Monday, January 31, 2011

Pet Peeve from the Grammar Dork

I admit it: the new Chicago Manual of Style came out, and as soon as I had a little extra cash, I grabbed it up. I'm a grammar nerd. Several indie authors and some traditional ones have heard from me and my tisk tisk, bad grammar finger. But there are a couple commonly confused words really rubbing me the wrong way because I see them over and over so I'm getting it off my chest.

It's vs. Its

"It's" is a contraction, which stands for "it is" or "it has." Examples:
It's a beautiful day out. (It is a beautiful day out.)
It's been raining for three days straight. (It has been raining for three days straight.)
It's a very small boogar. (It is a very small boogar.)

When you don't know whether to use it's or its, give it the "it is/it has" test. Say the sentence to yourself and if you can't replace "it's" with "it is" or "it has," then it's possessive. No apostrophe.

Its is possessive, which I know sounds weird, but just pretend like it works. It would probably be more confusing if it was both possessive and a contraction, after all. Examples:
Our family tree has its roots in Scotland.
The camera has its pictures stored digitally.
The alarm clock has its own way of telling time.

In each of these instances, again try the "it is/it has" test and it won't work. This is the most common error I keep seeing repeatedly so I'm hoping this helps some non-grammar nerds.

Then vs. Than

I didn't realize this was such a hard one, but it's the next most frequent error I see.  "Then" deals with time. This and then that happened.
Now and then I feel exhausted.
Someone tried to steal my car, and then my husband jumped on its hood.

"Than" deals with comparison.
This was bigger than that.
I feel more exhausted than I did yesterday.
Someone tried to steal my car, but my husband was bigger than she was.

I hope this helps. If folks are interested, I might do some more on common mistakes, particularly commas versus semicolons.

1 comment:

  1. Thank God Almighty you did this post! (I also see this everywhere and do not like it when these are used incorrectly! Pet Peeve..)

    Oh please! Comma versus semi-colon, I still can't figure that one out. These are a hella useful. :)