Words that Create Mix-Ups Part 1

And then there are those pesky word mix-ups – words like their, they’re, and there, for one example. Or to, two, and too, for another. Or how about can’t, can not, and cannot? Or affect
and effect? It’s and its? And the worst part? These words may be incorrectly used, but as long as they are spelled correctly, even if misused, Spell Checker will not catch them!

Let’s take a look and see what we can do with this merry mélange!

All right then, let’s start with alright: While alright is shown, and given an explanation in most dictionaries, it is still considered “non standard.” So, the correct way to spell the word is “all right” – two words.

Now let’s go for our first trio:  their, they’re, and there:

Their” is a member of that group of possessive words that does not use an apostrophe. “Our,” “your,” “my,” “mine,” and so on. Think about this kind of word, and you can add a few others to this list.

“They’re” is a lovely contraction, and means “they are.”Contractions are interesting in that the apostrophe (’) shows us that something has been left out. For example, the name O’Brian was originally “of Brian,” meaning Brian’s son or daughter. So in the name O’Brian, the apostrophe shows us that the “f” and the space have been left out. Similarly, for the word “they’re,” the apostrophe shows us that the space and the “a” have been omitted.

“There” is a place.

So, perhaps we could say, “They’re there with their friends.”

 And here’s a dangerous duo – possibly the two most frequently misspelled words in the English language – its and it’s:

Its is – you remember – a possessive. Another of those possessive words that does not use an apostrophe. Did you think of “its” when adding words to your list in paragraph five?

It’s is – a contraction! “It’s” means “it is.” So what has been left out? The space and the “i.”

We could say, “It’s good to have its color such a cheery red!”

While we’re talking about the most frequently misused words in the language, here are three more – can not, cannot, and can’t:

“Can not” – two words – is only used when the next word is “only.” For example,“Mary can not only pitch, she can catch.”

“Cannot” – one word – is the most often used. For example, “I cannot thank you enough.”

“Can’t” is another of those – contractions. If you happen to be writing a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, you will not be using contractions in your writing. In the business situation, contractions will work in informal writing, but not when the situation calls for a more formal tone.

Here’s what I hope you will do this week: Concentrate on the words we’ve talked about today, to make sure you use these words correctly.

If you enjoy these Mix-Ups, let us hear your favorites! More next week.


Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or emailgail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

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