Its a problem, but its usually an honest mistake

Merrill Perlman of CJR’s “Language Corner” shares the above image of a 1768 lottery ticket signed by its purchaser, George Washington. It’s a venerable example of the its/it’s problem that vexes many of us.

Perlman writes:

Few usage experts would argue that “it’s” instead of “its” is perfectly OK, especially since the difference is so clear, at least to those who notice it. But what usage experts want and what people do are not the same thing.

But we’re not all doing this on purpose. I suspect that the misuse of “it’s” is far more common than the misuse of “its,” not because of any confusion over the distinction, but because it’s so habitual, when typing, to add that apostrophe.

And it’s even easier to do when writing longhand, with the momentum coming off the i and the t — dot, slash, stroke. It’s just too easy to add that apostrophe whether it’s in its proper place or not.

* * * * * * * * *

Krissy Scalzi is correct. Her husband John is mistaken.

Ed Cyzewski’s post about reading James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain reminded me of Erik Loomis’ recent discussion of “working-class literature” and “class-conscious novels.” Both touch on one of the great benefits of fiction — the chance to see the world through the eyes of someone very different from yourself. Empathy, in other words.

• I did not know that Vladimir Nabokov was also a professionally trained entomologist, which makes his take on Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” particularly interesting: “Some Gregors … do not know that they have wings.”

This makes me really want to go to a theater to see Harrow Alley. Here’s hoping I get to do that someday.

• And this makes me want to read George Saunders’ Tenth of December. Like Maureen Corrigan, I also had a moment of Saunders/Sanders confusion. Seeing a headline praising Saunders’ book, Corrigan says:

I was baffled because the only George Saunders I could think of was that old movie star who was always playing cads in films like Rebecca and All About Eve. (Actually, that actor’s name was George Sanders.)

Sanders doesn’t play a cad, though, in Foreign Correspondent, Alfred Hitchcock’s terrifically entertaining 1940 variation on the innocent person embroiled in an international scheme.

Sanders isn’t the innocent man — that’s a blandly likable Joel McCrea as the American hero of the story. The hero had to be an American because the movie is Hitchcock’s plea for the U.S. to come to England’s aid in World War II. But while the American gets the girl, the Brit gets all the good lines, and it’s great fun watching Sanders play a proto-James Bond years before Ian Fleming invented him.

(If you like innocent-embroiled-in-scheme stories as much as I do, here’s a fun double-feature: Foreign Correspondent followed by Do Not Disturb, sometimes titled Silent Witness. The hero of the latter is a young, mute American girl lost in Amsterdam. She witnesses a murder, gets chased by the killer, and in one of the movie’s many tributes-to/rip-offs-from Hitchcock, winds up crawling out of the same hotel window Joel McCrea crawled out of when he was in a similar situation.)

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  • Jon Maki

    My problem with The Rainbow Connection is the assertion that lies within the question.  Honestly, apart from the song itself, I can only think of two songs about rainbows.  That doesn’t really count as “so many” as far as I’m concerned.

  • histrogeek

     I mentioned this on Scalzi’s blog as well. Either Kermit has a biased sample based on his limited experience as a frog in the Everglades (movie night or not, I’m guessing not they didn’t get first-run movies or much new music) or as Kermit himself would say poetic license baby (OK he maybe wouldn’t).
    It’s true that there really aren’t sooooo many songs about rainbows. Though some more common subjects would threaten his G-rating.

  • Lori

    I loved the commentor who mentioned the possibility of Kermit being a Ronnie James Dio fan. That gave me the giggles.

  • Carstonio

    Now I want to hear Kermit sing “Rainbow in the Dark.” Both Dio and Rob Halford would be in my top 5 for best singers in heavy metal.

  • Jon Maki

    Well, Rainbow in the Dark actually is one of the two that I’m able to think of.  (The other one is sort of obvious.)

  • Marc Mielke

    Great song, but that still makes three unless you count Dio actually being in a band named Rainbow. Still not ‘so many’.

  • Ross

     Damn. You beat me to the punch.

    (Though I can think of four. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘The Theme From Reading Rainbow’, ‘The Theme From The Neverending Story’, and ‘Seven Wonders’)

  • Jon Maki

    Well, that brings the total up to five, so I guess we’re getting closer to “so many.”

