Who’s vs. Whose: Is There an Owl in Here?

Are you serious? You don't know the difference?

Whose. Who’s. Which do you use and when?

The most common error in this regard is to use who’s as a possessive. Why? Because that’s the rule we learned in school: in order to make a noun possessive, you take out the Elmer’s Glue and stick ‘s to the end of it, like so:

That’s Vladimir‘s baby-blue Pacer. (That baby-blue Pacer belongs to Vladimir.)

But you must erase this from your mind. Who’s only means who is or who has. It never means anything else. Ever. Okay? Who’s is a contraction in which the apostrophe replaces the i in is or the ha in has. Examples:

Who’s your daddy? (Who is your daddy?) Who’s got head lice? (Who has got head lice?)

Whose is the possessive form of who and sometimes which. Definition: “belonging to whom or which.” Examples:

Zerubabel, whose last name is O’Reilly, did the Safety Dance. (Zerubabel, to whom belongs the surname of O’Reilly, did the Safety Dance.)

Whose Village People eight-track is that? (To whom does that Village People eight-track tape belong?)

So in the words of Brad in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Myself, I and Me

Which of the sentences below are correct?

  1. The contract was signed by the devil, Daniel Webster and myself.
  2. She gave the Chia Pet to Grace and I.
  3. I myself prefer liverwurst.
  4. Joan and I made a suspension bridge out of Popsicle sticks.
  5. Me and Craig rode the bus to the Hannah Montana concert.
  6. Contact Vladimir or myself if you have any questions.
  7. I gave myself an appendectomy.


Admit it: your order of preference for these words goes like this: myself stands at the top, I is a close second and you’d rather stick a fork in a light socket than stoop to using me. You think myself sounds more serious somehow. It seems more authoritative than little old me. It makes you, as a writer writing about yourself, sound like a detached observer. Right? Um, no.  Unless by detached you mean pompous and confused. Continue reading

Press Releases for Civilians

Do I mind? Naaa-aaaaah...

In my former life, I worked both as public affairs director of a Denver radio station and as an editorial grunt at the National Wool Grower, organ of the American Sheep Industry Association. (Don’t even start with me. I’ve heard every sheep joke known to man, so wipe that silly smirk off your face right now.)

Both places received hundreds of news releases every year, and I was the one who got to open them. At the radio station, I determined what was worthy of our public affairs show, and at NWG I got to decide what to pass on to the editor-in-chief. Now, most of these news releases were fairly well written, formatted properly and newsworthy. But some were handwritten on ripped out spiral-notebook paper, the backs of pizza menus–and one was even addressed to the National Wood Grower. These wonderful examples of ineptitude taught me a great deal, knowledge that I am going to pass on to you. So pay attention. Continue reading

Farther vs. Further

Does this hat make me look fat?

Farther. Further. Some of the confusion here must surely originate from various American regional dialects: “Yup, that there cement pond is a fur piece down the road.” But we shall overcome, with help.

FARTHER denotes physical advancement in distance. Farther is literal. It exists in space.

FURTHER denotes advancement to a greater degree, as in time. Further is figurative.

Here’s how to remember the difference. Lop “ther” off and see what you’re left with: an object is far in the distance. It is not fur in the distance — unless you’re talking about roadkill.

Or whip out the adverb “furthermore” (which means “besides” or “in addition,” regarding ideas, not distance). Furthermore, “farthermore” isn’t a word, which will also help you keep them straight.


Open your herstory texts to page 3...

Ah, pronouns, those pesky, troublemaking, rabble-rousing parts of speech. What would old Strunk have thunk about all the hoo-haw regarding the perceived offensiveness of generic male pronouns?

One thing’s for sure: the use of the plural “they” as a singular generic pronoun accounts for more bad writing than Robert James Waller and L. Ron Hubbard combined, and that’s really saying something. Continue reading

Your vs. You’re

I want to be you're lawyer!

Your and you’re.

This one is actually a blessing in disguise, did you know that? It’s the kind of lazy mistake that often is a dead giveaway of spammers, scammers and other unsavory characters. If you’re a criminal, you don’t have the time or inclination to pay attention to silly grammar rules–you’ve got money to steal! (Or, as in my story about the lawyer who sent out a blast email blaring “SOMEDAY YOUR GOING TO NEED A LAWYER!!!”, you’ve got class akshun soots to persoo.)

Let’s start with you’re. You’re is a contraction of you are. If you’re a loyal Conan follower, then you know what that apostrophe means — it means that a letter has ducked out for a smoke break, and Mr. Apostrophe is saving its place in the buffet line. The letter that’s missing is A.

Your, on the other hand, is the possessive form of you, as in

It’s your own fault if you use you’re as the possessive form of you.


Your sloppiness and inattention to detail will make you look foolish or worse if you continue to ignore the difference between your and you’re.

Similes and You

Have you ever noticed that when people ask you about an experience you’ve had that they haven’t, they say, “What was it like?” “What did it taste like?” “What did it feel like?” That’s because they’re trying to get into your head, see out of your eyes and live the experience through you.

Writing, at its best, should allow your readers to do that. The writer/reader relationship should be a true meeting of the minds, a connection of two (or more) human beings. You know that thrill of recognition when someone shares a thought or feeling in such a way that you get chills and say, “I know exactly what you mean.”

When that happens in writing, it’s very often thanks to a deft simile. Continue reading