Common Mistakes Even College Graduates Commit


As a writer, I’ve been keen in observing correct spelling and usage of the English language, or any language 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 a college degree commit mistakes on spelling and grammar. For some it could be an honest mistake, but for the others, it could be annoying.

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 here and I will discuss them next time. If you have other suggestions, let me know.

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