an apostrophe (‘) to show an omission of a letter, usually a vowel. These contractions are common in speech and informal writing.
Knowing how to differentiate these contractions and the words they’re often mistaken for, it will be easy for you to remember and not to commit the same mistakes again.
Your and You’re
I typed “thanks” to a friend via chat and he replied “your welcome” when it should have been “you’re”.
“Your” is a possessive adjective that is usually found before a noun or a pronoun to denote that something belongs to you.
On the other hand, “You’re” is a contraction of “you are” and that’s all, there’s no other use for it.
- Thank you for your patronage. (It means your act of support is appreciated. So “your” is used as a possessive adjective.)
- You’re the matron of honor. (The speaker is recognizing who you are, thus “you’re” is used.)
There, Their, and They’re
Another common mistake is to interchange these three.
To distinguish, “There” is an adverb that indicates location or what we commonly call “adverb of place”. It has two uses: (1) to denote a place and (2) to indicate that something exists.
“Their” is a possessive adjective that usually precedes a noun or a pronoun and indicates possession or ownership. “Our” can replace “their” in the sentence. Try replacing “their” with “our” and if it still makes sense, then you are using “their” correctly.
“They’re” is a contraction of “they are” and again, there’s no other use for it.
- I left my bag over there. (The speaker indicates a certain location.)
- There is something missing in my bag. (The speaker indicates that a thing that exists is missing.)
- The guards will have to check their belongings. (“Their” is used to indicate possession of more than one person. )
- They’re after me. (The speaker is referring to more than one person coming after him/her. The expanded form is “They are”.)
It’s and Its
Another common mistake is to interchange these two, and the reason is obvious: it’s confusing.
To distinguish, “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has”. There is no other use for it.
“Its” is a possessive pronoun that shows ownership.
- It’s been too hot for a week and now, it’s starting to rain. (The first means “it has” and the second means “it is”. The sentence doesn’t show any possession or ownership so use the apostrophe.)
- The wolf chases its prey through the woods. (You can’t say “The wolf chases “it is” or “it has” prey…” so you don’t need an apostrophe. Think about it, the “prey” belongs to the “wolf”.)
There are other confusing words and phrases to mention which I will discuss next time. Also, I’ll have another article about auto-correct soon. If you have other suggestions, let me know.