Saturday, 24 February 2007

They're, there and their

Don’t let anyone tell you that spelling and grammar doesn't matter! It most certainly does. It either tells people that you had a poor education or that you can't be bothered. Sadly it could well mean that you are aged between 18 and 40 and that your teachers couldn't be bothered.
I'm happy to spend the rest of my life helping you with your English. I even run a specialist forum on English for writers, editors and general pedants. There's a section on the BV forums so you can ask questions and get advice. I was lucky enough to go to school in the 1960s where we had grammar lessons and six years of Latin so I'm happy to pass on knowledge that your teachers never had in the first place.

So let's start with a few "killers". These are the mistakes that cause physical pain to those who love English grammar:

Your and You're

You will only have a problem with these if you’re 40 or under and part of that problem is that slight changes in the sound of English have made them sound almost the same. They don't actually sound the same but the difference is minimal.

This is very easy:

You're = You are

eg Do you know if you’re coming to the party? (Do you know if you are coming to the party?)

Your = something you own/something that is yours.

eg Are you bringing your sister to the party?

Does it matter? Yes, it does. When I read "do you know if your coming to the party?" that sentence does not actually make any sense and I struggle to work out what it means. When I see "your" I expect to see something that I own following it! People write "your" all the time because they either never learned the difference (please write to the Government and get a refund on your alleged education ….) or they are vaguely aware there is a difference but can't be bothered to sort out what it is.

They're/their/there

These sound even more alike and even grammatical experts will occasionally type the wrong one.

They're = they are

eg Do we know if they're coming to the party?

Their = something they own/something that is theirs

eg Are they taking their mother on holiday?

There = a location or something exists

eg The balled rolled over there, or

There's a shop over there (both in that sentence!)

These few rules will take you 10 seconds to learn and 10 weeks to practise. Practice means thinking and concentrating on every paragraph you write to make sure you don't use the wrong one but you are only practising two sets of words at the moment. I can promise you that after those 10 weeks your English will have improved dramatically!

In the next article I'll look at commas and apostrophes and other troublesome punctuation.

Recommended Books:

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Between you and I by James Cochrane

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