Youre writing alonga text message, a Facebook update, or something a little more important like an online articleand all of a sudden you type a word thats a contraction. Contractions? you say. Hint: I just used two of them in my first sentence. Merriam-Webster defines a contraction as a shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of a sound or letter. And Ill add that when the letter or sound is omitted, an apostrophe takes its place. By the way, the contractions I used are youre and thats.
Contractions are perfectly acceptable to use the English language if your writing is more casual. For formal or technical writing, spelling out both words (you are or that is) is generally preferred. But in everyday writing, contractions are fine, if theyre spelled and used correctly.
Grammar in the Real World
How often have you wished someone happy birthday and they respond with your welcome? Too many times if you know the same people as I do. The correct spelling is either youre welcome or you are welcome. The word your shows possession, like I like your sweater whereas the word youre is a contraction for the words you are. You wouldnt say (or write) your welcome if you realized that you dont possess welcome. Its simply the wrong grammar usage.
Another contraction that often is used when it shouldnt be is the word its. The word its is a perfectly good word, but it is a contraction for the words it is. This contraction is often confused with the word its. Like the word your, the word its shows possession. Some examples of the correct usage of these two very similar words follow:
Its: The dog fetched its stick. (The dog owns the stick. It is the dogs stick, not mine, not yours. A work around would be to use the gender of the dog and say The dog fetched his stick. Again, the word his is possessive, like its.
Its: Mary thinks its too rainy to go to the park. (Mary is saying that she thinks it is too rainy.)
When in Doubt, Sound It Out
Say the words aloud. For these tricky examples, say your sentence using the two words that make up the contraction. If the two words work just as well as the tricky word, the contraction (youre or its) is correct. If you write The child was so proud of its report card, say aloud The child was so proud of it is report card. See how wrong that is? Sound it out aloud and this can save you from using the incorrect word.
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