Commonly Confused Words: Your/Your

After ‘there/their/they’re’, the next CCW post has to be ‘your/you’re’, doesn’t it? It’s practically a law, and we grammarians love our laws. So, without further ado, I give you:

Your/You’re

‘Your’ means ‘belonging to you’. It goes with ‘our’ and ‘my’ and ‘their’.

Examples:

  • ‘That one’s yours, and these are ours.’
  • ‘You and yours.’
  • ‘Your house is tidier than mine.’

‘You’re’ is short for ‘you are’, and goes with ‘I’m’, ‘we’re’, and ‘they’re’.

Examples:

  • ‘You’re late!’
  • ‘Which one is mine?’ ‘You’re in number 42.’
  • ‘Where am I?’ ‘You’re in a room.’ (If you recognise this line, you’re probably a child of the ’80s.)

And, of course, this old favourite:

‘You’re back!’
‘What about my back?’

Boom boom.

Sidenote: Yore/Yaw/Ewer

There are a few more words that may, depending on your accent, sound a bit like your/you’re.

  • Yore means ‘the distant past’. Only really seen now in the phrase ‘days of yore’.
  • Yaw is a aeronautical term, and refers to one of the three axes of aircraft: roll, pitch, and yaw.
  • Ewer is an old word for a type of ornate water jug.

If you have suggestions for a future ‘Better English’ post, please leave a comment. And if you want more detailed, personal help with your writing, you can always request a quote.

Grammar Rules?

Understanding English grammar is hard – not just because there are lots of complicated rules, but because there are lots of complicated (and conflicting) guidelines. There isn’t one, standardised type of written English for all Anglophone countries. Instead, there are some broad principles, a few absolute rules, and lots and lots of room for personal preference.

Some people take this to mean that there are no rules, or that the rules don’t matter. Others take the personal preferences of some one person or organisation and declare these to be The Rules of English grammar. Both these approaches miss the fundamental purpose of language.

We use language to communicate. When writing (or speaking, or signing) we want to convey a message. It might be simple, factual information (‘We’re out of milk.’) or it might be a complex, layered message, loaded with subtext and emotion (‘You put an empty milk carton back in the fridge. Again.’) But whatever the message, we need to use language to send it. And language needs rules just as much as it needs vocabulary. And then there’s the third element: Style.

The Art of the Edit

English is a rich and beautiful language, with lots of room for personal style. So, when is something ‘bad grammar’, and when is it a matter of ‘personal style’? I know, for example, that some people will be unhappy about my use of ‘so’ in that last sentence. Or should that be ‘previous sentence’?

And… this is where it gets hard. Because the answer is: It depends. Depends on the writer, the intended audience, the purpose of the communication, and much more besides. Understanding English grammar goes beyond learning a list of rules, not matter how complicated. Grammar is an art as much as a science, and using it effectively is a skill like any other.

Computers can learn the rules, but even the most sophisticated software struggles to understand context. An automated grammar-checker can give you options, but it can’t explain to you which of those options is appropriate for that exact situation. A human editor can make those judgement calls more accurately. A human editor can also talk to you: to explain choices, to ask questions and listen to your answers.

This is not to say that you need to hire a paid editor for everything you write. Your editor could be a friend, neighbour, or a member of your family. It could even be you, after you’ve taken a short break from your work. I’ll be doing a whole post on ‘editing hacks’ in the future.

Remember, the whole point is to convey your message clearly. The rules are there to be guides, not guardians.


Better English posts every other Monday, sharing tips and tricks for honing your own skills. If you’d like to get direct, personal help with your writing, you can request a quote.

Commonly Confused Words: There/They’re/Their

Welcome to ‘Better English’. As promised (way back in January) I’ll be posting tips and tricks for writing better English. Some of the posts will be general advice, and others (like this one) will be about commonly confused words or phrases.

This time, we’re looking at an old favourite: there, their, and they’re.

There belongs with here and where. It’s describing a place, a moment, or an abstract (like ‘it’).

Examples:

  • Where is it? It’s over there.
  • Where have you been? Oh, here and there.
  • There are three apples here. There are two oranges over there.

They’re is just short for they are. Like I’m, you’re, we’re, etc.

Examples:

  • We’re going, but they’re not.
  • They’re glad you’re staying.
  • Are they leaving? No, they’re staying here.

Their means ‘belonging to them’, like my, your, our, etc.

Examples:

  • Their car is bigger than mine.
  • My car is cleaner than theirs.
  • Is that your car? No, it’s theirs.

There, I hope that clears up a few things. Don’t overthink the examples, they’re just a bit of fun.


If you have suggestions for a future ‘Better English’ post, please leave a comment. And if you want more detailed, personal help with your writing, you can always request a quote.

Y Bova?

Penguin throwing wing up in a shrug I mean, language is always eovlving, write? The way we Comunic8 is changing, and been *correct” only matters to stuffy grammar nerds and English teachers, no wot I meen? Jus say wat you gotta say and iGnore the h8rs, who R like sad and boring loosers NEwai.

If you are fluent in English, you could probably make sense of that opening paragraph. But was it easy? Did you have to work on it to get the meaning?

When we communicate with each other, we share a lot more than words. In speech we have tone of voice, speed, and volume to help out with our meaning; in writing we have spelling, punctuation, and layout. And then there’s word-choice, grammar, and all sorts of other things that we use to suit our communication style to the occasion.

Of course, we don’t have to write perfectly all the time – just like we don’t have to speak perfectly all the time. Letters and emails to friends and family will normally be pretty casual, and no-one’s going to care about the occasional spelling mistake or punctuation error (unless it changes the meaning of the sentence, but more on that another time). It’s a bad idea to get so hung up on The Rules that you can’t so much as write a shopping list for yourself without reaching for the dictionary. In everyday life, so long as the meaning is clear, it’s all good. But there are times when good writing is essential.

Go back and look at that first paragraph again. Now imagine it was part of a letter to a magazine, asking them to publish an article I’d written for them. How far do you think the editor would get before throwing the whole thing in the bin? What if I wrote like that on a job application? Or in a letter to my bank, asking for a loan?

When we talk face-to-face, we make judgements about each other. Leaving aside prejudices about age, race, accent, etc, there are several things we take in at a glance, such as body language, facial expression, style of clothing, and cleanliness. If the occasion calls for a smart appearance, you are unlikely to be impressed by someone who shows up looking scruffy, slouched, scowling, and smelly. It’s the same with writing.

If someone uses bad writing in a formal situation, they are telling you one of three things:

(a) they don’t think that this is a formal situation,
(b) they don’t know how to write well,
(c) they can’t be bothered to check their work, and they expect you to fix their mistakes for them,
or (d) all of the above.

And all this before you’ve read most of the message! First impressions in writing can make or break the reader’s willingness to listen.

In future posts, I’ll be covering various aspects of writing better English – especially commonly confused words and phrases. If you have an idea for a ‘Better English’ topic, please leave a comment.

If you want help with a particular piece of writing, then why not request a quote?