Poor English – an alert

Poor English  

An alert appeared in The UK’s Daily Telegraph on Monday, January 14th 2019 – evidence of confusion on the part of candidates for employment who would present themselves as educated.

Its and it’s, their, there and they’re. Apparently confusion between the different forms is frequently seen now in cv.s and draws attention to poor literacy, a sure way to discourage potential employers.

I find that it is one thing to tell your English students what to do and what not to do; they might resent yet another instruction to remember. It is another to explain why they will be more successful with their English if they heed the following explanations.

The distinction between its and it’s is merely a convention, an agreed way of doing things, to avoid confusion or uncertainty, which has simply to be memorised. However, there is help; without an apostrophe its refers to possession; with an apostrophe it is (it’s) an abbreviation. Remember a for apostrophe and a for abbreviation.  

Like its and it’s, their, there and they’re are homophones, words that sound the same. Someone calls out to you, “Look, over there, by their bikes, just where they’re standing.” If this is not clear then you can call back, “Where do you mean?” or “Which bikes?” or, “What are they doing?”

When this is communicated in writing you will probably not be able to question the writer and the message might fail, but there are helpful clues in the different ways the three words are spelt.

There goes with here and where which share a visual reminder in the final three letters. Where are they? Over there, not here. Remember too, the other hear which contains an ear, a reminder that hearing is what ears are for.

They’re has its clue in the apostrophe, the reminder that a letter has been omitted to reflect the way we often combine or elide two words in speech, just as we do with it’s. Insert the letter a and remember that it represents they are in its (no apostrophe here) meaning.

Their has no visual clue, but it is always followed by something that could belong to them: their friends, their money, their patience. It’s a possessive adjective that indicates to whom something belongs.

I am irritated by the common failure to distinguish persuade and convince which the BBC and The Times seem to manifest these days. We should remember that one can be persuaded by argument or by threat, but to be convinced we need to hear a good argument, or sound reasoning with which we can agree.

Imagine that you are in court, charged with receiving stolen goods. The judge and the jury listen as you explain that you bumped into your friend in the high street and he had convinced you that he really had paid for the diamond ring which he asked you to look after for him; he had even shown you a receipt.

How much better or worse might things have gone for you had you explained that your friend had persuaded you to look after the ring in return for a share in its value, or in return for his not attacking you are some later date?

See more at: www.peterinson.net

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