Its and It’s. Backward and backwards. Dessert and desert. Gamut and Gauntlet. The English language, in all its glory, is incredibly difficult to learn and use well (as someone whose mother tongue is French, I’m one to know), for all sorts of reasons.
One of the least obvious to the native English speaker is the use of prepositions or adverb to change the meaning of a verb. There are ten which are used with the most common verbs (61 in total): to, up, in, out, down, on, over, from, about, and with. So, if I use the verb “come” it goes like this:
- come to
- come up
- come in
- come out
- come down
- come on
- come from
- come about
- come with
Each of these word combination has a different meaning. Then there’s come aboard, come about, come across, come after, come against, come ahead, come along, come apart, come around, come at, come away, come back, come before, come between, come by, come down, come forth, come from, come into, come off, come round, come through, come to.
That’s hard enough to learn, but then there are all these words that look alike or have subtly different meanings, like the ones I began this commentary with. I found this cool website, Common Errors in English, that can help with that. Some of them relate to English usage:
Able to: People are able to do things, but things are not able to be done: you should not say, â€œthe budget shortfall was able to be solved by selling brownies.â€
Some relate to the confusion in using one word over the other:
Its/It’s: The exception to the general rule that one should use an apostrophe to indicate possession is in possessive pronouns. Some of them are not a problem. â€œMineâ€ has no misleading â€œsâ€ at the end to invite an apostrophe. And few people are tempted to write â€œhiâ€™s,â€ though the equally erroneous â€œherâ€™sâ€ is fairly common, as are â€œourâ€™sâ€ and â€œtheirâ€™sâ€”all wrong, wrong, wrong. The problem with avoiding â€œitâ€™sâ€ as a possessive is that this spelling is perfectly correct as a contraction meaning â€œit is.â€ Just remember two points and youâ€™ll never make this mistake again. (1) â€œitâ€™sâ€ always means â€œit isâ€ or â€œit hasâ€ and nothing else. (2) Try changing the â€œitsâ€ in your sentence to â€œhisâ€ and if it doesnâ€™t make sense, then go with â€œitâ€™s.â€
That site has earned a bookmark in my reference section. As a writer, it is a precious tool that will help me perfect my English, an endless task, since the language has unplumbed depths.
This is why I’m always so amazed at those writers who not only use the language as a tool, but also to create a work of art. I’ll never pretend to be able to do what they do, but I can appreciate the deftness of these artists.