Use Homophones Properly So You Don’t Look Stupid

Homophones are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently. If you don’t use them properly, you will look stupid to those that know the difference. Actually, this happens to be one of my pet peeves, so I am very careful when using any of these.

1. ‘Your’ vs. ‘You’re’

“Your” is a possessive pronoun, while “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.”

Example 1: You’re pretty.

Example 2: Give me some of your whiskey.

2. ‘It’s’ vs. ‘Its’

Normally, an apostrophe symbolizes possession, as in, “I took the dog’s bone.” But because apostrophes also replace omitted letters — as in “don’t” — the “it’s” vs. “its” decision gets complicated.

Use “its” as the possessive pronoun and “it’s” for the shortened version of “it is.”

Example 1: The dog chewed on its bone.

Example 2: It’s raining.

3. ‘Then’ vs. ‘Than’

“Then” conveys time, while “than” is used for comparison.

Example 1: We left the party and then went home.

Example 2: We would rather go home than stay at the party.

4. ‘There’ vs. ‘They’re’ vs. ‘Their’

“There” is a location. “Their” is a possessive pronoun. And “they’re” is a contraction of “they are.”

Use them wisely.

5. ‘We’re’ vs. ‘Were’

“We’re” is a contraction of “we are” and “were” is the past tense of “are.”

6. ‘Affect’ vs. ‘Effect’

“Affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun.

There are, however, rare exceptions. For example, someone can  “effect change” and “affect” can be a psychological symptom.

Example: How did that affect you?

Example: What effect did that have on you?

7. ‘Two’ vs. ‘Too’ vs. ‘To’

“Two” is a number.

“To” is a preposition. It’s used to express motion, although often not literally, toward a person, place, or thing.

And “too” is a synonym for “also.”

8. ‘Into’ vs. ‘In To’

“Into” is a preposition that indicates movement or transformation, while “in to,” as two separate words, does not.

Example: We drove the car into the lake.

Example: I turned my test in to the teacher.

In the latter example, if you wrote “into,” you’re implying you literally changed your test into your teacher.

9. ‘Alot’

“Alot” isn’t a word. This phrase is always two separate words: a lot.

10. ‘Who’ vs. ‘Whom’

Use who to refer to the subject of a sentence and whom to refer to the object of the verb or preposition. Shortcut: Remember that who does it to whom.

Example: Who ate my sandwich?

Example: Whom should I ask?

11. ‘Whose’ vs. ‘Who’s’

Use “whose” to assign ownership to someone and “who’s” as the contraction of “who is.”

Example: Whose backpack is on that table?

Example: Who’s going to the movies tonight

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