The title of this post will either seem completely normal to you, or make you fly into a paroxysm of blind rage, complete with gnashing of teeth and wildly flailing limbs. Why would it make people so angry?
Well, because it’s wrong. It should of course say You’re funny. Some of may have already known that, some of you may not have. Some of you may be aware that you’re is correct in this instance, but didn’t notice that the title is wrong due to being so used to seeing your used instead of you’re.
First off, what’s the difference between your and you’re? Your is a possessive adjective, used to specify that something belongs to the person you’re talking to:
This is your funny hat, not my funny hat!
You’re, on the other hand, is a contraction of you are: the subject pronoun you and the present-simple second-person singular form of the verb to be, which is are.
You’re funny, do you know that?
Now, you may have noticed that I’m generally quite forgiving with native speakers making mistake with English. Even though I pride myself on avoiding making mistakes, I can usually understand why people make the mistakes that they do. And in the case of your and you’re, I completely understand.
The main reason for the error is that the two words are homophones: different words that sound identical, e.g. tail/tale, right/write. Regardless of your accent, your and you’re will sound the same (though if there are any regional accents which I’m not aware of where there is a difference, please let me know below). And we acquire our native tongue predominantly through listening, as children, so when we write or type we’re generally focussed more on how the word sounds than how it’s spelled. As we’re saying the words in our head as we write, it’s completely understandable to write your when you hear yourself say you’re, even if you’re aware of the difference between the two. I’ve actually done it quite a few times, but I’m pretty sure I’ve corrected it each time.
And yet, it worries me a little every time I see it. And I’ll admit that part of that is simply because it’s wrong, and I’d prefer if people were right simply for the sake of being right. It’s petty and irrational, but I can’t help the feeling when I see certain errors.
I think, and I also feel like such a language snob for this, that it also demonstrates that people who make this error do so because they’re not familiar with the correct form from reading. And I can’t help but not quite trust people who don’t read much. Which is a terrible prejudice I try to rid myself of, but it’s difficult to do so.
But I also feel that there’s simply something too fundamentally wrong with this mistake. While I get the fact that the two words sound the same, the subject+verb structure that you’re represents is at the heart of the English language. You simply can’t form a sentence without a verb. And that’s not just being picky about grammar rules—most sentences simply don’t make sense if they don’t have a verb:
I to school every day.
Do you often?
I’ve for seven years now!
What’s happening when people write your instead of you’re is that they’re writing a sentence without a verb. Of course, even when we correctly use you’re, we’re not consciously deciding to use a verb. We do it without thinking. But I think that part of that instinct to include are in the sentence comes from us being exposed to people using basic verbs like to be correctly in speech and writing. If your becomes more and more common, people will get more and more used to the concept of creating a sentence by using a possessive pronoun instead of a subject and a verb, and it worries me that increasingly being exposed to sentences that violate the fundamental rules of how to construct comprehensible language means that people’s ability to create coherent English statements will be diminished. Though I’m not sure that such a long sentence counts as coherent English!
I may be overreacting. I know that languages evolve over time, and this may just be a part of the way the language is developing. And people can probably still write your but have that unconscious awareness that their sentence actually has a subject+verb structure.
Still though, I can’t help but fear that younger people than I who grow up much more exposed to your being used instead of you’re won’t realise their potential for manipulating this great language.