Wise Cat
Inkscape Pop-Art
Explorer Context Menu
Escher Toy
SingStar Database
Good Grammar
Navigo Review
Cabinet Calcs
Caveman Rock

This is my futile attempt to try and spread a little grammatical enlightenment among the denizens of the internet. I have created a small link image (which you will find at the bottom of the page) which links to this article that I have taken to using in my signature on the forums I post in. It may well be bows and arrows against the lightning, but if even one person learns how to place an apostrophe correctly, or the difference between 'where' and 'were' then it will have been time well spent.

Now, I have worked in Engineering IT for the last 17 years, so I'm no stranger to atrocious spelling, garbled grammar and people who don't know that the CAPS LOCK WILL SWITCH OFF TOO. In fact, when the year above mine graduated they had t-shirts printed which read, "FOWER YEARS AGO I CUDNT EVEN SPELL ENJUNEER AND NOW I ARE ONE", which might have been funny, were it no so very close to the truth. So you'd think I'd be getting numb to it. But in truth, as a stickler, it never, ever stops getting under your skin.

To make matters worse, I've now started participating in various forums and I'm having a hard time not pulling up every post that needs correcting. So, to stop me from wasting my entire life and, more importantly, coming across as a complete git, I thought I'd have a little banner in my sig that was just there, constantly displaying the most common mistakes. And it links to this page, should the curious or unwary click on it.

So let's get down to it. Obviously grammar is a huge subject and I'm not going to cover everything - just the most troublesome areas. If you feel compelled to learn more, then I'll be providing links to further material at the bottom of the page.


That's just a posh term for words that sound the same. I found an excellent list of them here but I won't be covering all 500+ pairs listed. There are four groups of these that seem to cause constant trouble.


The first two in particular seem to get the most abuse, but I've seen them all merrily interchanged at one point or another. Here's the correct use:

    This refers to a location or place, or the existence of something. If you are on a journey, at the end you will be there.
    e.g.: I hated school when I was there. or There is every chance you are right.
    This is used when something belongs to somebody. It can be either one person or many.
    e.g.: I wish they would get their spelling right. or Their products are the best.
    This is a contraction of the words "they are", the apostrophe signifying the missing space and letter 'A'.
    e.g.: They're trying harder. or I don't know what they're doing.
There are two further hazards in this group: THERE'S and THEIRS.
    Again, the apostrophe signals missing letters in this contraction of "there is".
    e.g.: There's a whole lot of trouble here. or Where there's a will, there's a way.
    Used to denote ownership of something by many people. Note the absence of an apostrophe (see below).
    e.g.: You can't have that, it's theirs. or Theirs is one of the best products.


These ones seem to get mixed up even more often than those above. In actual fact there are a few more in this group - yaw, being a roatation about a vertical axis; yore, when referring to the 'olden days'; and if you want to start getting silly, Midge Ure (ex Ultravox front man) or the river Ure in North Yorkshire, England - but given their relative rarity they don't seem to pose any real threat.

  • YOUR
    Quite simply, possessed by you.
    e.g.: Your score is the highest. or Get off your horse and drink your milk.
  • YOU'RE
    A contraction of "you are".
    e.g.: You're doing it wrong! or Because you're worth it.
It's worth noting here that YOURS, like "theirs", doesn't get an apostrophe.


Strictly speaking these aren't actually homophones, except in certain dialects, yet the spellings still seem to be frequently interchanged.

    A location or place, often, but not necessarily, unknown.
    e.g.: Where are you going? or That's where the cool people hang out.
  • WERE
    Something that used to be, or happened in the past.
    e.g.: We were happier yesterday. or 8-bit consoles were better.
  • WE'RE
    A contraction of "we are".
    e.g.: We're not going to take it! or Now we're enlightened.


To be honest, I don't think I've ever witnessed the incorrect use of the number, "two", but the other two seem to cause confusion.

  • TO
    A tricky one to describe, this. Technically, it's a preposition and I have seen up to 27 definitions listed for it in dictionaries. Perhaps the easiest rule to follow for use is; if it's not a number, or too much, or as well, then it's "to".
    e.g.: Where are you going to? or I have to get the new Spongebob game.
  • TOO
    Used to indicate an abundance or excess, or to mean additionally or also.
    e.g.: There is too much butter on those trays. or I like ferrets too.


A few more that are less common but still worthy of note and a brief description.

  • ITS and IT'S
    This will get covered in the apostrophe section too, so only gets a brief mention here.
    ITS : Belongs to it.
    IT'S : Contraction of "it is".
  • WHOSE and WHO'S
    And this one
    WHOSE : Belongs to who.
    WHO'S : Contraction of "who is".
  • KNOW and NO
    It happens. I've seen it.
    KNOW : To have knowledge of.
    NO : To reply in the negative, or an absence of.
  • KNEW and NEW
    A partner to the pairing above.
    KNEW : Past knowledge; what you used to know.
    NEW : Not old. A recent arrival.


These tiny little lines seem to be the biggest stumbling block in writing. They are present in most of the homophone groups but that's not the only place they cause trouble. The most common and jarring mistake is its inclusion in plurals. So let us start with:

Plurals never, ever have an apostrophe before the 's'.

And that includes abberviations such as CDs, DVDs, PCs, and numbers such as 9s and 1970s. Sentences such as, "The instructions are included on the CD's," should have your brain screaming, "the instructions are included on the CD is what?"

There may be a typographical argument for using one for lower case letter plurals such as, "mind your p's and q's," but according to the grammatical rule this is technically incorrect.

This leaves two basic correct uses of the apostrophe.

An apostrophe indicates missing letters or numbers.

When writing in a colloquial style that shows words that are often run together when spoken, the apostrophe shows where the missing letters have been removed. This is called a contraction. Most common of these, and therefore often confused with plurals, is the contraction of a word with "is". "The car's fast," "The water's cold," and "My PC's broken," are all legitimate uses.

Other common contractions are:

  • 'RE for ARE : "They are" becomes "They're"
  • N'T for NOT : "I have not" becomes "I haven't"
  • 'LL for WILL : "He will win" becomes "He'll win"
  • 'VE for HAVE : "He should have" becomes "He should've"
Note that this last case is reponsible for the misconception that "'ve" means "of" (it does sound similar when spoken), leading to an awful prevalence of "would of", "should of", "could of" and "must of".

An apostrophe indicates possession for nouns.

Nouns are names of things. Generally, to indicate possession you add "'s", as in "the cat's pyjamas". The only exceptions to this are plural nouns that end with an "s", when only the apostrophe is added; "The houses' front doors were all missing", and personal pronouns which are discussed below.

Possessive personal pronouns do not have apostrophes.

The big one of these is "its", meaning "belonging to it". The easy way to remind yourself of this is that "his", "hers", "ours", "yours" and "theirs" don't have one, so neither does "its".



Here's the banner I use in my signature.

Feel free to use it yourself. Here's the code:

<a href="http://www.unstableovine.net/?p=cggi.php" target="_NEW"><img src="http://www.unstableovine.net/images/sigs/cggi.gif" border=0/></a>

© 2008-2009 unstableOvine | Hosting by hostmonster.com - Unlimited Space, Traffic & Domains for $6.95/month