They’re’s a problem with are grammar

DictionaryAlright folks, I know using Twitter and email is all about speed and brevity, but their are sum things that our simply inexcusable for communications professionals.

Before getting into it, a few notes.

  1. I’m not perfect, I may not know an Oxford comma from an Oxford shirt, but there are some basics
  2. We’re professional communicators!  Being able to communicate at a minimum threshold of competence is one of the essential tools in our toolbox.
  3. Typos happen.  They’re forgivable.  But when I see you’ve used the wrong form of a word I know it’s not a typo.  Either you don’t know the difference, you don’t care enough to take 10 seconds to reread your 140 characters (which should be unnecessary), or … you’re drunk.
  4. Caveat to #3 — If you’re employed and have good job security you can slip occasionally.  If you’re among the hundreds looking for a job, take the extra effort to get it write right.  Even if it means using two tweets, dropping the person an email, or changing what you were going to say.  It’s worth it — there are people out there looking for candidates without officially opening up a job posting.  Impress them with your content and form and maybe something will happen.  Turn them off to you right away and it’ll be hopeless.

So…my short list of top grammatical pet peeves.  These are also those that will give away that your error is not a mistake, but rather an indication of sum some deeper problem.  This is really a very low threshold.  Let’s see if we can make it over.


  • Right: Indicates direction or ‘proper/correct’ behavior.  Direction:Look at your computer keyboard (assuming it’s a standard QWERTY keyboard).  The “P” — that’s on the right side of your keyboard.  Behavior: You help a little old lady across the street — you have done the right thing.  You answered 4 when asked “What’s 2 plus 2” — you gave the right answer.
  • Write: Find a piece of paper.  Find a pen (go ahead, I’ll wait, I know it’ll take some time in the digital age).  Put pen to paper, move your hand in a random motion simulating letters or numbers.  That’s writing.

Are/Our — I don’t know how this one started but it terrifies me each time I see it

  • Are:  is a verb.  It indicates something is happening: We are going to the store.  We are waiting for you.  We are getting agita reading your stuff.
  • Our: it’s a pronoun.  Change the sentences around and it can replace the ‘We’ in the above examples:  Our trip is to the store.  Our excuse is that we’re waiting for you.  Our problem is agita from reading your stuff.


  • Their: Indicates possession.  Their car, Their home, Their infection, Their antibiotics.
  • There:  Indicates location. Go over there, you smell.  If you go there you will have your car stolen. There is nothing left in the bottle of bourbon.
  • They’re: Is a shortened form of “They are.”  Think of it this way — the apostrophe is a signal that there are letters missing from the two word phrase making this new word.   They’re really ticked at you.  They’re never going to forgive you.
    They’re going home because you spilled absinthe on their dog over there. Note the last sentence — all three forms of their/there/they’re.  The first – a short version of ‘they are,’ the second – possession (the dog), the third – the location of the spill.


  • Know: Indicating comprehension of a piece of information – think “knowledge.” You know your boss is going to fire you.
  • Now:  Indicating when something will happen.  Go away now.  Pitch the client now.  My boss is going to fire me now.  I know my boss is going fire me now.
  • No: No, really, do I have to explain N-O?

Its/It’s — This one’s a little tough.

  • It’s: Contracted form of “it is” or “it has” — just like with ‘they’re’ the apostrophe replaces some of the missing letters/spaces. It’s going to rain.  It’s going to end in a bar fight.  It’s just not attractive on you.  If the it’s can be replaced by it is or it has it needs the apostrophe.
  • Its: Indicates ownership. [Forget the use of the possessive when referring to other people’s stuff, (e.g. Bob’s computer).  Different rule here.]  The bar has lost its liquor license. [“it is” does not work in that sentence].  Now it’s never going to make a profit (there “it is” does work).


  • Yours: Indicates ownership of something by someone else.  This book is yours.  Yours are the pants on the left.  Please don’t tell me yours are nicer than the others I’ve seen.
  • Your’s: Is not a word in English.  Please stop using it. Consider the contraction guidelines above — Is there any sentence that could contain the phrase “your is” or “your has” that makes any sense whatsoever?

Rant over.  Can we get these six down at least?  Though, I am curious to know everyone else’s pet peeves.  Let’s hear it.

[recent posts]