There, their, they’re! Watch Out For Those Pesky Confusables…

It is little wonder people learning English get confused with words that sound the same. It can even catch out those of us who have been speaking the language for fifty years!
Recently, Graham Norton questioned the wisdom of naming a film “Our Souls In The Night”. Whilst this quirk of our language may afford ample comic opportunities it can be a bit of a nightmare for writers. You can’t rely on grammar checkers to save your blushes either. Putting your faith in those is as foolhardy as putting your faith in a satnav. “Your” is a another good example — that simple sound can be written “your”, “you’re”, “yaw” or “yore”. English is a minefield. If you don’t know the difference between two words it is very easy to use the wrong one, for example “affect” or “effect”? Even when you do know the meanings it is surprisingly easy for the wrong one to slip out when you’re steaming along churning out page after page of your novel. You can catch most of these when you read through and edit your work but even then some can escape your attention. “To” and “too” are particularly artful at dodging your scrutiny. It is another good reason for employing the services of a professional editor.
Sometimes you may not be sure which of two words is the right one to use, regardless of whether or not they are sound-alikes. For example, “flair” or “flare”? How about “expedient” or “expeditious?” Because these little language potholes are lurking around every corner I keep a couple of indispensable books on my desk. “Good Word Guide” and “Mind The Gaffe” are similar books, both dictionaries of commonly confused words and phrases. There is a fair bit of overlap between them but both have entries that aren’t in the other, which is why I need both! They are my first port of call whenever I run into a confusable, and they are also good books to just dip into now and then and learn something new. Without them I’d be lost, but even with them I always try to remain vigilant when I’m writing and especially when I’m editing. It is so easy to inadvertently use “their” instead of “they’re” or vice versa, and your spell checker won’t save your blushes. Worse still, your reader may well assume you are poorly educated! So just take care with those confusables.