Thursday, April 18, 2013

4 common word confusions

While I edit and revise, I notice that there are certain words that I confuse or misused repeatedly.  And I always have to look them up because I can never remember the difference. Something I find helpful is to use my word processor's find function to search for my personal common mistakes and check that I'm using them in the proper context.  Hopefully, writing a blog post about my problems words will help me remember their correct uses in the future.

1. It's vs Its
It's (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of it is. As in: "It's time for lunch!" The apostrophe standing in place of the "i" in the word is.
Its (sans apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun. As in: "The dog wore its collar around its neck." I try to remind myself that although possessive nouns contain an apostrophe, possessive pronouns do not.  His, hers, yours, and ours are all apostrophe free, so is its.

2. Passed vs Past
Passed is a verb (and rarely an adjective). To be precise, it is the past tense and past participle form of the verb to pass. As in: "I passed by the post office on my way to work." There are special cases when passed can be used as an adjective but usually this is describing something that has been passed.  As in: "The students resubmitted the failed work, but kept the passed tests." See what I did there? If I had used "past" it would mean tests that had occurred before rather than tests with a passing grade.
Past can be noun, adjective, adverb or preposition. As in: "It happened in the past." or "James K. Polk is a past president of the United State." or "I drove past the post office on the way to work." or "I leave work at half past four."

3. Their vs There vs They're
Their is a possessive pronoun. Their is talking about people--specifically something belongs to people. As in: "Their house sold less than the asking price."
There is an adverb, adjective, noun and--get this--a pronoun. There is referencing place. As in: "I put the book over there." or "You've always been there for me." or "The city park is lovely; have you been there?" or "Hello there!"
They're is a contraction of they are. As in: "They're coming over for dinner tonight."

4. Loose vs Lose
Loose can be an adjective, adverb or verb.  It refers to something that is free or not tight. As in: "Loose fitting clothing is more comfortable, but can pose a fire hazard." or "They let loose doves after the wedding."
Lose is a verb.  It has to do with misplacing something or suffering loss. As in: "I won't let her borrow my book because I'm afraid she'll lose it."

I'd like to refer you to Merriam Webster's lovely video on Affect vs. Effect which explains it far more eloquently than I can.


  1. Great advice, Emily. It's the little things we overlook that makes a difference in how professional our books appear.

  2. You've caught some of my favorites and clearly summarized a new technique. I'm here from ROW80, by the way, and your old blog forwarded me here. Great new platform!

    1. Hi Beth!

      Glad you like the new blog. Yeah, I prefer blogger over google sites. Which is weird because they are both google products.