Frequently Mixed Up Homonyms
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Frequently Mixed Up Homonyms

Even writers whose first language is English often get these homonyms mixed up. When do we use they’re, there, or their? How about it’s or its? Do you get confused with your and you’re? Here are some tips and tricks,with examples of their usage, to help you keep them straight.

Homonyms are pairs or groups of words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. If you use the wrong one in your writing, your word processor’s spell checker won’t alert you, since the wrong word is still a correctly spelled English word.

This article will demonstrate the correct use for three sets of homonyms: they’re, there, and their; it’s and its; and your and you’re. In each example, one word in the pair or group is a possessive pronoun and another is a contraction. If you remember that a contraction uses an apostrophe to stand for the letters left out when two words are joined, and possessive pronouns (my, your, his hers, its, and their) do not have apostrophes, you should have no problem remembering which form to use.

They’re, there, or their?

Remembering that they’re is a contraction of the words they are should help. The apostrophe replaces the letter a.

  • When are they coming? They’re (they are) coming tomorrow.

Their  is the third person possessive plural pronoun. I have a weird way of remembering this word, but maybe it’s so weird that you just might remember. A possessive pronoun means that someone owns or possesses something. In America, when anyone possesses something, the IRS will tax it. The word their ends in IR (as in Internal Revenue service).

  • What do they possess? They possess a new car. It is their new car. They have to pay taxes to the IRS for theIR new car.

There is a determiner to show location, along with here. All you have to remember is HERE and tHERE.

  • Where are they? There they are. They’re in their new car.

It's or its?

Another pair of homonyms frequently confused  is it’s and its. Some people are fooled by the apostrophe and s, because the‘s is used to show possession for most nouns, as in Nancy’s house. But the possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes: my, your, his, hers, its, our, their.

So if you remember that its is a possessive pronoun, and possessive pronouns don’t have apostrophes, this might help you to remember which form to use.

  • The mouse ran into its hole.

It might be more helpful to remember that it’s is the contraction of it is. The apostrophe is there to replace the i when it is becomes it’s.

  • Where is the mouse? It’s in its hole.

Your or you're?

The last homonym pair is your and you’re. Your is a possessive pronoun, and possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes.

  • That book belongs to you. It is your book.

You’re is a contraction of you are. The apostrophe replaces the letter a when you are becomes you are.

  • Are you coming to book club this week? I hope so, because you’re supposed to bring the muffins.

And there you have it. I hope that this article has been of some help to you. Sometimes it’s the weirdest tips and tricks that help you to remember which spelling of these homonyms to use in your writing.

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Comments (6)

Great article. Thank you. I have been teaching English to foreigners since 2003 and wow, our language is really tricky. I often get tripped up with its and it's. I am conscious of it, but I still get hooked. Ouch. (-: Very well written!

Who's and Whose often stump me.

Great selection for a title and contents.thank you.

Most useful to those who get confused with these homonyms. There are so many words in the English language in this category - how on earth do foreigners distinguish what is what. Thanks for sharing this excellent information in such a precise and understandable way.

Sometimes Karen I get hear and here mixed up. This usually happens when I am tired and in a hurry to finish writing. I recommended this article.

Love the IRS tip.