Pick Wayne's Brain

December 6, 2008

Ask the Grammar Guy

Filed under: Ask the Grammar Guy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 3:23 AM

Hello, and welcome to “Ask the Grammar Guy”, a friendly guy who wants to help you with some common spelling and grammatical errors on the many sites he visits.

Some of you know me from my long boring or short stupid posts at ThinkProgress (thanks for stopping by). Others may have come across me at TheZoo (thanks for stopping by there, too.) I see a lot of people posting comments (there and in the other big blogs, not this one) and they’re using the wrong words, especially where apostrophes are concerned. I’m not going to name any names, and if you recognize yourself in here, please don’t take offense. Instead, take it as constructive criticism. I see earnest efforts at erudition erode to entropy, eventually ending erroneously. (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t shake that sentence out of my head, but as the song goes, “That’s What Blogs Are For”.) So, to help you out, here are some tips.

Here’s one I’ve made myself and, to be honest, I’m a little embarrassed by it, because I was passionate about what I was saying on the matter. It’s “habeas corpus”, not “habeus corpus”. I am guilty as charged. I should have known better, but I saw it spelled the wrong way in another post and I, being the silly person I am (and lapsed member of MENSA), copied it the way I saw it. In fairness, the person I copied probably did the same thing. We can blame ourselves collectively or we could find the guy that started it and beat the shit out of him.

“Lose” and “Loose”
“Lose” is the opposite of “win”. “Loose” is the opposite of “tight”. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people write about “loosing” an election that was coming up. If it helps to remember, a “loss” (one “o”) is what happens when you “lose” (one “o”). And “loose” (double “o”) rhymes with “moose”, which I’m sure a lot of you were thinking about as Election Day approached, which might explain some of the confusion. I can understand that.

Now, contractions and possessives give a lot of people trouble because they both involve the mysterious apostrophe, strange foreign cousin of the quotation mark. Everybody knows the quotation mark and what it means. You are quoting someone. But that half-pint of a quote mark, the ay-post-tro-fee, is just some weird thing that some people seem to like to use more than others, though no one seems to know when to use it and when not to. Well, I’m no expert on the subject, and I can’t give you a complete list of dos and don’ts. But I can help you remember how to use a few examples correctly whether you’re posting in a blog or writing an angry manifesto about why you blow people up. (I’m looking at you here, Ted.)

“You’re” and “Your”
“You’re” is a contraction of the two words “you are”, while “your” is the possessive form of “you”. A good trick, and one that works with the other contractions I discuss below, to figure out whether or not to use the one with the apostrophe is to use the two words “you are”. If your sentence makes sense this way, then it’s okay to use “you’re”. If not, then you probably want to use “your”. For example, would “If you are sentence makes sense…” make sense? Not really, would it? That’s how I knew I should use the word “your” before. Another tip to remember that “your”, the possessive form of “you” is like the word “our”, and both end in “our”. “Is it your money or our money?”

“They’re”, “Their”, and “There”
The first thing to remember is that all three start with the letters “t-h-e”. I see a lot of people misspell “their” as “thier”, but just remember that they all start out with THE same letters. “They’re” (Moe) is a contraction of the words “they are”. “Their” (Larry) is the possessive form of “they”. And “there” (Curly) is the one you use when you’re talking about location. Just as when you need to decide between “your” and “you’re”, the same test works with “they’re”. Just stop and ask if the sentence makes sense if you use the two words “they are”. Use “their” when you’re referring to something that belongs to or is characteristic of “them”. If you want to refer to where something is, as in “here” or “there”, then use “there”. (Notice how they all end in “here”.) The Republicans think that their strategy would win this year, but they’re in for a big surprise when we all vote them out of there.

“We’re” and “were”
Just apply the same rules as for “they’re” and “there”. We’re convinced they knew all along there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and lied to us to get us to support their illegal war.

“It’s” and “Its”
This one turns out to be easier to get right than you might think. Like the others, “it’s” is a contraction for “it is”. The two-word substitution test should help here, too. Also, remember that “it” is a neutral gender term. To figure out if you should use “it’s” or “its” when using the possessive case, pretend you’re talking about a man or woman, instead of a thing. Whenever it would be correct to use “his” or “hers” (no apostrophe in either one), that’s when you would use “its” (the other one without an apostrophe.) Ironically, “his”, “hers”, “its”, “theirs”, and “ours” are the only possessive forms that don’t use the apostrophe, as best I can recall. English majors please correct me. And plurals! Don’t get me started on plurals. Plurals almost never use an apostrophe, so don’t automatically add “’s” when you pluralize a word. But that’s content for another post, as my great grandfather used to say (though it’s possible he was referring to something else.)

“Here” and “Hear”
You “hear” things with your “ear”, so if you’re talking about being “heard”, then you want “hear”. If you’re talking about anything else, you probably want “here”.

