Grammar Guerilla: Your And You’re (Updated)

Guerilla GorillaSeveral years ago I began to notice that young people were verbally articulate but their ability to speak well did not necessarily translate into an ability to write well. More recently it seems that verbal skills are suffering. There are a variety of causes—we cannot simply point to television any longer since, millennials are using television less and online media more. There have been reports for years about the gradual decline of literacy in major metropolitan areas. Others have noted for some years now the rise of visual visual culture generally and the decline of the word. All this to say that, as the culture slips gradually into a high-tech, digitally-enhanced, available in Dolby Digital Enhanced EX Surround Sound, dark ages, the distinction between your and you’re is bound to seem inconsequential. Judging by what I see online, the distinction seems to be evaporating. Nevertheless, I persist. There is a genuine difference between them.

You’re is the contraction of you are as in, “I see that you are wearing a heavy coat against the autumn winds.” We could substitute you’re for you are without changing the sense. The only difference would be tone or style. You’re is informal or conversational and you are is more formal.

Your signals possession: “You left your coat at the ice rink.” The coat belongs to the skater, who inadvertently left it behind. By contrast, you’re coat signals: “You are a coat.” In most circumstances, that would be an odd thing to say.

If the intent is to signal possession, use your. If the intent is to signal informally a state of being (is) then use you’re.

UPDATE Nov 12, 2013

Gracy Olmstead on the Death of Writing and the Return of the Oral Culture.

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  1. You’re right on with this post, although your dating youreself by actually publicly recognizing the problem….

    • Curt, you’re nuts if you think Dr Clark will allow THAT comment on Heidelblog! Every Heidelword …

  2. Way back when I was in 11th grade, Mrs. Kosofsky told us that the number of a pronoun and its antecedent should agree. Hence, “When someone has trouble, you should help him,” not “When someone has trouble, you should help them”–and the “he” or “him” is ambiguous in gender in cases like this.

    Years later, as a non-traditional grad student, I used that construction, and a prissy little feminazi called me to the carpet.

    I replied, “When I was in 11th grade, Mrs. Kosofsky told me to make pronouns and antecedents agree. I think it’s an elegant way to write, and that Mrs. Kosofsky was a good and conscientious teacher. Besides, I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life in countries where Sinitic or Kradai languages are spoken. These don’t have gendered 3d person pronouns, yet their speakers can be as big a bunch of MCP’s as anyone who speaks an Indo-European or Semitic language. So, please keep your ageism, linguistic provincialism, and bad grammar to yourself, please.”

    Everyone else in the room smiled.

  3. I’ve just thought, Curt. The paradigm “Your pants” and “You’re pants” (and possibly even “Yore pants”, e.g., padded pants from Tudor times) may preferable to the one you suggested on three grounds:
    1. It’s less anatomical,
    2. It’s less gender specific, and
    3. It will mean more to millenials, who, I think, invented the adjectival use of “pants”.

    Kepha, you disappoint me. Did you not discover that Turkic languages (such as Uyghur) don’t have gendered 3rd person pronouns either? While we are here, someone pointed out in either the British Church Newspaper or the English Churchman that in Old English, wapman once meant the human male and wifman meant woman. Man referred to a human being of either gender.

  4. “Nice guy that I am, I fixed the spelling error in your post.”

    More recently it seems that verbal s[k]ills are suffering.


    And since we might be late to the party, is there a GG link to the Dr. Horton Hears a Whose/Who’s lecture?


  5. On the basis that the spelling error corrected by Dr Clark was what I would guess it was, at least the root of the offending word is scriptural, which is more than can be said for Sills.

  6. But Bob, nowadays we have the automatic spell checker to blame for all of those errors (I almost said “these” errors, but that would’ve probably incited the Guerilla-Gorilla).

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