A friend of mine recently lamented that too many people don’t know the difference between “it’s” and “its.” He wrote what he hoped would be a simple mnemonic device that would help writers use the terms properly. I would like to think that this would help folks make the distinction, but I know better.

Therefore I make the following suggestions to help our youngest learners avoid the problem altogether:

#1: Replace “it’s” with “tis,” as in “Tis the season to be jolly.” It means exactly the same thing, will fool people into thinking you’re smarter than you really are, and eliminates the homophonic confusion altogether.

#2: Contract the most troublesome two-word-combos (generally “it’s,” “there’s,” “they’re,” “who’s”) by smushing them together (“itis,” “thereis,” “theyare,” “whois”) instead of dropping a letter and adding an apostrophe. Note that when typing these new smushwords, they require just as many keystrokes as the old contractions.

Note that I specified the most troublesome combos. We can still get by with “won’t” instead of “willnot,” and so on.

#3: Stop teaching contractions altogether. They do not save that much time when speaking, writing by hand, or typing. Screw’m.

#4: Be lazier. Use “yer” to mean “you’re” and “your”. Use “thar” to mean “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” Put the pressure on the reader to figure it out; you’ve got too much other stuff to write about to worry about whether anyone understands what you’ve written.

#5: Stop caring about the difference between homophones such as “it’s” and “its.” Seriously, stop caring. There’re bigger fish to fry.

Suggestions four and five aren’t quite compatible with the others.

4 comments

  1. I have many students who would agree with you. I also would like to suggest “u” for “you” since that cuts out two keystrokes. Since the texting is creeping into writing anyway why not just roll over and give in?

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  2. There are indeed bigger fish to fry…Bob the Angry Flower has got this one. YOU need to tackle loose/lose. That aggravates me to no end…

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  3. @Mrs: “U” has a lot going for it. There’s absolutely no doubt about what it means. It is phonetically correct. And the single-letter second person singular subject (“u”) is a nice analogue to the single-letter first person singular subject (“I”). In fact, maybe we should always capitalize “U.”

    While I’m thinking about it, we should start moving those periods and commas outside quotation marks, except when a period or comma is part of the quote.

    @aabrock: What kills me about loose/lose is that they aren’t homophones. If they were, the mistake would be more understandable. Y not replace “loose” with “untight”? Better yet, lettuce replace “lose” with “antiwin” and “unfind”.

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