General Question

gailcalled's avatar

Does anyone still care about the diff. between it's & its?

Asked by gailcalled (54614points) October 6th, 2007

I stll do, but as most of you know, I went to school in the 18th century,

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

26 Answers

bob's avatar

Ha! Yes, people still care, and by “people,” I mean “English teachers and proofreaders.” The distinction between the two is observed in every print (and web) publication, and I think messing up the two in something that’s intended for publication (even in a “professional” blog) is embarrassing.

But is its/it’s still an embarrassing mistake to make in casual usage? I tend to think it still is. It might be rude or annoying to correct someone on that distinction (although maybe it’s actually useful!) but… I like to think that it still makes you look dumb to confuse the two.

GD_Kimble's avatar

Hell yes, I do. “Your” and “You’re” also.

Modern_Classic's avatar

Here are some more categories of people who care about the difference: musicians, programmers, car mechanics, artists, thinkers, loving parents who don’t want their (there? they’re?) children to look like idiots. There (they’re? their?) is a difference between the two and lose that small piece of critical thinking and the next thing you know you’re (your?) believing TV commercials.

omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

I DO! But then again, my friends call me the grammar police…hmm. :)

joli's avatar

It’s an absolute that I do, but I’ve noticed the younger generation are lax with grammer. They just want to get it out fast. I cringe over my adult daughter’s e-mail, but the content is positive so better to keep quiet at this point! Growing up my older sister would send back my letters corrected. I’m glad she did. She was constant on the ‘good’ versus ‘well’ rule.
Thanks to her I bought a grammer book and a dictionary, and use them.

hossman's avatar

“E-mail grammar” is making it worse. My inclination is to interpret this as part of a trend to general laziness. Just think of the effort going into the amazing letters and works written when the authors clearly made the effort to turn an elegant phrase, while writing with stunningly embellished script, with a quill pen that had to be trimmed and dipped. Today, we have “i m fn, hw r u?” The excuse frequently given is that it is just so difficult to type with that tiny phone keyboard. Hey, try having to etch a lithograph, set lead type or hand blend your own ink. The burden of clarity is being passed from the transmitter to the recipient of communication, and IMHO, frequently for no better reason than a callous disregard for others. Other similar peeves: “Have a good one.” What? Have a good what? Vasectomy? The drive through staff who are too lazy to enunciate or hold the “talk” button down all the way through the end of their sentence. The management who, despite clearly having people on duty who can speak English clearly, insist on having the public communicate with the employees who either cannot speak or understand English sufficiently to perform their duties (this isn’t an ethnic thing, it’s a communication thing, frequently it is someone for whom English should be a first language, but lacked the motivation to acquire it).

We have a fast-food chain here called Portillo’s that pays well, including 401(k) and medical, yet they can never fill drive-through orders correctly. This has included their arguing with me that a cheeseburger given to me missing the burger patty “comes that way, it’s a CHEESEburger, mister (I can only assume this Eastern European person had never encountered a cheeseburger before, or could somebody really be this stupid and lazy?). It has also included an extremely funny (eventually) encounter where they insisted over the speaker that the soup d’jour was “Chunky Parrot.” My repeated attempts to decipher the speaker’s accent were fruitless and led to great indignation (what’s wrong wichyoo, meester, you no speek English good?). Finally, when I pulled around, an English-speaking manager could tell me the soup was “Yankee Pot Roast.” Met with a sigh, rolled eyes and snitty (Ches, like I tole him, Chunky Parrot) by the lovely teenager. And when I really want to despair, I keep in mind that some day I may be in a nursing home relying on such to feed me and change my diapers.

hossman's avatar

And gailcalled, there’s nothing wrong with having gone to school in the 18th century. I appreciate the perspective on Candide from someone who dated Voltaire. Just kidding. : )

christybird's avatar

I think nowadays a lot of people will cut “its/it’s” offenders some slack (and I think that includes all of the related mistakes – your/you’re, their/there/they’re etc.). However, I know when I read something written by someone I respect and they make one of these errors, a little part of me dies!

Seriously, though, I think people do lose some respect for you when you make these kinds of mistakes. They are pretty basic. Just a few minutes with a grammar book (or even a grammar link from Wikipedia – the “youth of today” should be able to handle that!) would clear this one up.

andrew's avatar

Yes, and their/there really annoys me too.

