About your “you’re”

Last week I covered the needless confusion between they’re, there, and their, so it seems only natural to focus on a similarly confused set of homophones: you’re and your. At least this time there are only two of them!

Once again, it comes down to the same thing: people are trying to figure out how to write the sound /jʊəɹ/ instead of spelling the word that means “belonging to you” or the one that means “you are.” There’s no confusion about which word one actually wants, so using the correct one in writing is simply a matter of learning how to spell that word, and not caring in the least what it sounds like.

Unlike the three words in the their/there/they’re complex, we only have two to deal with here. That makes it extremely easy. We know one word is a possessive, meaning belonging to you, and one is a contraction, short for you are. So to use the correct word, we merely need to think about how words are constructed and then select the one that matches our intended meaning.

Since you’re is a contraction, it will have an apostrophe to replace the space and a. That makes it easy: the contraction of you are is necessarily you’re. It doesn’t matter how it’s pronounced, whether it’s pronounced the same as the possessive of you or it’s pronounced throatwarbler; this is all about how it’s written. So, if we’re writing you are going to like this and want to use a contraction for the first two words, it can’t be anything but you’re going to like this.

And likewise, your isn’t a contraction; it’s a pronoun. (a word that stands in for a noun) You’ll remember that possessive pronouns, unlike possessive nouns, don’t have apostrophes. Just like the book belonging to Joe is Joe’s book if we name him, but his book if we use a pronoun, the book belonging to you is your book because we’re using a pronoun there, too. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s pronounced mangrove, the only thing that matters here is what it means: belonging to you.

So: the way to spell “you are” is “you’re”. The way to spell “belonging to you” is “your”. And the fact that they’re both written /jʊəɹ/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet doesn’t even enter into it.

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