Grammar Tip #3: Its Back! The Confusion Between “Its” and “It’s” Rears It’s Ugly Head!

Did you spot the two errors in the title? If so, skip this tip because you do not need it.

At my day job this week I got emails from two different people, both extremely powerful and successful in their respective fields, yet woefully ignorant of the it’s/its distinction. Here they are, edited to protect the guilty:

I got this information from the Immigration office. Therefore, we don’t
have to worry about it’s accuracy.

The X Society of B.C. is hosting it’s annual conference at the Coast Plaza Hotel and Suites in Vancouver.

Then my dad wrote me this anguished email:

Sign at my apartment building: “Downtown living at it’s best.” I had to cover the apostrophe with a piece of white label.

(Isn’t my dad the best ever?)

OK, time to lay down the law (not “lie down the law”– see Tip #2).

Here is a simple way to make sure you use the right one. “It’s” is short for “it is” or “it has.” So try replacing “it’s” with “it is” and see how your sentence sounds.

I got this information from the Immigration office. Therefore, we don’t
have to worry about it is accuracy.

Downtown living at it is finest

See what I mean?

“Its” is the possessive form of “it.” So it means “belonging to it.” So the title of this tip could be read as:

The Back Belonging to It! The Confusion Between “Its” and It’s” Rears It Is Ugly Head!

And that is clearly not what I meant.

Grammar Tip #2: Do Not Say “I” When You Should Say “Me”

Many people say “I” when they mean “me”—particularly in sentences like the ones below, where there are two objects: the person who is speaking and someone else.

For example:

WRONG: She gave the bad news to Joe and I.
WRONG: I don’t know why they got so mad at her and I.

RIGHT: She gave the bad news to Joe and me.
RIGHT: I don’t know why they got so mad at her and me.

I think people make this mistake because they learned (correctly) to use “I” when speaking about themselves as subjects, as in:

RIGHT: Claire and I went to the movie.

They learned not to say:

WRONG: Claire and me went to the movie.

Here’s how to know whether to use “I” or “me”: take out the other person. Would you say, “She gave the bad news to I?” No, you wouldn’t. Unless you were Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But she made it sound fabulous.

Starbucks Grammar Incident

OK, this isn’t really a grammar tip, but I am sliding it into this category anyway. I just want people to know that I am on guard for the English language.

So Starbucks has been selling these cute spelling bee mugs–part of the line of merchandise that goes with their promo of Akeelah and the Bee (has anyone actually seen that movie?). Each mug has a tough spelling word and its definition. One of the words is “meticulosity.” Not that I have ever heard anyone use this word, but apparently it is real– the noun form of the adjective “meticulous.” To my horror, the Starbucks mug said that meticulosity was an adjective. Does this mean that Starbucks can’t afford an editor?

I want to reassure you that I emailed them as soon as I got to a computer, and today I got an email back (after a week or so of sitting on shpilkes waiting for a reply):

“Your feedback is very important to us, so we appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I want to assure you that I’ve passed on your comments to the appropriate people in our company for their attention.”

I feel better already. Though if I don’t hear from them soon, I may take them up on their suggestion to call Customer Relations at (800) 23-LATTE.

PS Yes maybe I should stop drinking Starbucks and also put my energy into tackling more important social issues. I just can’t think of any.

Grammar Tip #1: Lay vs Lie

Do Not Misuse Lay and Lie (even though Booker Prize winners have done so with impunity)

The best way to remember the difference between lay and lie is to know that lie is intransitive (no object) and lay is transitive (object).* Like so:

She lies in bed. (no object)
She lays the doll in its bed. (the doll is the object of the verb lay)

The reason people get confused is that the past tense of lie is lay (and also that everyone around them is confused!).

Here is how to conjugate the two verbs:

Present: She lies in bed.
Past: She lay in bed.
Past perfect: She has lain in bed.

Present: She lays the doll in its bed.
Past: She laid the doll in its bed.
Past perfect: She has laid the doll in its bed.

The following sentences are INCORRECT:

The dog lays down when I tell him to.
Lay down, Rover!
Just lie the book down over there.
She just laid there like there was nothing wrong.

If you misuse lay and lie, you are in good company. See G by John Berger, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and many more (though I think the real culprits here are publishing houses who don’t prioritize editing). Sure, all these books are fabulous and have done very well. But don’t make that an excuse to continue in error. Learn from the mistakes of others!

*There are other meanings of “to lay” that are intransitive and don’t tend to get confused with “to lie.” For example, one could say, “the hen lays,” which would mean that the hen produces eggs. A hunter can also “lay for deer.” And of course there is the verb “to lie” that means to say something untrue. But this is all a bit outside of our discussion for this week.