Thursday, January 6, 2011

English teacher

Last spring I wrote a weekly series of posts called "English teacher." Each post contained a small grammar lesson. Then school let out for the summer, and the English teacher put away her books. Several people have asked me about the series, and school's back in session for my kids, so I decided to put on my English teacher hat again.

Each week I'll write about a point of English grammar--something I've noticed troubles many writers, or something about which I've been asked a question. I'd love to make this series a blessing to you, so please let me know if you have any questions!

Today let's look at one of the most useful--but also one of the most troublesome--words in our language: the tiny little pronoun "it." Actually, "it" isn't troubling by itself--but when writers need to add "s" or " 's" to this little word, it becomes a heap of trouble for even some very smart people. Let's see if we can clear this up.

Here's the source of the trouble: our brains automatically associate apostrophes with possessives. And it is true that we form possessives of nouns by using apostrophes. Examples:

Jack's car
the woman's sweater
the writer's blog

See all those nouns followed by " 's"? All possessive, right?

But, friends, pronouns are different. You never use an apostrophe to form the possessive of a personal pronoun. Examples:

his car; the car is his
her sweater; the sweater is hers
your blog; the blog is yours

See? Not an apostrophe in sight.

"It" is a personal pronoun. And just like with the other personal pronouns, you never use an apostrophe to form the possessive of "it." Never, never, never. The possessive of "it" is "its." No apostrophe.

We need to remember that apostrophes are also used to form contractions, those handy little words that are formed when two words are fused together but in which a letter is missing. We use them all the time: "Can not" becomes "can't"; "I am" becomes "I'm"; "do not" becomes "don't." And we need to retrain our brains to realize that, in every circumstance, "it is" becomes "it's." It's a simple rule, really: every time you see "it's," read "it is."

Got that?

it's = it is

Before you use the word "it's" in a sentence, make sure that what you mean is "it is." If you simply mean to say "belonging to it," then use the word "its."


It's a beautiful ring! (Right! It IS a beautiful ring.)
Do you know what it's worth? (Right! Do you know what it IS worth?)
You should have someone appraise it's value. (WRONG! You don't mean to say "appraise it is value." You need the possessive "its" here, not the contraction "it's.")

Now, your turn:
  1. I think _______ (its or it's) going to be a great conference.
  2. The cat licked ______ (its or it's) paws.
  3. _______ (Its or It's) sad that so many people are confused by this little word.
  4. Perhaps they don't understand _______ (its or it's) worth.

If you answered
  1. it's
  2. its
  3. It's
  4. its
you've got it! Remember, when in doubt, always ask yourself if you mean to say "it is" before using "it's."

**Note: I'm a certified English teacher of English grammar. I firmly believe that the rules of English grammar are important not because I'm interested in the rules--who really cares about rules??--but because they help us communicate with each other. After all, the purpose of language is communication, and knowing some rules of grammar can help us communicate effectively. Read more here if you're interested. And please let me know if you have any questions! If you have a particular grammar question, feel free to e-mail me at RichellaP (at) gmail (dot) com. I'd be so happy to help you if I can!

**I'm joining Amanda (who has awesome communication skills, by the way) at Serenity Now for her Weekend Blogging Reading party. Thanks for being such a great hostess, Amanda!


Southern Lady said...

Great lesson. Isn't it funny how a tiny word like it can be so confusing? Carla

Holly said...

I love English teacher! I'm glad she's back. I'm blessed with what I consider an innate sense of grammar, which is not to say that I'm always right. I don't know all the rules; I couldn't tell you what a gerund is, for example. What is a gerund?

Richella said...

Thank you, Holly!

A gerund is a verbal noun. When a word that's usually an action verb ends in "ing" and is used as a noun, it's a gerund. For example:

The forward's shooting has really improved.
I appreciate your sending me that information.

"Shooting" and "sending" are both used as nouns in these sentences. They're gerunds.

Thanks for asking! :)

emily freeman said...

You are so smart, Richella. It's amazing, really :)

Did I use that right? I love the English Teacher. I also love the photo you use for the English Teacher posts! So great. So glad she is back!

Autumn Mist said...

I'm glad to see this series back. What's bugging me at the moment is a punctuation issue though. When I put closed brackets I don't know which comes first, the closed bracket or the full stop. If I use an exclamation mark, it looks right inside the brackets, but if I just use a full stop it looks right after the closed brackets. Can you help?

