Brushing up Your English – Part 2

Contributed by Jens Petersen

1. its  it’s

“its” is a possessive pronoun adjective like my, her, his, our, etc., and does not have an apostrophe, for example, “The dog wagged its tail.” If you use the apostrophe, what you are really saying is, “The dog wagged it is tail.”

“it’s” is a contraction of it is or it has, for example, It’s not my dog”, or “It’s got a cute face.”

2. Their  there  they’re

I often find writers confusing these three words.

“their” is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership, for example, “Their house is for sale.”

“there” is used with the verb “to be” to indicate the existence of something, for example, “There is a sale at the mall.”

“they’re” is a contraction of they and are, for example, “They’re closing the mall.”

3. loose  lose

“loose” is an adjective (and also a verb). As an adjective, it means the opposite of tight or contained, for example, “I have a loose tooth.”

“lose” is a verb that means to suffer the loss of, or miss, for example, “Don’t lose your keys.”

One way to remember the difference between the two words is to think that “Lose has lost an ‘o'”.

4. Many writers nowadays have a terrible time forming plural nouns and possessive nouns.

Here is how to form plural nouns. When you are talking about more than one boy, you simply add an “s”, for example, “The boy came this morning”, becomes “The boys came this morning.” (DO NOT USE AN APOSTROPHE WHEN FORMING A SIMPLE PLURAL, i.e. DO NOT write, “The boy’s/boys’ came this morning.”)

Here is how to form singular and plural possessive nouns. If there is one boy with a hat, you would write, “The boy’s hat is red”, or if there are several boys with hats, you would write, “The boys’ hats are red.” For nouns that are already plural, like “children”, you form the plural this way, “children’s”.

Jens Petersen is an editor with a wide range of clients. He primarily edits books. For more information, check his LinkedIn profile at can be reached at

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