  • aunursa

    It’s” is a contraction of “it is.”
    Its” is a possessive pronoun.

    The one grammatical pet peeve of mine even more than it’s/its is the misuse of “farther” and “further.”  In many instances, such as it’s/its and affect/effect, one word is overused while the other is underused.  It has been my experience that the vast majority of times “farther” is used when “further” is appropriate, and “further” is used when “farther” is appropriate.  At least 80 percent of the time it seems that the wrong word is used.  Even authorities that should know better (print media) can’t seem to get it correct.

    farther – refers to physical distance
    further – refers to other than physical distance

    It’s easy for me to remember: farthur has “far”

  • Vermic


    That film where Dudley Moore plays a drunk with a flatulence problem.

  • Carstonio

    There’s apocryphal story about a state tourism agency using the advertising line “It’s Places, It’s People.”

  • The_L1985

     Well, it is.

  • Ross

    There’s apocryphal story about a state tourism agency using the advertising line “It’s Places, It’s People.”

    This message brought to you by the Soylent Travel Corporation. Soylent: Made from the best stuff on earth.

  • Marc Mielke

    A very unfortunate sign at a local market read “Fresh” Fish.
    If they weren’t already well-known for having the best poke’ on the island that might have put me right off. 

  • John Small Berries

     It’s is a contraction of “it is.”

    Or “it has”, of course.

  • Jim Roberts

    For our esteemed host, I would recommend the most excellent book, “Vera,” which tells the story of the great author as it should be told – from the perspective of his relationship with his wife. For more on his work as a scientist, try “Nabokov’s Blues.”

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The use of “s” and “‘s” and “s'” is vexing because the rules are not 100% consistent. As a result for several years I misapplied the rules about apostrophes and plural possessives.  (-_-)

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ve been steadily driving myself insane trying to determine when to use apostrophes when abbreviating or quoting within dialogue.

    “Don’t ‘darlin” me!”
    “As I said, ‘darlin’,’ ”

    (You and me both, Lindsay.)

  • Marc Mielke

    If you are writing in dialect already, isn’t proper grammar already kind of out the window? 

  • AnonymousSam

    Only inasmuch as word choice and order are concerned, but it still needs proper punctuation. Unless your name is Anne Rice and you’re writing a valley girl, in which case, all the rules of punctuation go out the window and so does your copy editor.

    (Lasher was a very, very disappointing sequel to the The Witching Hour, but it would have been buried regardless for the absolutely atrocious writing of Mona Mayfair. I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I want to know what company let her get away with using more than thirty question marks in a five sentence paragraph so I know to avoid it when I publish something.)

  • FearlessSon

    My parents taught me that one should only ever add the apostrophe in the case of a contraction of the words “it is”.  

    However, since I never use contractions in my writing (unless I am quoting or deliberately imitating spoken vernacular for effect) I end up never using an apostrophe in this case.  

  • Charity Brighton

    You never use contractions?

    Mr. Carpathia, how do you do?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart


  • vsm

    I recently discovered Tom Conway, George Sanders’s older brother who appeared in three of Val Lewton’s classic B horror films back in the early forties. He too had that British charm thing going on, though he was less of a cad; only the psychologist he played in Cat People could really be described as such, though he was quite the bastard. Oddly enough, he plays another psychologist with the same name but significantly better ethics in The Seventh Victim, my favorite of the series. It’s also notable for having a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a lesbian woman for a film made under the Code. Why, she doesn’t even die. Conway also appeared in I Walked with a Zombie, which is Jane Eyre with zombies. Ahead of his time, that Lewton.

    Neither of the Sanders brothers had very happy ends. Tom drank himself to death in 1967 while George committed suicide in 1972.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I followed a web site years ago that posted photos of signs (mostly handwritten) displayed in stores, especially grocery stores. The two most common punctuation peculiarities were putting words inside quotation marks for emphasis and sticking apostrophes in front of the “s” at the end of all sort of words.

    I suspect that’s why it’s more common to see “its” misspelled “it’s” than the other way around: people remember some rule about “apostrophe-s”, but they can’t recall the context.

