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Its or it’s? Further or farther? Fewer or less? Eager or anxious? And what about their, there or they’re? What’s up with that?

If deciding which word to use and when to use it leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone. Correct usage of these words and many more can stump even the most experienced writer.

Here are a few tips to help you make the right choices.

Its or It’s?

Its is a possessive pronoun: “The restaurant reduced its business hours due to staff shortages.” It’s is a contraction for it is: “It’s not the right time for a company merger.”

Further or Farther?

This confusing pair should be one of the easiest to remember – but no. Writers often must pause and think about these pesky words before deciding which to use in a sentence. Further is used to indicate degree or extent: “The CEO said she would discuss the issue further in the upcoming board meeting.” Farther is used to indicate distance: “I drove farther today than I did yesterday.”

Fewer or Less?

Here’s another pair of words that we tend to overthink. Use fewer for things that can be counted: “I have fewer than 20 minutes to drive across town for the meeting.” Use less when referring to bulk or quantity: “I had less interest in this project than I expected.”

Eager or Anxious?

Eager indicates looking forward to something: “I am eager to see what they’ve planned for our special event.” Useanxious when expressing concern or worry: “I am anxious about the upcoming special event.”

Their, There or They’re: Their is a plural possessive pronoun: “The children had a great time on their trip to the museum.” There refers to a place or a point in time: “Our destination is just an hour away: we will have dinner when we get there.” They’re is a contraction for they are: “They haven’t confirmed, but I am sure they’re planning to attend the event.”

There are many resources on grammar and writing style. Media Writers Handbook (Arnold. McGraw-Hill, Sixth Edition, 2013) is a useful guide to common writing problems and a reference source for this post. Writing Tools (Clark. Little, Brown and Company, 2006) contains excellent information and is easy and fun to read. And The Elements of Style (Strunk & White. Pearson Education, 1999 edition) is an elegantly written classic.