These Words Sound Alike—But That’s Where It Ends

With so many business professionals relying on their computers’ spell check programs to find their spelling errors, our writing skills have drifted back to their phonetic origins. The theory being if it sounds right, it must be right. Wrong! Here is a quick reference guide of some commonly-made grammatical errors, borrowed in part from an article on by Michael Alexander.

Its and it’s. Okay, they look the same except for that apostrophe. And many people use them interchangeably, but removing that tiny apostrophe makes a world of difference in the meaning. “Its” without the apostrophe is possessive showing ownership, such as “The company stands by its product”. Use it with the apostrophe and you can say, “It’s my way or the highway.”

Their, there and they’re. This just seems to confuse the heck out of people. The first one is possessive. “This is their business.” Spell it t-h-e-r-e and it means a place as in “over there”. Use it with an apostrophe and it means “they are”.

Brake and break. Okay , I can see how this happens. The sequence of letters can be mixed up. Just remember that b-r-a-k-e usually refers to that thing on your car that makes it stop, however, it can also mean an overgrown area. B-r-e-a-k has several meanings. It most commonly means “to injure”(“I could break his neck”), “to divide” (“Our conference had several break-out sessions”) or to terminate (“He is determined to break the agreement”).

Your and you’re. If you’re using y-o-u-r and y-o-u-‘-r-e interchangeably—stop it now. Y-o-u-r is possessive. It means it belongs to you, as in “Your tire is on my foot”. The second version with the apostrophe means “you are” as in, “You are not listening to me”.

Where, wear, were, we’re, ware. Yikes. Stay with me here. W-h-e-r-e is a place (“Where are you going?”); w-e-a-r is having something on (“I think I’ll wear blue today”) or erosion (“Did the river wear away the bank?”); w-e-r-e is past tense for “are” (“Were you at the party?”); w-e-’-r-e, there’s that funny little mark again, means “we are” (“We’re hungry.”); and w-a-r-e is something you sell (“A merchant sells his wares.”).

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Here’s signing off until next time.


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