Commonly confused words

by Shannon Naylor

Its/It’s || Your/You’re || Their/They’re

The trick to getting these words right is to remember when to use the apostrophe. Where most people get confused is that, in English, apostrophes are used to indicate both possession and contractions (when a letter is “missing”). But what happens when you aren’t sure which takes the apostrophe?

Just remember that the rule for contractions is stronger than the rule for possession. This means that “it’s,” “you’re,” and “they’re” mean “it is,” “you are,” and “they are” because the apostrophe indicates the dropped “i,” and “a.” And the possessives “its,” “your,” and “their” don’t take apostrophes because they have no missing letters.

Anytime I wonder if I’m using the right word, I ask myself if there are missing letters, and this helps me remember whether I should use the apostrophe version or not.

Pronoun Possessive Contraction
It Its It’s
You Your You’re
They Their They’re
There “There” is another commonly confused word, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the pronoun “they.” Use “there” when indicating a place or location.


To indicates direction or place. It’s also part of infinitives in English: to see, to go, to run.*

Too indicates a greater degree of something or an addition. You can remember this because it has an additional O.

Two is the spelling-out of the numeral 2.

Word Part of Speech Example
To Preposition I went to the grocery store.
Too Adverb I bought too many groceries.
Two Number I made two trips between the car and fridge.


* Unlike some languages, English infinitives appear as two words, but they function as one. This is why grammar sticklers will scold you for “splitting infinitives,” or putting words in between the two parts of the infinitive.

Split Infinitive: I want to definitely see that movie.

Intact Infinitive: I definitely want to see that movie.

Shannon Naylor is the post-graduate teaching intern for the CTL. 

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