Funny story. Jane and I were discussing whether the proper use for the expression is “Hear! Hear!” or “Here! Here!”. While trying to look this up in the dictionary (which I HIGHLY recommend as a reference source not only for proper grammatical usage, but for historical information as well), I found this under at the bottom of the word “here” (keep in mind that as I read it out loud, without having read it first myself, neither of us could quite follow what they were talking about until they got to the example):

-Usage. It is generally considered nonstandard to place HERE, for emphasis, in an adjectival position between a demonstrative adjective and a noun, as in This here book is the one you’re looking for.

Three things: First, our confusion in part was because this wasn’t sounding like it was going to clarify our question, but that sentence was designed to be confusing. Second, Jane was right and that “hear” can also mean, “Chiefly Brit., to applaud or endorse a speaker (usually used imperatively in the phrase Hear! Hear!)”. She’s so smart! Third, note the correct usage of the word “you’re”.

I hope this little guide helps. As a last piece if advice, let me quote one of the bumper stickers on my car: “READ A FUCKING BOOK”


  1. I here what your saying Wayne. People at work write in there e-mails all kinds of stupid things. Its possible I might loose my mind if I have too keep reading that tripe while I’m their. Around hear were I live were really glad you put up this post. Your the greatest!

    Seriously though, you’re preaching to the choir here. I can’t believe that I work with so-called professional people who can’t fucking spell or even get grammar usage correct. I think I could run a humour blog just by posting some of the tripe that comes into my inbox daily. Except for the whole confidentiality thing, of course.

    Read a book?

    You’ve probably seen this, haven’t you?

    Comment by Rob — December 6, 2008 @ 12:17 PM

  2. No, I hadn’t seen it. Not the type of thing I would have posted here, but that’s okay.

    Anyway, while I realize I may be “preaching to the choir”, I like to think that I have provided you (the “choir”) a resource to which you could direct your friends and co-workers who have trouble with these things. Sort of an “un-biased source”.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you also enjoy the song parodies.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — December 7, 2008 @ 2:33 PM

  3. Hi Wayne… this is great and useful information. My mind has a pretty good understanding of these rules. Now if I can only get my fingers to follow these rules. So many times, I’ve typed the wrong word, such as, “two” when I should have typed “too”. I know the difference and I only discover that I made the error after I saved my post.

    Nice blog, btw.

    Comment by Cats r Flyfishn — December 7, 2008 @ 8:53 PM

  4. Hmm. Didn’t think about the potential offensiveness of that youtube vid. Sorry. You can delete it from my comment, if you like.

    I do enjoy the song parodies. In fact, I think you’re quite the creative genius with those.

    Your piece on re-thinking capitalism was very good and was the reason I added your blog to my reader.

    Again, my apologies for the link in my previous comment.

    Comment by Rob — December 9, 2008 @ 1:12 AM

  5. It’s okay, Rob. People who understand how this thing works will realize that it was your comment with the link to the video, not mine. So they can direct any anger they may have at you, not me. 🙂

    I won’t delete it. The reason I say I would not have posted it is because, in case you haven’t guessed, I’m white. (I love the way Stephen Colbert says it, “Now, Nation, I don’t see skin color, but they tell me I’m white down at the country club…”) I understand the message in the video and I agree with it. Everyone should read a book (motherfuckin’ or otherwise) every now and then. My main regret is that I cannot personally deliver the same message to the same audience. It would not be well-received coming from me. 🙂

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and thanks for your kind comments about my parodies. By all means, feel free to leave a comment any time you like (or even dislike) one of them. It not only tells me that there are more than six people out there who like them, but it gives me immediate feedback and encourages me to write more of them. Lately, I’ve been debating about not posting any more parodies due to the lack of any kind of response, positive or otherwise. I may quietly post one once in a while, just to get them out of my head, but I probably won’t tell advertise when I’ve done it. So, check back periodically to see if there are more good things here. (I may re-post some of the earlier ones I did on my original blog.)

    And thanks, again, for stopping by.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — December 9, 2008 @ 11:14 AM

  6. Cats, I’ve come to realize that my main typing problem is switching the “n” and “g” at the end of words ending in “ng”. It often comes out “gn”. I try to correct them when I spot them, but some get through. (You can find many examples both here and at TheZoo.)

    After reading many of the incorrect usages of these words, I am convinced that some people do not know the difference. So I offer my services for their benefit, and ours.

    When we communicate well, we communicate better.

    When we communicate better, we learn better.

    When we learn better, we achieve more.

    When we achieve more, we all benefit.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — December 9, 2008 @ 11:18 AM

  7. Sorry to go off topic, but I have a punctuation hint.

    The punctuation goes INSIDE the quotation marks, as in: You “hear” things with your “ear,” so if you’re talking about being “heard,” then you want “hear.”

    Sorry Wayne, you know I used to be a legal assistant. 😐

    Comment by Zooey — February 21, 2009 @ 4:26 AM

  8. Wayne regarding the bumper sticker: I’ve read many a fucking book. My wife was deeply appreciative.

    Comment by Cletis — January 24, 2011 @ 9:20 AM

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