Little Word, Big Difference



Have you ever suffered Furrowed Brow Syndrome over confusing little words, and wondered how to be certain you were using them correctly? You know them well: it’s/its, I/me, then/than, their/there/they’re, your/you’re, to/too and others. (Onto/ on to, Into/in to.)


Let’s simplify:

1. It’s is always a contraction of it is. It’s not wise to venture outdoors without a coat in this weather. In this instance the apostrophe does not indicate ownership. However, possession omits the apostrophe. The dog spun in circles chasing its tail.

2. The I/me dilemma confuses some highly educated people. There are times when it sounds polished to say I when me is actually proper. The rule for this one is surprisingly simple. If you would say I when you were the only person in the sentence you should say I no matter how many others are spoken of. Example: Trudy and I had to hurry to catch the cross town bus. In most cases, if the pronoun is being used in the subject of the sentence, I will be correct.  You would not say Me had to hurry. Likewise, Trudy and me won’t have to hurry either.  While it is rude to put yourself first, it is a good way to test the sentence. No sentence ever begins with me. The I’s have it.

The predicate or object of the sentence can make I/me even more confusing. The trick is the same. Simply remove the other person from the equation and it should be apparent which word belongs.  It seemed like a big waste of time to me.  That is obvious, isn’t it? But what happens when Kathie agrees with you?  It seemed like a big waste of time to Kathie and (I or me?). This is where a lot of people believe it sounds more high class and cultured to say I. They are wrong.

3. Then/than is another bit of confusion that seems to trip up even professional writers. Again, the rule is simple.  Then always refers to a time frame. We went hiking on the old trail and then we stopped for a picnic. When asking when? use thenThan is the word to choose when comparing two things. Greater than, lesser than, rather thanI would rather watch movies at home this weekend than spend so much money at the theatre.

4. Ah, they’re putting their coats over there.  They’re is the contraction for they are. Their is possessive, denoting ownership. There is always somewhere. It is a place. If it answers the question Where? the answer is there.

5. You’re sending your children out to play.  We all see Facebook posts or receive emails almost daily well sprinkled with this one. It is my pet peeve. Have you ever read I hope your feeling better soon? Perhaps if we pronounced you’re “U’r” we would hear the difference. We truly should be able to hear the difference. You’re is the contraction of you are. Your is possessive.

6. Are you too tired to drive me to school?  Here, too means an excessive amount or degree. Extremely or very: Too pooped to pop, too much, too close. Are we going to have our cake and eat it too? Too indicates as well, also or in addition.

This is not a comprehensive list. If there are words that confuse you please drop me a line and I would be happy to clarify them for you.

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