Electronic Shorthand

In the last decade or so, with the rise of instant messaging, text messages, facebook comments, and twitter, there has evolved a kind of electronic shorthand that has become acceptable for informal communication.   For example, one might replace you with u, and people with ppl.  This I believe to be perfectly acceptable in an informal setting, as they take the form of abbreviations or contractions, and thereby are understandable since they do not change the grammatical structure or context of a sentence.

As the English language continues to devolve into this electronic shorthand, however, I have been noticing more and more frequently that people are starting to forget the differing spellings and meanings of various homonyms, or words that sound similar.  For instance, both your and you’re have been contracted to ur, with no discernible difference between the two other than their contexts.  Therefore I have assembled this guide, containing the mistakes I most commonly notice, to help you not look like an idiot when you write.


“Your” is a possessive form of “you”, referring to something that belongs to the person indicated by “you”.

“Alex, your butt is showing” – Alerting Alex to the fact that his butt cheeks are visible
“Alex, is that your dirty napkin?” – Asking Alex if that is his filthy, disgusting napkin

“You’re” is a contraction for “you are”.  You must use “you’re” only when “you are” would logically replace it.

“Alex, you’re so generous” – Complementing Alex’s generosity.  This works because you would also say “Alex, you are so generous.”
“Alex, you’re bleeding” – Alerting Alex to an injury


“Their” is a possessive form of “they” (much like “your” corresponds to “you”) referring to something that belongs to the people indicated by “them”.

Alex, they have lost their minds” – Informing Alex that the Republicans have been a disappointment in reigning in the Democrats' runaway spending
“Alex, the babies need their diapers changed” – Notifying Alex of the babies’ waste situations

“They’re” is a contraction for “they are”.  You must use “they’re” only when “they are” would logically replace it.

“Alex, they’re laughing at us” – Short for “they are laughing at us”
“Alex, they’re alive” – Letting Alex know that the mummies have come to life

“There” is an adverb meaning “that location”, or “in that matter”.

“Alex, there is no reason to cry” – Comforting Alex
“Alex, get over there” – Commanding Alex to get into the corner for being such a crybaby

“There’re” is an informal contraction for “there are”.  Ideally, you would just say “there are”, but when you wish to shorten it, “there’re” should be used when referring to something plural.  You would say, “there are ten reasons,” not “there’s (there is) ten reasons.”

“Alex, there’re ten problems with this article” – Discussing the lameness of these sample sentences.  This works because you would say, “there are ten problems”
“Alex, there’re the sandwiches you wanted” – Describing the location of Alex’s sandwiches


“Were” is the past tense of "are". Try replacing "were" with "are". If "are" works in the present tense, then "were" works in the past.

“Alex, were you at the gay rights rally?” – Asking Alex a silly question to which you should already know the answer
“Alex, they were crazy.” – Revealing to Alex that his friends used to like Green Day

“Where” refers to a place.

“Alex, where is the Miracle Whip?” – Asking Alex where the best Turkey sandwich condiment is
“Alex, that's where they rape you.” – Explaining to Alex that Best Buy is where they charge $60 for HDMI cables

“We're” is a contraction for "we are". "We're" is only appropriate when you can replace it with "we are".

“Alex, we're always wrong” – The Liberals finally admit their follies. This works because you would say "we are always wrong"
“Alex, we're happy to see you” – What everyone in the world says when they see Alex. This works because you would say "we are happy to see you"


“Its” is a possessive pronoun, describing something that belongs to the item referred to by “it”.

“Alex, the snake has shed its skin” – Alerting Alex to the snake’s shiny new appearance
“Alex, Microsoft is regaining its credibility” – Commenting on the strength of Windows 7

“It’s” is a contraction for “it is” or “it has”.  This is appropriate only where “it is” or “it has” would also make sense.

“Alex, it’s a hippy!” – Notifying Alex of a waste of life in his presence.  This works because you would say “it is a hippy.”
“Alex, it's been so painful.” – Expressing to Alex that watching “The Hills” was pure torture. This works because you would say “it has been so painful.”


“Too” is an adverb that essentially means “also”, or adds to the qualities of a verb.

“Alex, I ate too much pizza” – Complaining to Alex that I stuffed my gullet with pizza
“Alex, I hate the smell of laundry, too” – Noting that I also despise the smell of laundry

“Two” is the word form of the number 2.

“Alex, you must have two hearts” – Commenting on Alex’s loving nature
“Alex, this is the second of two examples” – Describing this example as the second

“To” is either a preposition, or part of an infinitive.  It’s used pretty much wherever “too and “two” aren’t appropriate.

“Alex, I’m going to the circus” – Telling Alex that I am visiting the three-ring circus
“Alex, do you want to eat?” – Asking Alex if he is literally starving