It’s ‘its’, stupid

As pointed out, my last language post was not about homonyms, but this one is.

Merriam Webster defines homonyms, or more precisely homophones as:

One of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (as the words to, too, and two).

In contrast, homographs have the same spelling but may have a different pronunciation:

One of two or more words spelled alike but different in meaning or derivation or pronunciation (as the bow of a ship, a bow and arrow).

As a nonnative speaker who worked and works hard to improve his English, it is shocking to me how frequently homophones are used incorrectly in written English, particularly in e-mail messages.

Just a few examples

  • its vs. it’s
  • they’re, vs. their, and there
  • then vs. than
  • principal vs. principle
  • noun’s vs. nouns (i.e., genitive vs. plural)

Now, everyone makes typos, especially in quickly composed e-mail messages. I am no exception. There probably is a fair number of typos in this blog. But I do try and hopefully succeed for the most part in avoiding homonyms.

The thing is, I do not consider homonyms as typos. They are not simply misspelled words, they constitute incorrect words. So why are they so frequent in the wild? Do people not know any better or do they simply not care?

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