As a new attorney, you want to be known as conscientious, knowledgeable and ... not, well, embarrassing. Nothing makes a bad impression quite like messing up elementary-school stuff, like the proper use of pronouns. Yet it's easy to do, especially if you spend a lot of time on the Internet, where pronouns seem to be used incorrectly more often than not. So here's a quick refresher on the classic pronoun mistakes and how to avoid them.
It's v. Its
It's is a contraction of "it is," while its is the possessive form of it. So if its is possessive, where is the apostrophe, you ask? Yes, an apostrophe is often used to indicate possessives, but not with pronouns. You don't apostrophize his, hers, theirs, etc., so don't apostrophize its when you're using it to indicate possession. You use the apostrophe when it's is being used to mean "it is." For more help, click over to the Grammar Monster.
Ahem: t's important that each pronoun receive its proper attention from you.
They're, There, and Their
You know the difference. (And if you don't, the "for Dummies" people have a quick article to teach you.) The essential thing here to is proofread. It's easy to type what's in your head phonetically without paying attention to the proper spelling. Just note that these words are commonly misspelled, even by people who know them cold. So double check yourself.
Again: There's no reason people can't get their grammar right, even if they're in a hurry.
Your v. You're
Ah, the classic. The most common strategy seems to be to pick one spelling and stick with it no matter what. Don't be common. It's confusing. Consider the difference between "You're right!" and "Your right." You're means "you are." Your is possessive.
Last example: If you're wanting to look good, it's to your advantage to make sure you're using the correct word.
These are grammar rules you probably already know. They might seem like they're no big deal since you see them misused so often, but in a professional setting, there are people who take them very seriously. So take a little extra care and don't let these simple grammatical make you look bad.
Editor's Note, April 21, 2015: This post was first published in April 2014. It has since been updated.
- 10 Words Misused by Lawyers (and What They Really Mean) (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Top 25 grammar and language mistakes (Ragan's PR Daily)
- Spell Check Needs a Fail Check (FindLaw's Strategist)
- 5 Grammar Mistakes Lawyers Make (FindLaw's Strategist)