In previous editions we’ve covered a few basics in English, like the proper use of your vs. you’re, it’s vs. its, they’re vs. their vs. there, to vs. too, and then vs. than. English is a widely used language, which is unfortunate because it’s also got a lot of quirks and rules that can be hard to remember.
Following are a couple of extra pointers to help you along your way. These rules aren’t just useful in academic papers, they can be applied to things like job résumés and cover letters, online profiles, or any anywhere else out there in the “real” world.
Who’s vs. Whose
One of these is a contraction of two words (who’s = who is) and the other indicates possession (whose). One of the most common errors I come across is when someone is trying to explain possession but defaults to using “who’s.” Here are a couple of examples of how to use these properly:
Incorrect: Who’s dog is this?
Correct: Whose dog is this?
Incorrect: Whose going to the show next week?
Correct: Who’s going to the show next week?
Lose vs. Loose
This example is one that’s easily confused — they are spelled so similarly, after all. However, they mean two different things. Lose generally means to misplace something, or a decrease in value.
Examples: “Did you lose your keys?” “The company lost (past tense) the money in a bad investment.”
Loose, on the other hand, is what you do to a tie, or some rope, or, a person who’s kind of uptight, or, if someone or something has gone missing. “Hey, loosen up, friend. We’ll get to the airport on time, I promise.” “I need to tighten my tie; it’s too loose.” “The dog got loose!” “The bank robber is on the loose!”
Apostrophes and possessive nouns
Another easily made error is misusing apostrophes in the case of plural and possessive nouns. There are a couple of important rules to keep in mind when applying apostrophes and an extra ‘s’.
This concept can be a doozy and takes some practice. It’s important to master it, though. It’s also important to note that depending on the style in which you are writing, whether it’s Chicago Style, MLA, American Psychological Association, Associated Press, or something else, you may or may not include the ‘s’ after the apostrophes. Be sure to double check a style guide, usually available through a quick internet search, to ensure you’ve got the rules right.
The first thing a writer should consider is whether a word ends in an ‘s’ or not.
Let’s use “dog” for another example. In singular form, it’s just “dog.” When you’re talking about more than one dog, it becomes “dogs.”
Now, say you give your dog, Fluffy, a bone. That bone is the dog’s bone. Maybe one day Fluffy has a couple of friends, Bear and Widget, who come over for a playdate. You mention to your friends that after a long afternoon of playing, the dogs’s bones are lost in the backyard and there’s no chance of finding them now.
Another example: family. Maybe you’ve got an uncle, Teddy. It turns out Teddy has an identical twin brother, Max. Your uncles’s childhood stories of trading identities are pretty hilarious! Gosh, what interesting uncles you have.
One last note on using the apostrophe. Sometimes writers add them erroneously in places they never belong. Below is one example of a word that never needs an apostrophe.
Incorrect: “That coat is her’s.”
Correct: “That coat is hers.”
“Hers” is a pronoun, and indicates possession by default. No need to throw in an apostrophe here.
That’s it for this edition. Use those apostrophes wisely.