For me, though, the annoyance comes not from seeing grammar that is “incorrect” (which I think many grammarians get caught up on, and is why people resent them so much), but from people’s lack of attention to detail (which is my #2 pet peeve). But just as many people aren’t detail-oriented, I think many of the grammar police feel smugly self-righteous in knowing that they possess the “correct” way of doing things, and that is my #1 pet peeve.

While I’m saddened that I haven’t seen the use of “whom” on any television show in the last five years, I understand that the social norms of the language have shifted away from that. That said, I’ve thrown out resumes with an errant “it’s” and have flatly refused to do business with people who have glaring punctuational mistakes (especially the misuse of commas) – to me, it reflects a disregard for detail.

@hossman: About emails and online communication: While I have never been on the “what r u up 2?” train, I think there is more leeway in the punctuation of the medium… as you may notice from my posts on the site, I’m a huge fan of the ellipsis in dictating the tempo of my writing. Again, it’s about carefully considering the words and thoughts one puts forth.

gailcalled's avatar

Hoss: Unfortunately Voltaire was too short, too pedantic and didn’t smell so hot. Additionally all he wanted to do was garden and I wanted to make-out (and that precious overuse of the passé simple.. vous eutes…now, I ask you. A circumflex belongs over that “u” but I can’t figure out how to do it.)

And his teeth!

susanc's avatar

I suspect that a lot of people, my revered husband for example, missed the window of opportunity when these grammar rules can be made interesting (bad schools in Niagara Falls NY being the culprit in this instance). I don’t think it’s laziness or inattention to detail when it’s never been an intellectual reality. My husband reads complicated text every day without really noticing these “bits”. When he writes, he has to have an editor. At least he asks for edits.
Working with people whose first language isn’t yours cannot be hurried. I had a wonderful garden helper for a year during an illness. He was a terrific gardener but
had almost no English. We would repeat and mime till both of us got it. In our family we still say “necktie” when we want to indicate “next time” because of Mr Phan’s native dropping of last consonants.
I do love “Chunky Parrot”. To me this story was completely worth hossman’s confusion.
I love good grammar. My window of opportunity was well met by inspired teachers, and as a result I have many bad moments every day trying to read awful writing. But
let’s not be mean. People don’t do this out of stupidity or malice. Those of us who
“get” and enjoy proper grammar are the lucky ones.

hossman's avatar

@andrew: Actually, I am not a stickler for GRAMMATICAL precision and will freely abandon any rule that is no longer working, as an example, many split infinitives can aid comprehension. I also give informal communication, like here and e-mails, a break. My problem is with a lack of COMMUNICATIVE precision. As a lawyer and creative writer, words have specific meanings and should be used carefully. Look at the controversy in SF not long ago for a complete misunderstanding of a correct use of the word “niggardly.” And any business that can’t spell in their promotional materials has lost my business. If you can’t do it yourself, hire one of the many out of work English majors. Example: A business less than a dozen blocks from here will not get my business because their sign spells “monthly” as “mothly” and has done so for weeks.

@gailcalled: Sometimes Voltaire meant something completely different by “gardening.” Maybe the two of you were closer than you thought. I really don’t think Candide spent all of his time just raising tomatoes. In fact, I cringe to think what Voltaire might include in “tend your own garden.”

hossman's avatar

I also don’t mind when someone is genuinely having difficulties acquiring English as a second language (although it does irritate me when businesses do not assign work duties to address these difficulties.) My first job was working in a Mandarin restaurant, and I spent years honing my acting skills on trying to communicate words like “pork” (easy) or “pea pod” (go ahead, try to act out a pea pod. Or water chestnut.) What I resent is the lack of effort by some to make clear communication despite these differences.

I agree with andrew that smugness of grammarian over-precision can be annoying, and I have a ways to go before I could consider myself a grammarian. I start teaching three sections of writing next month, and I’m working to beef up my mad grammar skilz now, before I embarass myself, or have to work with some pedantic. Most of my grammar skills come from journalism and legal writing, not English, thus are more practically oriented than rule oriented.

christybird's avatar

Susanc, I absolutely agree that there is no point in being snide about this. And I think this is the kind of thing that some people will never be good at, just like some people are never going to be good spellers. It’s not a moral failure.

