If I were Queen Elizabeth II, I would make my legacy a campaign reinforcing the importance of written communication skills, as “her” English is being mutilated daily.
I’m not referring to the lack of eloquence, nor am I delving into dwindling vocabularies wrought with management-speak. Grammar is my focus today; specifically, my homophonia (or fear of the incorrect use of homophones).
The collective “we” are quickly losing the ability to communicate properly. The rise of a whole new lexicon of abbreviations and phonetic spellings (LOL, OMG, BBM, U R cute 2day etc.) have taken over through social media and instant messaging. While the fewest and fastest keystrokes seem to win nowadays, we can still teach children, teenagers (and some adults) that they can be grammatically correct just as quickly.
Homophones (words that sound the same with different spelling and meaning) are the biggest thorn in my paw. “There,” “their” and “they’re” are the worst to me. “Too,” “to” and “two” are a close second, while “its” and “it’s” are similarly stomach-churning.
Let’s start with “there,” “their” and “they’re.” My trick is to note the letters following the “T” to understand which homophone to use.
“There” generally refers to a location; “there are my keys.” Looking at the word following the “T”, we see “here,” also a location, thus a great hint to use “there.” (There are always exceptions, but we’re going for a quick rule of thumb). For “their,” we use it to show possession of something, like “their house.” Note again the word following “T”: “heir.” An heir is someone who will get all of your possessions, hence think possessive or possession for correctly using “their.” In other words, if you can replace your use of “their” with “our,” you’re golden. Lastly, and probably the least problematic, is “they’re.” It’s short for “they are.” If you can replace “they’re” with “they are,” then you’re right on the money.
A quick test: choose the right homophone. I am going to use _____ car. You would not say “I am going to use they are car” so “they’re” is out. You would also not say “I am going to use here car” so “there” is out. “Their” is left, and it fits nicely, because the heir could have given them the car, and you could have said “I am going to use ‘our’ car.”
Now let’s look at “too,” “two,” and “to.” If it is the number to which you’re referring; always use “two.” If you’re speaking about a lot of something, look to the homophone with a lot of “O’s” “too.” By way of example: “I paid ___ much for that necklace, but it was ___ pretty for words.” If it precedes “much” or you can substitute in “outrageously” for it, you’ll likely use “too”. So, both of the former blanks would be filled by “too.” By process of elimination, use “to” in the other circumstances.
“Its” and “It’s” are next. “Its” is used only when it’s showing the possession of something, such as “the cat’s fur was very soft” could be replaced with “its fur was very soft.” You’ll also notice that in that previous sentence I used “it’s” instead of “it is.” When you can replace the homophone with “it is” or “it has,” you won’t go wrong with “it’s.”
While “it’s” been nice and a little therapeutic writing this all down, “there” is the chance that no one cares. Perhaps “they’re” “too” focused on sending out the next text as quickly as possible “to” “their” friends. “Its” contents may be riddled with errors; and the “two” hours of work that it took me to write this text may be wasted if “it’s” seen as “too” preachy.
I had to break my silence after seeing someone on Facebook write to a friend “your stupid” (yes, this should be “you’re stupid”).
If you get the basics right, you will only lose credibility with the grammarians on the trickier stuff; like when you split your infinitives and dangle your participles.
I have only begun to scratch the surface with this small set of homophones: I welcome your grammatical pet peeves. Perhaps we can start the Queen’s campaign for her.
If you have enjoyed this column, “you’re” welcome. If not, C U L8R.