  • The_L1985

    I hate quotation marks for emphasis.  I keep seeing them as those “air quotes.” I’ll see a sign that says something like:

    “Free” Chicken

    So…not really free?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Better than free “chicken”.

    My local butcher advertises “fresh” pork. Hmmm.

  • P J Evans

    sticking apostrophes in front of the “s” at the end of all sort of words

    For the last several weekends, I’ve been seeing a sign down the street for “TOOL’S”. I always wonder what the tool has.

  • AnonymousSam

    This February, I had the misfortune to see a sign advertising bokay’s of rose’s.

  • The_L1985

    “Bokay” just broke my brain.

  • AnonymousSam

    Or did it boke your brakay?

  • Jenora Feuer

    I followed a web site years ago that posted photos of signs (mostly
    handwritten) displayed in stores, especially grocery stores. The two
    most common punctuation peculiarities were putting words inside
    quotation marks for emphasis and sticking apostrophes in front of the
    “s” at the end of all sort of words.

    There’s a reason why one of the common terms for the extra apostrophe being added in a plural is the Greengrocers’ Apostrophe.

  • Jared Bascomb

    Beat me to it. Shame on me for not following the thread to page 2.

  • Jared Bascomb

    I followed a web site years ago that posted photos of signs (mostly handwritten) displayed in stores, especially grocery stores. The two most common punctuation peculiarities were putting words inside quotation marks for emphasis and sticking apostrophes in front of the “s” at the end of all sort of words.
    Lynne Truss refers to this as “the greengrocer’s apostrophe”.

    (And yes, I *did* just put the period outside the quotation mark because that’s where it effing *belongs* – at the end of the sentence!)

  • Ross

     But without the quotation marks to protect it, it might fall off!

    (I’m pretty sure that’s where the rule actually comes from, some kind of typesetter’s rules about what you’re physically allowed to do with metal sorts* that only take up the top or bottom half. I suspect that the full rule is actually “but only if you don’t have a single sort for ‘quotation mark directly above period’.” )

    (* Guess who just looked up what the name is for the piece of metal in typesetting that contains a single glyph)

  • Miff

    Can we just let language evolve to the point where it’s is the proper possessive. I mean, I know it can be a contraction for “it is” but can’t it also be a contraction for “it his”, like “ticket his number”*?
    * According to some people this is what “ticket’s number” is short for.

  • Ross

     No we can not. Because it is wrong and bad and wrong and confusing and jarring and wrong. (Seriously, I do not get how anyone makes this mistake. It looks wrong. You just see it and your brain goes “Now I am expecting this phrase to be possessive.” When I see it, my mind comes to a crashing stop and I have to go back and reread the whole damned paragraph).  We have possessive pronouns in this language. You wouldn’t say “him’s” or “her’s”. And yes, it is etymologically true that the possessive “‘s” comes from the archaic formulation “Bob his number”, (a) that usage is not gramatically correct in modern english, and (2) “its” never used that construction.  Hell, if it did, it wouldn’t be “ticket his number”, it’d be “ticket its number” — the “its” would still be there.

    (Yes I am ranting. Because this particular error pisses me off and makes writing unreadable. It’s even worse than the greengrocer’s apostrophe.)

  • John Small Berries

     There’s a lot of Renaissance dance music which uses “his” where we might use an apostrophe-s (“Sir John Smith his Allemande”, “Captaine Digorie Piper his Galliard”, “Sir John Langton his Pavane”, etc.), which I thought explained the apostrophe in possessive nouns (since I was taught that an apostrophe stands for missing letters), but it turns out to have been a bit more complicated than that.

  • Hilary

    Then vs than drives me nuts, and prey/ pray.  I once got them mixed up during an evolutionary biology test, and spent three paragraphs about preditor/pray relationships.  Luckily I got the science correct, and the teachor forgave an intersting spelling mistake.  She also got a kick out of how many euphemisms I could find for naked mole rats, like ‘indecently exposed mall rodentia’ but at least that was deliberate.  And again, my science was correct. 

  • The_L1985

    Now I’m picturing a mantis as a Catholic priest, for some reason.  “Let us prey…” *crunching of insect exoskeletons*

  • Madhabmatics

     Teilhard de Chardin, iirc, wrote something along the lines of the idea that it is lucky that insects can’t grow very large, or they may have evolved understanding more quickly than us and been the species that was granted the Image of God.

