I can’t stand it anymore. My blood boils every time I see them: the five most abused, misused and misspelt words in the English sandwich. Er, language, sorry. OK, here goes . . .


5. its / it’s / its’

Its refers to possession and means “of it”.

It’s is a contracted form of It is or It has.

Its’ is not an English word and means nothing.


Wrong: *Its important to know its’ meaning.

Right: It’s important to know its meaning.


4. your / you’re

Your does not mean you are.

Your refers to possession and means it is yours.

You’re is a contracted form of You are.


Wrong: *Your you’re own worst enemy.

Right: You’re your own worst enemy.


3. their / there / they’re

Neither their nor there means they are.

Their refers to possession and means it is theirs.

There refers to location and means it is not here.

They’re is a contracted form of They are.


Wrong: *There over their waiting for they’re instructions.

Right: They’re over there waiting for their instructions.


2. who’s / whose

Who’s is a contracted form of Who is or Who has.

Whose refers to possession and means “of whom”.


Wrong: *Who’s mistake is this? Whose interested?

Right: Whose mistake is this? Who’s interested?


1. ’s

We do not use ’s to form plurals. Well, I don’t, let’s say.

The apostrophe + s has three uses:

contraction of is eg. It’s easy!

contraction of has eg. He’s learnt it!

possession eg. Is that John’s son?


However, we do not use ’s to form plurals; we use s (no apostrophe).


Wrong: *All monkey’s love banana’s.

Right: All monkeys love bananas.


If the noun ends in consonant + y, we must use ies (but still no apostrophe).


Wrong: *Many family’s are having difficulty’s feeding their monkey’s.

Right: Many families are having difficulties feeding their monkeys.



What really galls me is that these are mistakes made by fellow native speakers; fellow writers even! My students, for whom English is very much a second language or hobby, do not make these mistakes. Or, as they would say, We no do do this mistakes, no?


So, if you’d like to make me happy, next time please, please spell it right. And, by the same token, if you want to carry on annoying me, I’ve handed it to you on a plate now, haven’t I?