The Cranky Grammarian: Getting Possessive

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Every English teacher (or former English teacher) has a few pet peeves when it comes to spelling, usage, and grammar. One of mine is the incorrect spelling or punctuation of possessive pronouns.

At the top of the list has to be the mistaken addition of an apostrophe to the possessive pronoun “its.”  “It’s” is a contraction for the words “It is” while “its” is a pronoun meaning, “belonging to it.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I have seen “it’s” used incorrectly in signs, essays, and even published work.

I understand the mistake. After all, for most singular nouns, to form a possessive, you would add an apostrophe “s,” as in “Mary’s son,” “the man’s wallet,” and “for Pete’s sake.” So it’s an honest mistake to misuse the apostrophe with the possessive of “it.”

A good rule of thumb is that there is no punctuation in any of the possessive pronouns – “my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, their, theirs, our, ours, its.”

While we are on the subject of “their,” the interchanging of the three homophones, “their, there, and they’re” also drives me crazy. Check out the following sentence:

They’re not happy that their mother was the one to drive them there.”

“They’re” is a contraction meaning “they are.” “Their” is a possessive pronoun meaning, “belonging to them.” “There” refers to place and should be easy to remember if you notice that the word “here,” also referring to place, can be found within the word “there.”

A big problem with homophones is that spell check doesn’t notice if you are using the wrong word. So writers beware. Remember that some spelling and usage can be tricky. Slow down, proofread, and use each word in its proper form.

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5 thoughts on “The Cranky Grammarian: Getting Possessive

  1. When will you write about “less” and “fewer”? “Over” and “more than”? “Amount” and “number”? The ones that gave my 6th grade students fits last week was “everyday” and “every day.”

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