    He also goes on to argue that it is our duty to bring other animal species to that point of understanding. It’s too bad godawful Dan Simmons is the only sci-fi writer to go for Teilhard stuff in his stories.

  • The_L1985

     And on the subject of silly things written in college classes:  I once had a math modeling project involving the changing water level of a lake due to increased water usage by the town of Smallville.  One of my findings was that the lake’s water level would quickly become too low for marine life to survive.  On the paper:

    “If this were the Smallville, then Clark Kent would be able to use his superpowers to save the lake.  But it isn’t, and so Lost Lake becomes uninhabitable by the end of the simulation.”

  • histrogeek

    “One of my findings was that the lake’s water level would quickly become too low for marine life to survive.”

    Oh noes, vocabulary mistake! I am distraught! I must spend the rest of the day recovering from the assault on my brain and my mother language! O woe is I!

    It should be aquatic (or for added pedantry lacustrine) life in the lake. Marine life is only in the sea or ocean. 

  • The_L1985

     I know this; I really do.  Honest!  I just….damn.  How did I forget that one?  I live near an ocean!

  • Leum

    I find discussions of how awful improper grammar is to be troubling. Because there’s a huge element of class and education bias in such discussions, with the implication that not having been educated on what is, frankly, utterly irrelevant to communicating your message nine times out of ten, should be used as a reason to discount what is being said. Perhaps the quintessential example of this is the scene in Sherlock where Holmes repeatedly interrupts his interviewee to correct his grammar, a scene played not to show that Sherlock is a jerkass, but to show how awesome he is.

  • histrogeek

     I’m not sure that’s how that seen is meant to be seen. I felt that it emphasized what a sociopath Sherlock was. Here’s a guy who killed someone and who is himself likely to be executed, but Sherlock is pedantically and impatiently insisting on correcting grammatical mistakes, as if that was what was really important.

  • vsm

    There’s a lot more to language than getting your point across. Using nonstandard grammar (though this is really a case of ortography) in an improper context will make you look incompetent and at least I have no desire to change it. If we refuse to consider certain uses of language bad, how can we recognize other uses of language as good? (To make myself look a bit less of a snob, I should acknowledge I made at least one bonafide grammar mistake in my previous post. I should probably register so I could make more of my mistakes disappear.)

    As for the scene in Sherlock, I thought the point was him trying to annoy the interviewee to see if he’d lose his temper. He did and Sherlock concluded he probably was guilty.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Correct response: requiring better education, not allowing worse grammar.

  • Kirala

     You and I saw that Sherlock scene differently, then – I’d’ve sworn that the point was that Sherlock is an insufferable know-it-all, or at least bored enough to be terribly rude.

  • Charity Brighton

     Sometimes, the issue is when someone is being so ponderously dull or rude that you have no choice but to entertain yourself by picking at things that would ordinarily be easy to ignore. It’s kind of like watching a slow, boring movie and spending all of your time picking out plot holes that you would be able to ignore if the movie was fastpaced and exciting.

    Of course, I think it’s generally pretty rude to call someone out like that except in specific situations. If I’m talking to someone, or reading something, and I can figure out what it means, I’m not going to go hunting for spelling errors. That’s just unnecessary.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Thanks for mentioning my post Fred!

  • Foreigner

    Rules? Who wrote the rulebook?

  • P J Evans

    So – what is on the other side of a song?

  • ReverendRef

     So – what is on the other side of a song?

    The B-side.

    I’m well past the age where people don’t necessarily know what that means.  When Kid Ref was much younger, we went to dinner at an eclectically-decorated restaurant.  Several of their decorations were old 45’s.  She pointed out that “those cd’s on the wall are really big.”

    Luckily, she now knows better.

    **also double checking to make sure I’ve made no grammatical mistakes on a thread about grammatical mistakes.

  • P J Evans

     If I felt like getting all pedantic on you: that’s the other side of a record. *g*

  • ReverendRef

     I suppose that would be true — but when people call radio stations to make a request, they ask for a song, not a record.  Therefore the other side of the record is also the other side of the song.  So the flip side of both the song and the record is the B-side.

