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Recently I was at a local establishment to participate in the weekly poker tournament. We had a small crowd, so the noise level was low in the back room, making it easier to hear other customers in the main lounge.

I was heartened to overhear a conversation among a group of ladies, most of whom still have children in our school district, talking about the horrible grammar they see on texts and social media. (I wasn’t eavesdropping; if you knew these ladies, you’d realize that it was hard NOT to hear them, since it was a regular “hurricane” of activity.) They kept listing words that people use incorrectly, many of them homonyms. You remember homonyms, right? They’re those fun words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Let’s review, shall we? After all, those ladies were pretty accurate in the most egregious errors that we all see.

Your/You’re: Anything with a contraction is really pretty simple, if you take the time to think for a moment. You know that the apostrophe is a substitute for some letters, so just read it with those letters to see if your sentence makes sense. In this case, if you can say “you are,” you use the contraction. Without that apostrophe, you are showing possession, such as, “Your dog is dirty.” If you used the contraction there, you would be saying, “You are dog is dirty.”

It’s/Its: And of course there’s an exception to every rule. This one confuses many people. For so many words in the English language, using an apostrophe can show possession. “The house’s windows” is one example. However, if you are showing possession with the very vague word “it,” you do not use an apostrophe: “Its windows.” That is done in order to differentiate it from the contraction. “It’s a great movie,” is the same as saying, “It is a great movie.”  

There/Their/They’re: You’ve got to love when there are three choices, right? Again, start with the contraction. If you can say “they are,” you use the form with an apostrophe. “They’re going to the game,” can also be, “They are going to the game.” If you are showing possession, you would say, “Their tickets are in the front row.” Everything else leads to the default version, the one most often used. “There are your seats.” It often shows location.

Then/Than: This one is so tough because, even though the words should be pronounced differently, most people don’t. “Than” is a comparative word. “She is smarter than her boss,” compares the intelligence level of one person to another. “Then” can show order or something in addition. “We went to the mall. Then we came home.”

Affect/Effect: Here is another set of words which are pronounced the same, but shouldn’t be. “Affect” is a verb; “effect” is a noun. “His parents had a big effect on his attitude by grounding him,” shows the word as a thing. “His parents were able to affect his attitude through grounding,” shows the word as an action.

Loose/Lose: These words don’t sound alike and don’t even have similar meanings, but are so often mixed up. “Loose” shows that something is too large, while “lose” means that you didn’t gain a victory or that you no longer have something. “If your pants are too loose, you might lose them!”

Could’ve/Should’ve/Would’ve: Here’s how I too often see these: could of, should of, would of. The issue here is that when we pronounce the contractions of could have, should have, and would have, we say them like the way they’re usually written incorrectly.

Here/Hear: Another homonym here! “Here” is a location: “Here is the buried treasure!” On the other hand, if you are listening, “You will hear the directions clearly.”

Borrow/Loan: A line that makes me grate my teeth is, “I borrowed him my fill in the blank.” No, you didn’t. You loaned him that item. He borrowed it from you. Always remember: borrow from, loan to.

I know, I know, I’m a grammar freak. However, as we stray more and more from proper usage of our language, we lose our place in this world. English is a difficult language because it has so many instances like the above examples. Many other languages are much more clear. We have always had a fluid language, but these rapid changes in misuse scare me.

There are some things that have changed in our lifetimes. It’s more acceptable to end a sentence in a preposition. Many people lean toward using “their” as a possessive word if you’re not sure if the person possessing something is male or female. However, to simply not know which word to use is laziness. We’re all in such a hurry to send our messages that, many times, that extra second to think about which version of a word to use is not in the plans.

Many people tell me they are frightened to post on my Facebook page or send me an email because they think I’ll judge them based on their mistakes. I can’t help but notice the grievous errors I’ve written about, but I try to reserve judgement! However, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to take a few spare seconds to make sure we’ve got the right word.

Thanks to those ladies for the inspiration this week. Perhaps I should’ve paid more attention to my cards though; I was the first player out!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is brio, which means vigor or vivacity, as in, “He corrected papers with such brio that the red pen sliced through the words that were wrong.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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