Confused Words

Frequently Confused Words: When It's the Wrong Word or Not What You Meant

Words can be confusing. Perhaps the most common writing questions are: “your” or “you’re”? “It’s” or “its”? Hopefully, this handout will help.

Your / You’re

  • Your is used to indicate possession:
    • Example: “You will shoot your eye out.”
  • You’re a contraction: it is you + are.
    • Example: “You never know what you’re going to get in a box of chocolates.”

There / Their / They’re

  • There is used as a pronoun: “There is no ice cream over there.”
  • Their is used to indicate possession: “We’re going to kidnap their dog.”
  • They’re is a contraction: it is they + are. “It’s too late to hide, they’re already here.”

It’s / Its

  • It’s is NOT possessive! It is a contraction of it + is.
    • Example: “It’s pretty awesome at the writing center.”  
  • Its is used to show possession:
    • Example: “The dog chased its tail.”

Affect / Effect

  • Affect is most commonly a verb, meaning to change something: “Losing power will affect people watching television.” OR it can refer to the idea of presenting oneself:
    • Example: “He affected a warm demeanor whenever he visited his parents.”
  • Effect is most commonly a noun:
    • Example: “The effect of losing power was people not being able to watch television.”
  • Effect can less commonly be a verb:
    • Example: “They effected great change in their term as president.”
  • Affect can also be a noun to indicate an emotional disposition, though it is fairly uncommon unless you are speaking about Psychology.
    • Example: “His affect changed dramatically when he heard the bad news.”

Who / Whom

  • Who and whom have the same meaning, but they are each used in different circumstances. Both are used in questions, so a good rule of thumb is to rephrase the question and replace who/whom with another pronoun. If he/she, use who. If him/her, then whom is correct.
    • Example: “Whom did you dance with?” Rephrase the question: “Did you dance with her?” Whom is correct because that question makes sense.
    • Example: “Who went to the movies last night?” Rephrase the question: “Did she go to the movies last night?” In this case, who is correct.

To view or print our Helpful Handout, click here: Confused Words

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Page last modified February 14, 2019