    Oooh … oooh … the beginnings of the B-Side Flame War.  :P

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought the other side of a song was its play-it-backwards Satanic message.

  • ReverendRef

     So . . . if the label on the B-side came off, would that be considered the Dark Side?

  • Dogfacedboy

    So – what is on the other side of a song?

    Back in the days of 45 rpm records, it was usually another song.

  • Boidster

    “Different than” is my biggest (but, to my detriment, not my only) pet peeve. There is now a direct line from ear to brain, such that if I’m in the kitchen or bedroom or wherever, not watching the teevee, and whoever is the talking head of the moment says “different than” I will automatically say “different from“, without ever hearing anything else the head said. Probably I would do it in my sleep. The President said it a couple of weeks ago at a press event or something, and I had a sad.

    Better/worse/more/less then is probably a close #2.

    Well, I’m pretty fun at parties I think, why do you ask?

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Part of it may be a British/US usage thing.

    As I understand it British English uses “different to” whereas US English usually uses “different than/from”.

  • The_L1985

     Don’t forget could/should/would of (I’m cringing at typing it even as an example) and “one in the same.”

    Double shame-points if it’s in written/typed form.

  • P J Evans

     I worked with someone (a college graduate, in fact) who consistently wrote about ‘hand’s on sessions’.

  • stardreamer42

    The one that floors me is “different to“, which doesn’t make any sense at all.

  • Dave

     I’m not sure what it means for “different to” not to make sense, over and above that it isn’t conventional in my dialect. There’s no reason I can think of for the idiom to be “different from” rather than “different to” or “different against,” other than historical reasons.

  • Carstonio

    What are your favorite grammatical conflicts that amount to religious schisms? My first though was the Oxford comma, where I picture grammarians pelting each other with copies of the Chicago Manual and Gregg Reference.

  • histrogeek

     You laugh, but you have never seen copy editors on a discussion board. (Shutter)

  • Amy

    Re: the Rainbow Connection and comma placement:
    When you’re listening to a song how are you supposed to “hear” a comma?  Is it assumed any time there’s a pause? 
    Why are there so many, songs about rainbows…

    The comments on that article are too funny.  I loved yours, histrogeek!

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s not a comma, that’s a caesura. (Mandatory word break in poetic meter. Big thing in Latin poetry.)

  • The_L1985

     Caesuras always bugged me, for the simple reason that people continue to use a comma even where a period/question mark obviously goes there instead.

  • Leum

    My perception of the Sherlock scene may have been colored by my rather snobbish and grammar nazi-ish friend practically orgasming while watching it.

  • vsm

    That does sound pretty dire.

  • Marc Mielke

    I’ve seen Castle correct grammar without seeming snobbish and insufferable and simply one of the show’s callbacks to his being a writer. That might just be Nathan Fillion’s charm, though.

  • Jared Bascomb

    As long as we’re venting, how about people who use objective pronouns instead of subjective pronouns, or vice versa?

    Or /*shudder*/ the dreaded use of “myself” instead of “me” (ie, “Please respond to myself or Chris”).

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Also, the dreaded “It happened to (name) and I” construction.

  • Paul Gottlieb

    Joel McCrea wasn’t “blandly likable” in “Foreign Correspondent,” he was delightfully likable.  McCrea was a big, handsome guy with a wonderfully self-deprecating manner. There’s a reason the Preston Sturges chose him to play the lead in two of the greatest comedies ever

  • Kaleberg

    The OKCupid dating site used to have a blog where they’d analyze the data that their users provided. This included the answers to a number of questions, some of which were published publicly, while other answers were kept private. This led them to see if there were correlations between certain public and private answers that would allow one to get a good guess of a potential date’s answer to one question by asking another “proxy” question. For example, there was a high correlation between being willing to have sex on the first date and liking the taste of beer. It might be awkward to ask a direct question about having sex prematurely, but one could probably work in a question about beer rather easily. Another good proxy question was to ask whether one felt that proper spelling and grammar were important. More conservatively religious people were less likely to consider correct spelling and grammar important, while less conservatively religious sorts felt they were important. You can make of this what you will, perhaps on your next date.

