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

Brushing up Your English by Jens Petersen

your-is-not-equal-to-youreIf you need to brush up on your English, there’s an easy and painless way to start. Here are four common errors I encounter when editing books. Study them well and check them in your own work.

1/ your you’re

your” is a possessive adjective like my, her, his, our, etc. Write “Here is your book.”

“you’re” is a contraction of “you are”. “You’re welcome” really means “You are welcome.”

Remember: “Your writing will improve if you’re careful about this.”

2/ peak peek pique

peak” can be a noun, referring to “a high point”. It can also be used as a verb meaning “to reach a high point” or an adjective meaning “excellent”.

Write “He is at the peak of his career.” “That mountain has a high peak.”

peek” can be a noun meaning “a quick look” or a verb meaning “to take a quick look.”

Write “Take a peek at my website.” “Close your eyes; don’t peek.”

pique” is a verb meaning “to arouse or stimulate”.

Write “Her speech piqued my interest.”

3/ off of, could of

The preposition “of” is often misused.

In the phrase “off of”, the word “of” is redundant.

Write “He jumped off the pier.” NOT “He jumped off of the pier.” “could of” should be “could’ve” or “could have”. In speech the “ve” in “could’ve” sounds like “of”—hence the misspelling.

Write “I could’ve come to the party.” NOT “I could of come to the party.”

4/ lie lay

To use these verbs properly, you must first memorize their principal parts.

lay laid laid

The action of this verb always acts on some other object. There is always an answer to the question “Laid what?”—it’s a transitive verb.

“He lays [what?] the book on the table.”
“He laid [what?] the book on the table yesterday.”
“He had laid [what?] the book on the table before you came in.”

In these examples, the book is the object acted upon.

lie lay lain

The action of this verb does not act on some other object. You cannot “lie” something. The verb is intransitive.

“He lies on the bed.”
“He lay on the bed yesterday.”
“He has lain on the bed for several hours.”

The tricky bit with these verbs is that the present tense of the first verb (to lay) is the same as the simple past of the second verb (to lie).

Write “He lay down on the bed yesterday.” NOT “He laid down on the bed yesterday.”

Write “Why don’t you lie down on the bed.” NOT “Why don’t you lay down on the bed.”

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