I do think, though, that if anyone is interested in when to use “its” vs “it’s” the rule is actually pretty straightforward: Can I say “it is” here instead? If no, use “its.” If yes, use “it’s.” Much more straightforward than when to use “which” vs. “that” or “affect/effect” or some of the other things that tangle people up.

gailcalled's avatar

@Hoss; well, yes, I let myself in for THAT. (Altho you started it with the zucchini question…..that was also fraught w. peril.)

Congrats, BTW, on another magnificent dangling you-know-what. And I am enjoying imagining you miming a water chestnut (since you have already described yourself as a furry watermelon)..And Chunky Parrot wins the “malapropism-of-the day” award.

hossman's avatar

Wow, gail, I guess I shouldn’t let you assume I can take credit for my magnificent dangling you-know-what, which I purchased and did not grow myself. I’m not the gifted gardener my question may have suggested.

hossman's avatar

Or did you mean the participle? I’m prone to those.

peggylou's avatar

What a delightful exchange! I feel that people who do not make the EFFORT to properly communicate (as opposed to those who have not been so educated) are just lazy.It seems to me to be another example of sloppiness. Personally, I can’t stand the improper spelling of “judgment.,”

gailcalled's avatar

A lot of our usage came from the heavily inflected Latin, Greek and OE. I had curmudgeons for English teachers when I was young…they just beat the rules into us. I still leap from my chair whenever I read “the true facts.” Certainly the split infinitive and susanc’s thread about the uses of the personal pronoun lead us back to classical languages.

And check out David Sedaris’ book of essays; one chapter of which discusses his early efforts to speak French; hence the eponymous title, ME TALK PRETTY SOME DAY. Also remember the thread about WOE IS I, and EATS, SHOOTS, AND LEAVES, which brings us to why punctuation is not arbitrary.

Spelling that interests me:separate:principle/principal; capital/capitol, (ac)knowledge/

The goal, particularly when one is writing, is to be clear. Most of the rules support clarity. In the grim old days, I used to read HSer’s essays. I’d ask,” What do you mean?” He/she would explain. Then I’‘d say, “Write that instead.”

I am noticing the various rules I just followed in writing the above, in order to be understood, at least marginally.

joli's avatar

Less is more. May I suggest, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr.

susanc's avatar

Strunk&WHITE (the immortal E.B.) is excellent, but really, Gail being our community heroine, why not just scrap everything else and stick to her rule: “What do you mean?
Write that.”

Modern_Classic's avatar

If it’s and its are used interchangeably or arbitrarily then their specific meanings will be lost; there will be no way to specifically contract “it is” that can be distinguished from the possessive “its.” The prospect of that loss bothers me and is the source of my grief and anger when confronted with bad grammar. I couldn’t care less about following rules, per se, I want to be able to express myself clearly and understood when I speak and write.

hossman's avatar

Punctuation can be important. My partner and I had a client which was a very small home builder. They built one custom house at a time. For years, we had told them they should have us review their contracts (we had been doing other things for them). They refused, as they didn’t want to pay us for that. Finally, I offered to review their contract form for free. It was horrible. I pointed out the many disadvantages and told them we should either draft a new form for them, or find them a different one. They didn’t want to pay the thousand or so that would take (unlike reviewing the old form, I wasn’t going to take on the substantial professional liability for a new contract for free).

Two years go by, and they have a huge dispute with a homeowner, which ends up in court. We defend them. After trial, the judge tells our client that on most of the issues, we had successfully argued for them, but on the issues arising from the bad contractual language (pointing out the same language I had pointed out 2 years prior), the contract said what the contract said, and it was going to cost them about $80,000. The contractual issues? “May” was used instead of “shall” once, and a comma was used instead of a period. That cost them $80,000.

bulbatron9's avatar

Sometimes people make mistakes. Just like gailcalled did ending her sentence with a comma, writing stll instead of still, and I thought using contractions like diff. was looked down upon in flutherland.
“To err is human.”

peggylou's avatar

Again, a competent secretary in year’s past, would NEVER use its for it’s! It was the same as using two spaces following a period instead of one. I loved the days of rigid grammar, punctuation and spelling! It was like math—you’re either right or you’re wrong! But typing errors are something else.

bulbatron9's avatar

I just want to add to my above statement – That gail is one of the wisest and most experienced users on fluther, and if she can make a mistake, anybody can.

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