This is the second in a series of short pieces on homophones. (In case you’re puzzled by that word, it has nothing to do with telephones that all look the same.)
Your and You’re (There’s also “Yore”)
It’s difficult to make “your” and “you’re” sound different in most accents. However, as with most other homophones, the two are not interchangeable. Given that they sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, they qualify as homophones. (By the way, hoemowfone is not a homophone – it’s a made-up word.)
Harry Styles, one of the members of the English-Irish band One Direction, did more to raise awareness of the your/you’re issue than a thousand blog articles or English teachers could have when he corrected a fan’s homemade banner at a concert in September. This BBC article tells the story.
Despite my lamentation of the relative impotence of a blog article, let’s see if I can reinforce Harry’s point.
Are you ready to wrap your head around terminology? Here goes.
“Your” is (a) a possessive determiner, (b) a possessive (genitive) personal pronoun and (c) a possessive adjective. My understanding is that (a) and (c) are the same thing – those nice people at Wikipedia seem to concur. As for (b) – my source is the McGraw-Hill Handbook of English (Fourth Canadian Edition).
For mere mortals like you and me, we just need to know that we use it to indicate possession.
Q. Whose phone is this?
A. It’s your phone.
Q. Then why are you using it?
A. You are watching TV – you can’t use your phone at the same time.
This is the only use for “your”, other than in titles such as “Your Majesty” and “Your Supercoolness”, but mere mortals like you and me have no use for such phrases.
This is our old friend, the contraction. A contraction is the joining of two words in which one or more letters are omitted. The apostrophe is a placeholder that shows that letters have been dropped. In many contractions, the apostrophe doesn’t really add clarity, but it is incorrect to omit it.
“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”.
You’re watching TV = You are watching TV
Contractions aren’t (are not) normally used in formal writing. However, they can assist greatly in making documentation less formal and foreboding. I confess that I use contractions a lot.
“You are” is part of the conjugation of the verb “to be”:
|In full||I am||You are||He is (She is)||We are||They are|
I’m including this for completeness, even though I realize it might muddy the waters a little.
“Yore” is a literary word that is rarely used in everyday conversation or writing. It (almost) always follows the word “of”, means “of long ago or former times”, connotes nostalgia for the past. For example, “Oh for the simple pleasures of being a child at Christmas in the days of yore.”
If you use it thus: “Yore watching the TV” or thus: “Yore feet are too big”, yore inviting ridicule.
The One Direction fan wasn’t at all embarrassed by her grammar flub – in fact it earned her her fifteen minutes of fame. However, if you use the wrong word in your business writing, your setting yoreself up for having you’re butt kicked by yaw boss (assuming he or she knows the difference!)
(Footnote. Yes, I deliberately used the wrong word in all four places in that last sentence. “Yaw” only works as a homophone in some accents, most of them English.)
Please Help Improve Yonder Pedant’s Ramblings
- Did I miss a typo? (I’ll feel bad when you tell me, but I’d rather you did tell me!)
- Did I write something that makes you want to turn green and burst out of your shirt?
- Do you have any better examples that you would share and allow me to use?
If so, please let me know by leaving a comment.