The number one qualifier of being an English major is having grammar pet peeves. Seriously. I don’t think you’re allowed to graduate from any university unless you’ve developed at least three. There are some things that just make you cringe every time you see them, and even hear them in some cases. And if you’re an English major and catch yourself doing one of your pet peeves (usually in a flurry of writing at 2:33 in the morning), you’re pretty much ashamed to go out in public for a week.
That said, if you want to make it through the written world with credibility, even if you’re not an English major, you will want to avoid these mistakes (and the future ones we’ll blog about too). This time we’ll look at possibly the three most commonly misused group of words. I would hope that explaining these differences would be obvious, but after a quick look on Facebook, I feel like nothing is obvious anymore.
Let’s get started.
You’re vs. Your
Okay, this one’s easy. Really. I know English can be confusing sometimes with the apostrophes, but in most instances, like this one, the apostrophe is just standing in for a missing letter or two.
So ‘you’re’ is just ‘you are.’ It can only be used if you could say ‘you are,’ and it cannot be used for anything else. Don’t even try it.
‘Your’ on the other hand is the possessive form for ‘you.’ Do you own something? Then it’s yours. Don’t let that ‘s’ confuse you and make you think there should be an apostrophe. Your favorite shoes are yours. That’s just how it is. Unless you borrowed the shoes from a friend, I suppose.
They’re vs. Their vs. There
All right. This one is a little more complex, but still pretty easy. ‘They’re’ is just like ‘you’re.’ Same letter missing and everything. It can only be used if you could say ‘they are.’ End of discussion.
‘Their’ is just like ‘your,’ except it’s the possessive form of ‘they.’ If a group owns something, it’s theirs. So their favorite shoes are theirs. Unless they borrowed them from you.
‘There’ indicates place. It can be rather vague, but it is necessary. If you can substitute an actual place name (the gym, New York City, your house, etc.), you would use ‘there.’ If you can’t do that, then you probably want a different word.
Two vs. Too vs. To
All right. Now for the big time. You can do it; I have faith in you.
‘Two’ is the number two. Do not use it as anything else, not even if you really like math.
Still confused? ‘To’ could help you differentiate when to use ‘too.’ If you used ‘to’ in any of the instances above, it would be like you’re toasting that thing at a fancy party. To many options! To bad! Here, here! I’m not going to judge your choices of toasts. Or it would be like you’re going to a place. To Much! To Ridiculous! Don’t forget your water bottle. I hear both of those places involve long trips.
‘To’ is a preposition; it’s the only preposition out of these three. If you need a preposition, use ‘to.’ The other most common uses: toward a point, person, place, or thing (implied or understood); toward a contact point or closed position; toward a matter, action, or work; into a state of consciousness or out of unconsciousness.
Chances are that you’re going to use ‘to’ most often. So, work on mastering ‘too’ first.
And please, whatever you do, read your Facebook statuses before posting. Smartphones are grammar haters and are out to destroy everything grammatical. Don’t let them win!
By Tracy Buckler
Image 3 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net, by Ambro.