This page has moved to a new address.

Grammar Byte: It's vs Its and Four Other Confusing Word Pears

Cheryl's Musings: Grammar Byte: It's vs Its and Four Other Confusing Word Pears

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Grammar Byte: It's vs Its and Four Other Confusing Word Pears

If you had to read that title twice, kudos to you--you've got a bit of the right-brained copy editor angel (or demon, depending on your point of view) whispering in your ear. And that's a very good thing. At least, that's a very good thing when you're in the revision and review stages of writing, preparing to submit your manuscript, because editors, in my experience, have very LOUD copy editor angels (or demons) that can get irate over details like dangling participles, serial commas, and the misuse of it's/its.

 typewriter rahego 

Before you submit, click publish/send, or otherwise send your writing into the world, check for these bad boys...because seriously, how can an editor fully appreciate your writing with that copy editor angel shrieking at her?

Its/It's: Don't you love how the English language is full of exceptions? If we went by the rules, both of these would contain apostrophes.

  • The first (its) is possessive: Its hair flashed purple.
  • The second (it's) is a contraction: It's Monday already?

I remember the difference because it is gets an apostrophe to replace the missing "i". Actually, I have this really cool animation that runs through my head of "IT" and "IS" ramming together and the "I" of "IS" turning into an apostrophe...but that's probably just because I'm way too visual a thinker.

Pair/pear: Okay, this is not the prime duo of word mix-ups, but I figured I'd better include them, since they’re referenced in the title.

  • Pair: two of something, "a pair of Nike Air shoes" (Get it? Pair. Nike AIR? Um, never mind....)
  • Pear: the fruit, "I love a juicy, ripe pear"

Affect/effect: Does anyone else get this confused? I'm pretty good at language—not that I ever excelled at diagramming sentences, but I read enough that I gained an intuitive feel for correct vs incorrect grammar. Somehow, this word duo passed me by. I still have to look them up (often on Grammar Girl’s excellent web site). I remember which is which because their alphabetical order is the same as their order in a sequence of events:

  • Affect (Cause) The ants adversely affected the picnic.
  • Effect (Result): The effect of the ant invasion was a much shorter-than-anticipated picnic.

Grammar Girl provides mnemonic illustrations, so check her out if you have trouble with this one.


Alright/all right: You know the whole contraction thing? It doesn’t work here. Even though “alright” is commonly used, many consider it grammatically incorrect. According to Merriam-Webster online: “Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing <the first two years of medical school were alright — Gertrude Stein>”

That said, you’re safer spelling out “all right” as two separate words. Trust me. Those who care about this difference care deeply.

  • Alright: Nope, alright isn’t (technically) all right.
  • All right: Yep, this is the correct version.

What grammar/word use rules keep you on your toes? Any tips to share?

Labels: , , ,


At July 8, 2011 at 2:23 PM , Blogger Carol Riggs said...

Heehee, I confess to being driven NUTS by seeing "all right" spelled "alright." It's just wrong, sorry. ;o) (Yes, we care deeply.)

Another one I see commonly misused is who's (contraction for who is) and whose (pronoun). Also you're (you are) and your (pronoun). If I'm not paying attention, I can accidentally type the wrong one though!

At July 8, 2011 at 2:29 PM , Blogger Jennifer Shirk said...

YES!! "Alright" drives me nutso too!! Gosh, it feels good to get that out. :-)
I ALWAYS have to look up rein and reign. It's like a mental block. LOL

At July 8, 2011 at 3:17 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi there! Those are terrific examples--I'll have to cover those next week :). And it's good to know that I'm not alone in my "Alright" aversion! Your/you're drives me crazy, too.

Rein/reign--every once in a while, this will appear on a slide with the words to a song I'm supposed to be singing. It never fails to trip me up because my brain translates it as "horse's reins" when the author means to say "the king reigns."

At July 8, 2011 at 4:02 PM , Blogger erica and christy said...

Awhile ago, someone mentioned to me that they get loose and lose mixed up and I couldn't figure out why anyone would. But once I heard about it, I started seeing it all over the place (even in published books). So I guess loose/lose is a mixup, too.

At July 8, 2011 at 4:37 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Another great one--I've seen loose/lose interchanged, too.

Hmm...that makes me remember one word mixup that I find particularly funny...a friend (who was extremely hungry) exclaimed that she was "Simply ravished!" I've noticed that one since, too, and it always makes me laugh.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home