This week I’m in Florida, visiting a few papers and the Poynter Institute.  I apologize for the long delay in posts.  I haven’t had nearly as many copy shifts as I would like, and that means not nearly as many opportunities to correct the wrongs of the world.

Grammatical wrongs, that is.  My ambitions are fairly small.

It was actually at the Poynter Institute that I was reminded of one of the most common errors of written English: your and you’re.

Admittedly, the instructor used “you’re” correctly once, and then incorrectly not a paragraph later, which tells me this was a problem of hurried writing rather than actual failure of usage.  But it should serve as a reminder that even people with very great mastery of language can make these mistakes.

On to the Word!

“Your” is a second-person possessive pronoun.  If you can replace it with “my,” “our” (both first-person possessive), “their,” “his,” or “her” (all third-person possessive) and have a grammatically correct sentence, then “your” is used correctly.

Your letter was fun to read!

can be correctly rewritten as His letter was fun to read! “Their,” “her,” “our,” or “my” can also be used in place of “your.”

“You’re” is a contraction of “you” (again, a second-person pronoun) and “are” (a plural to be verb)  If it can be replaced by “we’re,” “I’m,” (first-person pronouns, contracted with to be verbs that agree with them) “they’re,” “he’s,” or “she’s” (third-person pronouns and agreeing to be verbs), then the usage is correct.

You’re starting to get on my last nerve with this pronoun business.

can be successfully rewritten as She’s starting to get on my last nerve with this pronoun business.

Questions or comments?  Leave a reply 🙂