  • banancat

     I’m extremely liberal and yet I’m a complete linguistic descriptivist.  I hope OKCupid doesn’t start setting me up with a bunch of conservatives.  However, the one person I’ve met from there so far is also liberal and also a descirptivist, so I guess that site worked its magic somehow.

    I’m actually surprised though, because language prescriptivism relies so heavily on appeals to both tradition and authority, so I would have guessed that conservatives skew heavily toward the prescriptivist side.  I wonder if instead it’s a function of education, where people get increasingly more prescriptivist until they reach a certain point in education, where they then go way back toward descriptivist.  Maybe for conservatives it’s a matter of just not caring or of actively being suspicious of people who seem educated.

    And of course, the prestige of certain dialects is one of the reasons I’m a descriptivist in the first place.

  • Kaleberg

    OKCupid took a statistical approach. As I said, make of this what you will. (They also only sampled online dating site users.)

  • Lori


    I wonder if instead it’s a function of education, where people get
    increasingly more prescriptivist until they reach a certain point in
    education, where they then go way back toward descriptivist.    

    Or maybe it’s that Liberals, in spite of Conservative stereotypes about them, care more about communication than about proving how well-educated they are.

  • banancat

     But I’m the most liberal person I know and I don’t get all angry and offended when people use language in a non-standard way because in 99% of cases, the meaning is perfectly clear.

  • Carstonio

     Maybe for conservatives it’s a matter of just not caring or of actively being suspicious of people who seem educated.

    Their reaction might be that of a resentful younger sibling toward a tyrannical older one, viewing people who seem educated as pretenders to authority. 

  • mud man

    Netflix calls it Silent Witness, “availability unknown”. I hate it when that happens.

    I think Punctuation should be a Creative activity: as it once was. Call it punctuition! Also spelling and especially Capitialization.

  • Amaryllis

     I have, because of reasons, just spent several days reading seventeenth-century sermons and speeches.

    It left me with a renewed appreciation of current orthographical standardization.

  • P J Evans

     Amaryllis, I’ve been posting from family Civil War-era letters and papers on my blog. Standardized doesn’t even come near them. But reading the stuff out loud does give you a feel for their speech patterns. (They spelled by ear – it means little words are usually wrong, but big ones are usually right.)

  • Urthman

    The Rainbow Connection song is about there being something out there in the feelings inspired by rainbows, stars, mysterious voices. The singer is pushing back against those who say rainbows are only illusions with nothing hiding behind them. It’s the singer who’s interested in what’s on the other side of the rainbow.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    My pet grammar peeve of the decade is “amount” instead of “number”.

    Not grammar, but word choice: I am also heartily sick of “fresh” as an at-all-times synonym for “new”.

    On the class question (class issues having a tendency to make me twitch), I grew up in a working class/welfare class family, with no family members having any education beyond high school, and one parent having left school at the age of 15. My whole family thinks that knowing how to use language is important. I don’t like the implication that interest in and knowledge of language belongs to the middle and upper class.

    Incidently, I know lots of solidly middle class people who same “somethink” or “somefing”. I have no idea what that’s about.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I keep hearing people say ‘another thing coming’ when context (if you think X, you’ve got etc) clearly shows they mean ‘another think coming’. And at least sometimes it’s deliberate, not an enunciation thing, because they type it ‘thing’, not ‘think’!

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    There are quite a few mangled phrases that were apparently misheard often enough by people who didn’t see them written down that they’ve transformed completely. The most interesting one I’ve noticed, because it is unheard of in my age group (early 30s) but commonplace in teens and early 20-somethings, is “versus” transformed to “verses”, thence to “verse”. As in “the Eels versed the Dogs in the season opener”.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Also, I’ve seen people write “intensive purposes”, indicating they heard the phrase “intents and purposes” but not quite.

  • christopher_y

    There’s a word for this, and the word is ‘eggcorn‘. It was coined by Geoff Pullum of the very wonderful Language Log about ten years ago, and quickly went into general use because it’s so useful. Somebody built a database of the darned things here.

