Where your spell checker is no help: more misused pears

fun with homonyms

Mismatched pear of shoes?

People search online for writing tips because they want to improve their writing.

Perhaps you came to this post because you typed “writing tips” into a search engine.

Maybe you want to clean mistakes out of your own writing. Maybe you teach writing and want something for your students.

Or maybe you just want some fun with homonyms.

Actually, I love mistakes in writing, provided that either someone else makes them or I get to do it deliberately to make a point. I have certainly enjoyed writing “misused pears” instead of “misused pairs” as part of the title of this series of occasional posts on writing.

I suspect that many times, when faced with a pair of words that sound the same and mean something entirely different, many writers don’t know the difference and pick the wrong one. But as the song says, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Careless typing can also wreak havoc. Fumble fingers that I am, I often catch myself writing “here” when I mean “hear,” for example. I know the difference, but sometimes my thoughts get so far ahead of my typing my brain can’t stop to make fine distinctions. That’s what proof reading is for. Don’t let these common goofs go out on the web and make you look bad!

Hear / Here

Anyone here remember phone booths? Back in the days of Ma Bell and large banks of pay phones, there used to be little blue signs above the phones that said, “Hear here.” Put the two words in that order, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it. Now try reversing them. It no longer makes any sense at all.

Try these on for size:

  • I here a lot of noise from the highway hear.
  • He gave a good talk, but people in the back couldn’t here him.
  • I can’t tell you hear, but I have a video about it. Just click the big orange button.

I have found variants of last sentence in several emails from people who want to sell me some product or service. Anyone can make a misteak (grin), but too many goofs like that in a single piece of writing destroys credibility.

If you’re putting something out on the web, you want people to read it and trust you. Whether from ignorance or carelessness, bad writing will cause you to lose credibility

Your / You’re

What would you think of my credibility if I had written this instead?

If your putting something out on the web, you want people to read it and trust you.

“You’re” is a contraction for “you are.” “Your” is the second-person possessive pronoun. Since “you’re” is harder to type, whenever you find it, it’s probably the word the writer intended. “Your” often gets pressed into service in its place.

Its / It’s

Speaking of possessives, English forms them from people’s names or other nouns by adding ‘s (apostrophe s). Possessive pronouns (my, thy, his, her, their, our, your) have no apostrophe. English contractions require an apostrophe, too.

Here is where things get confusing. Contractions formed by pronouns and the verb “to be” are I’m, you’re, he’s, she’s, it’s, we’re, and they’re. Three of the seven are easily confused with other words.

The one for “it is” causes special confusion. The apostrophe indicates a contraction, not a possessive. Its not it’s fault its so confusing. (Oh. That’s not quite right, is it?)

There / Their / They’re

As I say, their is no better way for writers to lose there credibility than to sprinkle lots of wrong words in they’re prose. Oh my. That sentence is a real mess, isn’t it? And spell checking software won’t flag it at all.

Now instead of two choices, we have three words that all sound the same. Add another possible contraction (there is = there’s) and the absolute form of the possessive pronoun (theirs), and there’s a verbal minefield to navigate.

The words I picked for this post are common words. We type them all the time. Every one of them is the right word sometimes and the wrong word other times.

Writers ought to make it as easy as possible for readers to understand our writing. Readers shouldn’t have to take even a split second to determine whether what we typed is what we meant. The responsibility for getting it right is ours, not there’s, um–ours, not theirs.

So writers, if you don’t thoroughly understand the various parts of speech and how to choose the correct word, study and learn some basic grammar. And if you do, proofread! Otherwise, you may give me more fun with homonyms and see your gaffe in a future post on misused pears.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by gadl.

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