In spoken English, two words may be confused due to the fact that they are pronounced exactly the same, yet are spelled differently. One case of this occurring is with the possessives versus contractions of words in a sentence. The possessive form is, for example, “your,” “their,” and “its,” whereas the contractions would be “you’re,” “they’re,” and “it’s.”

Remember, the possessive form of a word shows ownership or possession of something. A contraction is a shortened combination of two ordinarily separate words and contains an apostrophe.

Let’s take a look at some examples of common mistakes made between the possessives versus contractions of words.

your / you’re

This set of words is a very common cause of mistakes in written English. You can’t tell the difference when pronouncing these words in spoken English, but in writing, it’s important to note the difference between them.

Remember, “your” is the possessive form. Note that this word does not contain an apostrophe. In fact, for all the examples that we look at in this article, the possessive does not contain an apostrophe. Apostrophes with these words are used to form the contraction in each case.

Michelle would like to know your opinion as to which option is the best.

May have your email and telephone number, please?

However, “you’re” is the contraction (a shortened form) for “you are.”

I truly believe that you’re (you are) the one who will be chosen to lead the new project.

This sentence could have just as correctly been written as follows:

I truly believe that you are the one who will be chosen to lead the new project.

Neither way is more correct than the other. It’s really just a matter of personal choice, but contractions are very commonly used in both spoken and written English.

its / it’s 

Another set of words that are commonly mistaken for each other, but remember, the possessive in this case does not contain the apostrophe. So, “its” is the possessive case.

The house looked much better with its fresh coat of paint and new landscaping.

The company released its latest stock forecast last Thursday.

On the other hand, “it’s” is the contraction for “it is.”

Marilyn, it’s almost time for the show to begin.

Danny said that it’s (it is) pretty obvious which way we need to go.

whose / who’s

This set is another example of the possessive not containing an apostrophe. Here, “whose” shows the possession of the pronoun “who.”

James would like to know whose books those are on the table.

The flight attendant asked whose boarding pass was found on the floor.

However, “who’s” is the contraction for “who is.”

Who’s (who is) the woman sitting to the left of Jennifer?

The officer over there is the one who’s going to receive the award.

their / they’re / there

In this case, we have three words that are pronounced the same but each is spelled differently and has a different use in written English. 

As usual, the possessive, “their,” does not contain an apostrophe. 

The three sisters always take their mother to dinner on Sunday.

My neighbors have painted their house an interesting color.

“They’re” is a contraction for “they are.” 

I believe that they’re (they are) the ones who contacted us yesterday.

At the end of the day, they’re (they are) going to have to either buy a new car or fix their old one.

Unlike the other sets of confusing words, there is actually another word in this set that can add to the confusion. “There” is used to indicate place or direction or the existence of something.

Please have a seat over there and wait for your number to be called.

I believe there will always be a need for capable computer scientists. 

Though the words in each set illustrating possessives versus contractions above are often incorrectly interchanged, it will help you to keep in mind that the contraction is the one that contains the apostrophe. The possessive form does not.