Readers, writers, and day-to-day users of the English language, lend me your ear. I'm seeing an alarming number of error-filled manuscripts, emails, and IM conversations. There are incorrect words being used everywhere. Should you care? Please allow me to quote Mark Twain:
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
Twain was a bit of a smarty-pants. Now, I am not William Strunk, or E.B. White, or even Lynne Truss, but goshdarnit I can still list some Fails and Fixes to make your writing gooder… er, better.
(Disclaimer: I started by writing my own explanations, but ended up adapting the definitions from Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians. It is the best help site I know of, and I don’t know what else I can say to recommend it.)
Just remember two points and you’ll never make this mistake again. (1) “it’s” always means “it is” or “it has” and nothing else. (2) Try changing the “its” in your sentence to “his” and if it doesn’t make sense, then go with “it’s.”
“You’re” is always a contraction of “you are.” If you’ve written “you’re,” try substituting “you are.” If it doesn’t work, the word you want is “your.”
“There” has “here” buried inside it to remind you it refers to place, while “their” has “heir” buried in it to remind you that it has to do with possession.
Regardless of what you have heard, “irregardless” is a redundancy. The suffix “-less” on the end of the word already makes the word negative. It doesn’t need the negative prefix “ir-” added to make it even more negative.
As in “Could have, should have, would have.” A sentence like “I would have gone if anyone had given me free tickets” is normally spoken in a slurred way so that the two words “would have” are not distinctly separated. Many people hear “would of” and that’s how they write it. Wrong. (Note that “must of” is similarly an error for “must have.”)
That’s it. See? Simple fixes. This isn’t hardcore grammar. This is easy, breezy stuff. Anyone can do it. I’m not crazy.
(Image © 2009 Tracy J. Butler, from Lackadaisy.)