The key to this whole thing is contractions. No, not those kinds of contractions. The kind that shorten two words to one word. When you’re wondering whether you’ve picked the correct usage, lengthen the contraction back out in your head and read it back to yourself. If it doesn’t make sense like that, then it’s the other one; the one that’s NOT the contraction.
Watch this: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” Lengthen it out in your head and read it back to yourself. You are a mean one, Mr. Grinch. Yep, that makes sense, so the contraction form is the correct choice. Leave the poor thing alone. What did it ever do to you?
Try it again: “You’re mama wears combat boots.” You are mama wears combat boots. Nope, that doesn’t make sense, so ‘your’ is the correct choice, not the contraction form. “Your mama wears combat boots.” is correct.
Let’s try another one with a different pair, it’s/its. Remember, try the contraction first and read it back to yourself. “The cat twitched it’s tail.” The cat twitched it is tail. Nope, that doesn’t make sense, so it’s NOT the contraction form. “The cat twitched its tail.” Beautiful.
Next pair is who’s/whose. This can be a little trickier, because who’s can either equal who is or who has. Try both. If one of those works, it’s the contraction. If neither works, it’s the non-contraction. “Who’s Johnny, she said, and smiled and looked the other way.” Who is Johnny, she said, and smiled and looked the other way. Yep, that makes sense, so it’s the contraction form. Let’s try another. “Do you know who’s coat that is?” Sound it out. Do you know who is coat that is? Nope, it doesn’t make sense so it’s the non-contraction. “Do you know whose coat that is?” is correct.
Last pair is they’re/their/there. This one’s tricky because of the third choice. Just remember ‘their’ is possessive, ‘there’ is not possessive. (‘Their’ is that person you went on a date with and seemed normal enough at first. But once you went out a few times, they asked too many questions as to your whereabouts and who was accompanying you. ‘There’ is everyone else.) “They’re coming to take me away!” They are coming to take me away! Yep, that makes sense, so the contraction form is correct. “They’re tops are made out of rubber.” They are tops are made out of rubber. Nope, that’s not right so it’s ‘their’ because it’s possessive. “Their tops are made out of rubber.” Wonderful.
Remember, first try to lengthen the contraction and read it back to yourself in your head, and if it doesn’t sound right, then it’s the other one, the non-contraction!
Then there’s the contractions that I make up as I go along, like “I’m’a” which lengthens out to “I am gonna.”
All the voices in my head say so. I guess it’s unanimous.
Rip it, roll it, and punch it, dude. It’s certain you’re always going to get these right; they’re not so tricky any more, are they? Who’s yo’ Dory? *two thumbs back at me* This gal.