  • Pepperjackcandy

    I notice that one of my favorites (?) isn’t on that list.  I don’t know where the confusion came from (though I suspect it may have been Harry “defiantly” telling Remus that Sirius deserved death in Prisoner of Azkaban), but there is a whole passel of young (at least I hope that they’re young) adults who use “defiantly” instead of “definitely.” 

    See, for example, “I’m no fan of Ronnie, but he was defiantly in the Army” )

  • The_L1985

     My bro and I did that one a lot as little ones.

  • Ross Thompson

    Huh. I’d always thought the idiom was “another thing coming”. I had to re-read your example three times before I understood how it supports “another think coming”, and now I’m going to have to consider that.

    But habit alone will probably mean I keep on using the form I’m familiar with.

    As an aside, a friend of mind recently insisted that “case in point” was a corruption of “case and point”, and while this is the first time I’d encountered that, the Internet told me that this is a moderately common delusion.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I always learned it as “another think coming” and that “case in point” is a valid construction. Of course, this was back when I had to read books printed on paper and went to school uphill both ways.

  • The_L1985

     I’ve never seen it as “think.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    “If you think X, you’ve got another think coming” = “if you think X, you need to think again”. It makes sense. What can “If you think X, you’ve got another thing coming” possibly mean? It doesn’t parse.

  • Ross Thompson


    What can “If you think X, you’ve got another thing coming” possibly mean? It doesn’t parse.

    That hardly rules it out from being an idiom, though. cf “I could care less”.

  • EllieMurasaki

    True fact.

  • The_L1985

    I’d assumed it meant “the thing that’s going to happen to you isn’t the thing that you think is going to happen.”

    Thus, the situation you’ve got coming isn’t what you think–instead, you’ve got another thing coming.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little


    I keep hearing people say ‘another thing coming’ when context (if you think X, you’ve got etc) clearly shows they mean ‘another think coming’.

    Judas Priest did us no favors here.

  • Carstonio

    I had never heard of the “think” version, and I’m even more surprised to learn that this was the original version. Rock lyrics live in their own world where grammar rules are guidelines at best, where “baby” is the default endearment, where “ain’t got no” and “don’t need no” are perfectly valid.

  • badJim

    German doesn’t use an apostrophe for the possessive, it merely appends the “s”. The USGS doesn’t like apostrophes either; we have “Pikes Peak” instead of “Pike’s Peak”. We all love standards. That’s why we have so many of them.

  • Patrick McGraw

    From a very young age, I corrected people’s grammar and spelling, never understanding why doing so might upset them. That was one of many things about my childhood that make more sense following a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome last year.

    And if you want to make sure someone never mixes up “affect” and “effect,” just have them play Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. The game term “mind-affecting effect” makes for a great mnemonic.

  • Amaryllis

    Not grammar but usage: when I was young, if people were avoiding a place, they’d say they “wouldn’t set foot in it.”  Now, they won’t “step foot” there. When did that happen?

    (I know, it’s a perfectly clear expression.  It’s just a change that for some reason I notice every time I hear it.)

  • Leum

    From a very young age, I corrected people’s grammar and spelling,
    never understanding why doing so might upset them. That was one of many
    things about my childhood that make more sense following a diagnosis of
    Asperger Syndrome last year.

    One of the hardest things for me to learn as a child–and probably related to my undiagnosed-at-the-time Asperger’s–was that if people were wrong, they wouldn’t want me to correct them. It baffled me beyond belief. Surely if someone was wrong and you told them how to be right they’d be grateful!

  • Patrick McGraw


    Surely if someone was wrong and you told them how to be right they’d be grateful!

    My RP-gaming friends call me the anti-rules lawyer because I always learn the rules of any game system inside-and-out, but don’t try to exploit them.

    For some reason they are never grateful when I remind the GM of forgotten rules that disrupt the PCs’ brilliant plan or put us at some disadvantage.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    “defiantly” and “definitely” are probably mixed up through the intermediate corruption “definately”.

  • GDwarf

    The thing about “its” vs. “it’s” is that it’s an understandable mistake: “‘s” indicates possession, and “its” relates to possession, so shouldn’t it be “it’s”? Of course, it isn’t, just as it’s “his”, not “his’s”, but at first glance it’s something that seems weird. You have to learn it by rote, not by thinking.

