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I have seen many comments on different blogs and forums where English native speakers spelled you're as your. I'm not a native speaker, but I know and understand the difference between the two. Why is there a confusion?

My initial guess is that your and you're have similar pronunciation and because I carry some accent from my native language (Romanian) I can identify the difference better.

Edit (thanks Chris): The same can be asked for other homophones: there/their/they're, its/it's.

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Could the same be asked for homophone? there/their/they're, its/it's, site/sight.. –  Chris Dwyer Oct 6 '10 at 14:50
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I have seen the wrong one so many times that now my fingers sometimes type "your" even though I know perfectly well I mean "you're". –  mmyers Oct 6 '10 at 14:52
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I don't think I can explain it any more succinctly than nohat in his comment on a related question, and I quote: "Because they have an identical shape phonologically, they become fused in the internal lexicon. All of this is just further evidence that spoken language truly is primary—at least in native speakers". –  RegDwigнt Oct 6 '10 at 14:56
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@RegDwight: That's a great explanation. But it's evidence only that spoken language is primary among those who make the mistake :-) (Or, for everyone, when they make the mistake… not necessarily all the time.) Also, being primary when producing the words doesn't necessarily mean being primary when interpreting (reading/listening), so it still helps readers if the right spelling is used. –  ShreevatsaR Oct 6 '10 at 14:59
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laziness and inattention to detail is all I can think. Then also the spell-checkers do not catch the mistakes as they are words, but people just miss them if they even bother to read/edit. –  Tim Oct 6 '10 at 20:59

7 Answers 7

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The answer is simple.

You just need to think about how you learned your native language. By ear.

Children learn how to speak their native tongue first, and only then learned the grammar and spelling. Thus, many will "sound" a word out to spell it.

English language learners, on the other hand, usually learned how to spell a word first, and focused on pronunciation later.

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What about native language learners who never really struggled with homophone confusion? Maybe heavy readers? –  Chris Dwyer Oct 7 '10 at 15:35
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@Chris: people associate mis-use of your vs. you're with lower intelligence / level of education. probably one of the reasons it is so picked on –  Claudiu Oct 7 '10 at 17:44
    
@Claudiu You mean linguistic intelligence, right? Also, I know plenty of people with high levels of education that still struggle with it. –  Chris Dwyer Oct 7 '10 at 19:56
    
@Chris. Could be. Could also be very strong visual learners. –  Armstrongest Oct 7 '10 at 20:06
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@FumbleFingers I better get me a new doctor then! :) –  Chris Dwyer Apr 16 '12 at 21:04

I think that the same goes for all languages. Native speakers that do not take the time to learn their own language properly, or that do not read much, tend to misspell homophones.

In French, for instance, many people will replace infinitive form (« manger », to eat) with past participle (« mangé », eaten), or confuse « ses » and « ces » (his,her vs these).

Astonishingly enough, foreigners that study the language do not have this homophony problem in their “source language” and therefore are aware of a grammatical difference. It sounds like people assume translation is mathematically speaking an injective thing.

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Sot, seau, sceau :) –  Benjol Oct 7 '10 at 5:01
    
hmm those ones are not really used everyday… –  Benoit Oct 7 '10 at 5:02
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Japanese takes the medal for homophones. 神 god, 紙 paper, and 髪 hair are all pronounced "kami". So, Kami no kami no kami could mean "The paper god's hair." Of course, they're written differently, but in spoken language... meaning is inferred by context. Of course, this means that wordplay is a big part of Japanese humor. more on homophones: kanjiclinic.com/kc24final.htm –  Armstrongest Oct 7 '10 at 20:12

The confusion is that in many UK (and probably US) schools the difference is not taught. The use of the apostrophe is considered by many to be totally confusing and so it is omitted in many places where it is required.

There is a name for the addition of extra apostrophes in places where they are not needed. These are "Grocers' Apostrophes" which refers to the common sight on market stalls and grocers' shops where the price labels may erroneously refer to "Banana's" or Apple's".

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Really? In your schools they didn't teach you contractions, and the difference between your and you're? In my school (in Ontario, Canada) we were certainly taught this. Regardless, we were also corrected on spelling even for words that were never formally taught to us: we were expected to spell everything correctly. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 6 '10 at 19:59
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In my school they did teach this, but there was a time, through the 1970's and on where formal grammar teaching seemed to fall out of favour. What mattered was that the children should express themselves and the accuracy of the language used for this was not so important. –  Ian Oct 7 '10 at 7:22
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Anybody who considers the use of the apostrophe to be "totally confusing" has absolutely no business teaching English. –  Jez Jul 26 '12 at 12:20

Sometimes I wonder how often this mistake is made out of carelessness, versus ignorance. I'm well-versed in the difference betweent the two, yet I've still made the gaffe on occasion.

Due to the homophoneous nature of the words, the mistake is easily made while typing, and particularly easy to miss while proofreading, too.

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I'll upvote this answer because I can't really be bothered to write my own. Substantially you're right - but I think "carelessness" is perhaps a little strong, and I don't agree it's easy to miss the mistakes while proofreading. Sure, there are a few illiterate writers - but mostly these "homophonic transcription errors" occur when the writer is communicating (from his point of view) in "speech" mode through the medium of writing. It's the fingers of a fast "automatic typer" that can't spell, not his brain. –  FumbleFingers Apr 15 '12 at 0:12

In American English (I can't speak for other varieties), even though the two are both spelled and pronounced distinctly in standard writing and slower articulate speech respectively, they tend to be pronounced the same in regular speech.

you're = \yər, ˈyu̇r, ˈyȯr, ˌyü-ər\

and

your = \yər, ˈyu̇r, ˈyȯr\

(from Merriam-Webster, with American rhotic pronunciation). Note that the only difference is the one variant for "you're".

So it is understandable that there is the possibility of mistaking one for the other. This pair, like other homophones are often mentioned explicitly in language studies in elementary school in the US. Making the mistake later in life is usually simply a one time mistake (like the other homophones). If the mistake is systematic then that is probably a sign of lack of concern for orthography.

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There are a number of American dialects where they're different (your is \ˈyȯr\ and you're is \ˈyər\ or \ˈyü-ər\ ), and I bet people who speak these dialects don't make this mistake as often. But I thought they were homophones in General American (\ˈyu̇r\ or \yər\, depending on whether they're stressed or not). –  Peter Shor May 20 '12 at 0:18

I think people get confused because the apostrophe is used in possessives as well as contractions, but in this case the possessive your has no apostrophe.

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But that's only true when the letter "s" is involved, and there's no "s" in "your"... –  Steve Melnikoff Oct 7 '10 at 17:12

Not an answer as such, but I'm sure this might help some people: http://yourandyoure.com/ :)

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protected by RegDwigнt May 20 '12 at 0:22

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