It can be very confusing and is one of the more popular grammar goofs on graded papers. There is a significant difference between the words “your” and “you’re.” In fact, one is a word while the other is a contraction. There are a few easy ways to remember the difference when speaking or writing so that you don’t make a flub when you’re giving a speech or in your essays and research papers.

Word Sounds and Subtle Differences

There is a subtle difference between the two words. They basically sound the same; however, upon close inspection and listening, the difference can easily be discerned. The word “your” ends with an "-or" sound. The word “you’re” can be more difficult to discern based on the speaker’s accent or his speech speed, but it should end with a hard "r" sound. There is an easy way to tell the difference. Take a moment to consider that if the word you are hearing can be replaced with the words “you are,” then you know that the word being used is “you’re.”

"Your" Is Entirely Yours

The word “your” is all about you and what you own or what is close to you. A way to differentiate it from the word “you’re” is that “your” is a single word, whereas “you’re” is two words tied together.

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First, consider the word “your.” It is the second person possessive adjective. It is used to describe something that belongs to you and you alone. It can be used in both the singular and plural form. This is what can make it confusing to use when it really counts, such as when you're writing papers or formal emails to potential employers or college admissions officers. The word "your" is always followed by a noun, such as “your money,” “your neighbor,” and “your coat.” The possessive form of "you" allows the reader or listener to understand to whom the noun belongs. As a general rule, it should come before a noun, pronoun or gerund in a sentence. A gerund is derived from a verb that ends in "-ing" but still functions as a noun. Examples of a gerund include “your cooking is terrible” or “let's go dancing tonight.”

"You’re" = You + Are

You are not alone if you aren’t sure when to use “you’re” and it throws you for a loop when trying to figure out which word to write or say. Rather than being a singular word, the word “you’re” is a combination of two words: "you" and "are." This contraction is often followed by an action word. Remember that “you’re” is only used for describing something, such as in “you are famous” or “you are correct, sir.” Think about the words around it as you write or say “you’re” and if they fit as a contraction of “you are.” If they don’t expand into two words, then you may be using the word incorrectly.

"Your" or "You're"

A few tried and true ways to remember how to use the two words correctly include mnemonics, which are rhymes or sentences that can be memorized to clue you in to the difference between the words “your” and “you’re.” Consider, for instance, the sentence “If you’re writing the word ‘you’re’ then you are writing a contraction,” or “You’re a good friend if your smile is genuine,” or “You’re an angel for giving me your sweater.” Put the emphasis on the word to remind yourself of the difference between the two subtly different spellings but very different meanings of the words.

About the Author

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.