    I think that’s really the source of pretty much all English punctuation weirdness: Even more than our spelling, our punctuation and grammatical rules are contradictory and often absurd*. My stance is that so long as the changed punctuation doesn’t impede understanding any then it’s fine. That said, one does have to wonder why so many people (and I used to be one of ’em) have trouble with using the apostrophe for possessive, not plural. Once you’ve got the idea it’s quite simple, but it’s incredibly unintuitive at first.

    I also find people using quotes for emphasis to be amusing, as I am unable to properly comprehend the confusion of ideas that would lead to such a thing. But it’s one I see everywhere, and it seems to be spreading. Just the other day I saw a warning that a knife was “sharp”, presumably meaning it’s only pretending to be sharp.

    *In a sensible system, punctuation would be tied to its sentence; That means that if you’re quoting a sentence then you end it with the punctuation used by the source you’re quoting, then put your own punctuation on the end of your sentence outside the quotes.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I adopted a convention commonly used by computer enthusiasts in the 1970s and 1980s: preference for exactness in quotation over literary convention.

    So instead of writing things like:

    Type “CATALOG,” and then determine if the file “BLASTEM” is there.

    it would be rendered

    Type “CATALOG”, and then determine if the file “BLASTEM” is there.

    The idea being to avoid confusion by only specifying the exact command within the quotes.

    Even in non-computer contexts I tend to follow this convention when relaying the wording someone else has written or said.

  • GDwarf

     I suspect that my own ideas of how punctuation should work are informed by my computer background. I treat any punctuation that surrounds something (quotes and brackets, mostly)* as cutting it completely off from what’s around it, as if it was its own function, and so it must have its punctuation either taken with it or completely discarded. Further, you can’t take punctuation from outside and put it inside, as in your example.

    Also: I rather suspect Steve Morrison was making a joke. :P

    *Yes, yes, I’m not doing it with these brackets. My defence is that it doesn’t get a capital because it’s not really a sentence, which is also why it doesn’t get a period on the end.

  • Steve Morrison

    This thread begs the question, why is it so common to make a mistake in your own English while honing in on someone else’s mistake? (Fortuitously, I’ve never had this happen to me! No doubt because I am the penultimate prescriptivist.)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    “Home in”.

    You hone a blade.

    But you find the home of a target.

  • Kirala

    I was more curious as to the identity of the ultimate prescriptivist, but I suspect that search would be as fruitful as discovering why this thread is supposedly begging questions rather than raising them.

    I actually hadn’t caught the hone/home thing. Fortunately, I never claimed to be the ultimate grammar geek. Perhaps I could achieve the penultimate tier.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    There is an empirical rule of thumb on the Interwebs that in the course of pedantically correcting someone else one will invariably make one’s own mistake. Which is what seems to have happened with SMorrison and is no doubt present in my own posts. :P

  • Iain King

    “It’s”  is so infuriating because when I think about it logically I reach the conclusion that I should use it the wrong way round. 

    1a) The cat sat on the shelf; it’s collar was red.

    The collar belongs to the cat, so you use the possessive apostrophe. Equiv:

    1b) Jake the cat sat on the shelf. Jake’s collar was red.

    Now I’ve trained myself out of that, but: god damn it, grammar!

  • Ross

    1c) I sat on the shelf. I’s collar was red.

    1d) She sat on the shelf. She’s collar was red.

    See, no, it’s not logical that it be the other way. Do you see what you did there?

    The cat sat on the shelf; it’s collar was red.


    Jake the cat sat on the shelf. Jake’s collar was red.

    In the first example, you changed “the cat”to “it”, in the second, you didn’t change “Jake” to “him”.

    Because “it’s collar” is wrong for exactly the same reason that it’s not “Him’s collar”

    Possessive pronouns don’t use the “‘s” construction. None of them do. It’s not “I’s”, “You’s”, “He’s” (or “Him’s”), “She’s” (or “Her’s”, though I have totally seen people do “his and her’s” as a kind of greengrocer’s apostrophe), “It’s”, “Us’s” (Curiously, I do not think I’ve ever seen someone write “Our’s”), or “They’s” (But Them’s the breaks).  “It’s” isn’t an exceptional case it’s the general case of how possessive pronouns work.