The Usual Suspects: Grammar Errors that Murder the English Language and Your Reputation 

This will be a category for blog entries that tackle the usual grammatical errors I spot on my students' papers, colleagues' email, friends' messages, wall signages, and other surfaces where typos and language lapses lurk.

Lesson One: Spelling Tricky Pronouns

Let’s start with the basics. Let’s talk about the your/you’re, their/they’re, its/it’s conundrum. It remains a mystery why even after years of using the English language, we still can’t get these right. Fortunately, we can get away with it when we are speaking. Your is pronounced like you’re. Their is also a homonym of they’re. And its sounds exactly like it’s. The problem becomes obvious when these words are written. Spellchecker might not be able to help you here, because in isolation, they are correctly spelled words. In context, they can cause you trouble. Sure, your reader might be astute enough to understand your intended meaning. But, in a critical report or a cover letter for a job application, getting these wrong can do serious damage to your credibility. So, let this be your guide.

Possessive Pronouns:

Subject Pronouns plus Linking Verbs:
You're (You are)
It's (It is)

All the possessive pronouns are whole words.

Each word from the other group is s contraction formed by joining a subject pronoun and a linking verb (is, are). Remember that the first letter of the verb is dropped and replaced by an apostrophe. In the movie of your mind, imagine that the apostrophe is either an i or an e.

Now, let’s use them in sentences.

Your grammar is appalling.
You’re appalling for insulting my grandmother.

Their response to their grandmother’s surprise visit was very lukewarm.
They’re not going to be in her good graces when it’s time to review her will.

The will is going to be reviewed? I thought its stipulations have been finalized.
It’s not final until she’s finally gone.

Now, it’s your turn.

______________ fly is open.

Don't you care that ______________ displaying ______________ family jewels to the public?

I don’t care if ______________ looking. ______________ reactions do not concern me at all.
______________ a shame ______________ too concerned about public opinion. ______________ not the end of the world.

In fairness to those who get these wrong, it is fairly easy to get them wrong due to ignorance, laziness, confusion, sleepiness, intoxication, tired eyes, lack of focus, or a combination of these reasons.An occasional lapse won't terminate your career. But knowing these basic rules will go a long way in achieving clarity in your communication and presenting yourself in the best positive light to your readers.


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