Its Example

Writing Wednesdays – Getting “it’s/its” correct: it’s its own reward

It’s or its? Based on the extremely scientific survey of homophones I see misused on various media: books, Facebook, emails, etc. this has got to be the number one most commonly misused. Let’s start with an example:

Its Example

 

 

 

 

 

I saw this going around Facebook recently, and it is a prime example of why you should never be friends with grammar nerds (or perhaps why grammar nerds have fewer friends than they might otherwise deserve). My first thought on seeing this was, “ARGH! It should have been ‘It’s!'” My second thought was, “IT WAS EVEN CAUGHT BY THE COMPUTER’S GRAMMAR CHECK!” My third thought was, “I can’t even read the rest of this thing.”

Why is it wrong? Well, the first sentence reads: “Its been said that everlasting friends go long periods of time without speaking and never question their friendship.” What they wanted to say was: “It has been said…” The “It has” gets shortened to “It’s”, so it should be “It’s been said…”

The it’s/its dilemma is actually quite simple. There is the case where you are indicating possesion (its) and the case where you are indicating a contraction of two words (it’s). I find it easiest to think about the second case. Am I trying to combine two words? Then I use “it’s.”

Examples:

“It’s a girl!” – Here we are really saying “It is a girl!” so we use it’s to show the contraction of “it” and “is.”

“How’s your new computer working out?” “It’s faster than the other one, but its interface is harder to use.” – In the first case we are saying “It is faster…” and the second case we are showing posession. In other words, the interface belonging to the computer is harder to use. So we use “its.”

It’s been done.” – Here again is a contraction: “It has been done,” so we use “it’s.”

“This year’s student government is really coming into its own.” – If you’re not sure what to use, try the “Am I contracting two words?” test. Are we trying to say, “this year’s student government is really coming into it is own?” or “coming into it has own?” No. This saying is another case of possession, with a clue built into it. Think “own” and “possession.” So we have another “its.” (Another example in a similar vein would be doing something “for its own good.”)

“Have you heard freedom ringing?” “Sure, its sound is loud and clear.” – Sorry for the awkward sentence. I wanted to show “its” being used for an idea. Anyways, this case is also posession, as we are talking about the sound of freedom. “Its sound.” It doesn’t work if we tried to say “it is sound is loud and clear.”

So that’s it – either you’re contracting two words, or you are indicating posession. Any questions on specific instances? Do you struggle with it’s/its?

Writing Wednesdays – the Vocative Comma

I will admit that I tend to over-comma. I can’t help it. It’s just such a handy little thing. It tells a reader when to stop and take a breath, it separates different thoughts, itemizes lists, and just generally helps give structure and meaning to all the little words floating around within a sentence. Commas are going out of fashion – any that can be left out generally are, as well as many that shouldn’t be. But there is one type of comma that should NOT be left out. Ever. I will fight for it to my dying day (and do, frequently, while proofreading). It is, of course, the vocative comma.

The vocative comma (which is a lovely name, by the way) is the comma that separates out the words, phrases, or names that are being directly addressed. Let’s take a look at some examples:

“Let’s eat children!” means that we are about to consume children.

“Let’s eat, children!” means that we are inviting the children to eat with us.

“Do you know Jack?” is asking if you are familiar with a person named Jack – or perhaps is asking if you know anything at all.

“Do you know, Jack?” is asking Jack if he knows something.

“How are you my friend?” is asking in what way you have behaved as a friend.

“How are you, my friend?” is asking your friend how he or she is doing.

I hope I’ve shown why it’s important to use the vocative comma. Here is another way that it is used. Let’s say you are writing to your significant other, who you call “my little muffin cakes”. A correct sentence would look something like this: “You would never believe, my little muffin cakes, how much I miss you.” (Well, correct but slightly nauseating). The “my little muffin cakes” is surrounded by commas, to indicate that this is the person you are speaking to.

Another example like this is from Shakespeare’s Henry IV: “Oh, gentlemen, life is short.” He is talking directly to the gentlemen, so again, that is surrounded by commas.

This also holds true if you are addressing an idea or inanimate object. “And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.” (John Donne) The last part is addressing death itself, so there is a comma after death. If you aren’t sure whether a thing is being spoken to, try inserting a name and see if that makes helps. “Bob, thou shalt die.” While not necessarily comforting to Bob, the sentence works grammatically and makes sense. Here’s another: “Oh, vocative comma, how I adore the clarity you bring to the written word.” The sentence also would make sense if you put our old friend Bob back in: “Oh, Bob, how I adore the clarity you bring to the written word.”

So, the bottom line is that anytime you are talking directly to someone or something and call them by name, you need to use vocative commas. This includes “hey, you” although that specific instance seem to be falling out of the common usage (which doesn’t make it correct!).

Do you use the vocative comma? Find it confusing? Are you an under-comma-er or an over-comma-er?

Writing Wednesdays – Y’all or Ya’ll

For the love of all that is good in the world, it is “y’all” not “ya’ll”!

Y’all is the contraction of “you” and “all”‘ where the apostrophe takes the place of the “ou” in “you” and also replaces the space between the words. Thus, “you all” becomes “y’all”. It makes no sense to put the apostrophe in the middle of the word “all”.

Also, this is a perfectly acceptable word to use when addressing more than one person. Don’t let the haters try to tell you otherwise.

Get it together, y’all!

Writing Wednesdays – CTRL F

I’m introducing another new feature here at Lector’s Books: Writing Wednesdays. I just can’t help myself – I’ve always adored alliteration. My plan is for this to be a once or twice a month feature, but we’ll see how it goes. If you have any requests for subjects you’d like to see featured, shoot me an email at lectorsbooks@gmail.com . I’m going to use this to share tips and tricks for writers, or help on how to avoid some common pitfalls that annoy readers.

Today’s feature is going to extol the wonders of CTRL F, or the “find” function in MS Word and, I assume, every other text-containing program you can think of. As I’ve said before, I think most typos and small writing mistakes happen because authors are too familiar with their own work to really see them. It’s kind of the opposite of not being able to see the forest for the trees – you can’t see the individual words for the sentences/story. This is where knowing your strengths and weaknesses can be very helpful. If you know that you struggle with certain issues (especially homophones) using the find feature will help you isolate these words and truly see them, despite your familiarity with the work. For example, suppose you have the following in a manuscript: “She was so excited to see him, standing over their by his family, as if he’d never left.” (I said I wasn’t a writer.) If you’ve read this several times, you may not notice that you’ve used “their” instead of “there”. This is where using “find” comes into play. Make a list of words that you either know you struggle with personally, or just words that are often misused. Then go through and do a find for each one. This really doesn’t take nearly as much time as you think it will, and will isolate the instances of the words so that you see them out of context of the narrative. So when you do a word search for “their”, this sentence will pop up, with the word “their” highlighted and you can see that you need to change it to “there”.

As a side note, you can do this on your Kindle as well. I’ve used it when reading books for reviewing, if I notice that, say, “it’s” and “its” are commonly confused, I might do a search for those words so I can check whether there were, in fact, several mistakes, or if it just seemed that way to me.

Here are some words that I’d recommend doing a find for: it’s, its, there, their, they’re, there’s, theirs, the symbol ‘ (apostrophe – this can take the place of it’s, there’s, and so on), peak, pique, peek, loose, lose, and most importantly, any particular word that you know you tend to misuse.

Anyone use this feature as a quick self-check? Did it work for you? What other words would you recommend CTRL F-ing?