Beverly @ The Buzz said...

Thanks for doing this again. I was thinking about it just the other day. That green grocer's apostrophe drives me nuts! So many of my Facebook friends use it and I have to stop myself from correcting them!

Will be adding this to my Saturday Shout Outs, if you don't mind.

Denise said...

I love this series:) And this now makes total sense - thank you!

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

VERY good lesson!!! I love that class is in session again. :)

Cindy's Crafty Creations said...

Welcome back Teacher :) Loved today's lesson.

Holly said...

Okay, I think I get gerunds now. Thanks, Richella!

Jennifer said...

Oh I am really looking forward to the upcoming lessons. Although I didn't know what you were talking about until you got to the contractions! That is pretty much the only rule I did know so I've been getting that one right by default...

I'm looking forward to more. Thank you for the post.

FrouFrouBritches said...

Okay, you've got me questioning myself. I know what you say to be true, but I find myself wondering if I have done this without realizing it. AND, I end my sentences in prepositions A LOT so let me just go ahead and aplogize for that right now! So sorry. I know that drives people nuts!

Um, I'm sooo gonna love this series! When you get around to it, I've never been able to get lying, laying and sitting and setting down. I feel like such a goober trying to make a sentence with those words. It took me to the age of 25 to get who/whom down. HELP! and thank you for the lesson!

Carmen @ Life with Sprinkles on Top said...

THANK YOU!!! :) This drives me insane when people get it wrong. And also people add apostrophes all over the place where they aren't needed. They add an apostrophe when it should just be the plural of a word.

Dawn said...

did you already tell me this lesson before? because i heard that somewhere... about the it is thing :) i got it now!!

Paula said...

I was thinking about this series the other day and had hoped that you would revive it. You make your lessons so clear and easy to understand. I look forward to the next one!

Scooper said...

Hi Richella! Happy New Year friend! Love your English teacher ways--you are so smart. My daughter is now knee deep in grammar and you explained this all so well. And I'm cracking up about the gerund comment. I just learned what a gerund is this week. : )

I enjoyed getting caught up on your posts since Christmas. I love that one of your boys still loves Legos! And your house covered in all of that snow...breathtaking. I love your house.

Hope 2011 is starting off to be a swell year for you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

HeathahLee said...

Here I thought I was a great grammar person and after reading the comments I have to admit I've never even heard the word "gerund"! And now maybe you can answer a question about something I just did. See where I put quotation marks and then put punctuation after them? I get really confused about punctuation with quotation marks. So, did I do it right? Or should the exclamation point have been inside?

Melissa said...

Who can't use a little grammar refresher? Thanks!

Amy Bayliss ( just wrote about honing your writing skills, and this was one of her examples, too. :)

Michaela said...

Love this! it made me smile (: My aunt is an English teacher and growing up, she'd always correct me (kind of embarrassing, actually!) But now I love grammar and always find myself grimacing when other people can't talk good. Ha, just kidding, of course, with that last sentence! "When other people don't write well" hehe (:

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Thanks for linking up with me this weekend, Richella! I appreciate it!! :)

Kim @ Savvy Southern Style said...

Great lesson, Richella. My mom was an English major, too so I grew up constantly being corrected. I am glad that I was though.

Leslie @ goodbye, house! HELLO, HOME! said...

It's a wonderful post all on its own!
Did you know that I also studied English--but got a degree in journalism?
I admit, I cringe when reading a post that has numerous misspellings and punctuation mistakes (I have learned to look past it, and see the message. You'd be so proud of me).
Spelling correctly is crucial, especially if it's your own language. Or only language.
But, even today, I see many many grammar mistakes in print (paper)--ugh. Folks have gotten careless.
You have my permission, if you ever see anything amiss, to correct it :)
This is a great series, and oh, so needed!
Thank you!

Leslie @ goodbye, house! HELLO, HOME! said...

P.S. I will enjoy these lessons, and I know you have much to teach me!

Melanie said...

I love this English teacher:) I am going to enjoy this series again.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and love the "English Teacher" series. I'd love lessons on "their, there and they're" as well as "your and you're". Seeing those words confused drives me CRAZY, and I'm grateful that my mother taught me the correct ways to use them.

Also, your home is beautiful! I look forward to continuing to read your blog!

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