You know those little dangly things that stick up in the middle of words sometimes? No, not the dot in an i or a j. I mean the ones that show up in the middle of an otherwise normal word and stick WAY the hell up like they’re–ah! There’s one! AHH! And another!


Get it get it get it.

When that mark appears in the middle of a word like “they’re” or “there’s,” it’s an apostrophe. “Apostrophe” probably comes from Greek but I’m too lazy to look it up. Let’s just assume it means “little dangly thing in the middle of a word.”
Apostrophes have several uses. They show possession, as in The cat’s fabulous hairdo.
cat wig
Most of us, thank dog, have a grasp on that usage. The difference between “the cats” (plural, multiple cats) and “the cat’s” (possessive, single cat) is fairly easy to see. If it’s not easy for you to see, just nod your head anyway and we’ll cover it in a later post.


What certain people on the Internet seem to have a harder time with is the difference between a word like “your” (possessive) and “you’re,” which is a contraction of “you” + “are.” The same goes for its/it’s and their/they’re/there. This is something that will literally drive grammar people up a wall, almost as much as misusing the word “literally.”




“You’re” and “your” are homophones, like those in Claire’s last post. They sound alike and mean totally different things. But there’s a foolproof way to think about this so that you don’t uset the wrong

Contractions like “you’re,” “it’s,” and “don’t” are like Frankenstein’s monster.
It’s ‘FRAHN-ken-steen.’


Frankenstein’s monster, for those of you who slept through tenth-grade English, was cobbled together out of corpses, which is something it’s better not to think about too deeply. This is why any self-respecting portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster has to include those big-ass scars.


Bonus lesson: calling the monster “Frankenstein” and not “Frankenstein’s monster” is a quick way to distinguish English majors from everyone else. The English majors will begin twitching uncontrollably.


In a contraction like “you’re,” think of the apostrophe like a scar. You, Dr. Frankenstein, have stitched together the words “you” and “are” to make a perfect killing machine–I’m sorry, I mean contraction. A perfect contraction. Yes.
But that “a” in “are” turned out to be superfluous, like having two kidneys, so you cut it out. Removing the letter left a scar, which is the apostrophe.


You + are = you’re


Now let’s say you’re casually writing a sentence. You want to tell your BFF, Fluffy, that you caught and killed one of her favorite birds, which happens to be a grackle. But do you say “you’re favorite bird” or “your favorite bird”?


Un-Frankenstein it to be sure. Would you say “you are favorite bird”? No, because then it starts to sound like Fluffy is a bird, and she will cut you if you start spreading rumors like that.


Bitch, don’t even.


By deduction, we need “your” in this case: “Your favorite bird.”


Now, if you want to make it up to Fluffy and tell her that she’s the best cat in the world, you’d say:


“You’re the best” = “[you + are] the best.”


At this point you can stop thinking about it and move on, because “your the best” does not make any kind of sense whatsoever and will provoke grammar people into a frothing rage.
The same trick works for “it’s” (it + is), “they’re” (they + are), and “I’m” (I + am). If you can’t break it apart, it was never stitched together in the first place.


Example 1:
Look at its cute little face!


Do I mean “look at [it + is] cute little face”? No, that doesn’t make sense. Therefore “its” is correct.


Example 2:
It’s coming toward us! Run!


Do I mean “[It + is] coming toward us”? Yes!



Outing Some Sneaky Homophones

Homophones are, quite simply, the bane of many editors’ existence. They’re one of the most common mistakes, and they’re easy to miss, because the brain is an unreliable monster.

genius cat

“Is it affect or effect? I don’t know what to believe in anymore.”

Homophones are words that sound alike and may or may not be spelled the same. If they’re spelled the same, then great! You can screw it up all you want and no one will know the difference. It’s when words sound the same but they’re spelled differently that people start to look a little bit foolish.

Wikipedia warns not to confuse the word “homophone” with “homophobe” because Wikipedia is targeted at knuckleheads. Although, if you have fat fingers (or paws), you could very well accidentally type the wrong word, which is just another argument for proofreading.

Editor cat accidentally asked the author to correct the homophobes... but he's not sorry.

Student Cat just received a poor grade from his professor due to “homophobe errors.”

Homophone errors can cause quite a bit of confusion in your writing (or just make you look like an idiot—either way).

Example: The cat killed the vampire with a steak to the heart.

"It's so crazy, it just might work."

“It’s so crazy, it just might work.”

Unless the vampire has some serious plaque build up in his arteries, this is probably the worst plan for defeating a vampire. Try again.

Example: The cat killed the vampire with a stake to his heart.

That makes much more sense, well, beside the whole scenario taking place to begin with.

One of the main problems with homophones occurs when people don’t know there are homophones to be had. Whenever someone runs into a homophone he or she never knew existed, there tends to be this horrifying moment:

"Wait. Have I been spelling it wrong this whole time?"

“Wait. Have I been spelling it wrong this whole time?”

We’ve all felt that, so let’s work together to keep that from happening to anyone ever again. It’s time for some of the homophones to come out of the closet!

Altar (n)/alter (v)

The woman placed the cat upon the altar of her shrine.

altar cat

The psychopath altered the bear’s skin so that he could wear it. 


Bazaar (n)/Bizarre (adj)

Scruffy had spent his whole kittenhood selling silk scarves at the bazaar, and no one could haggle better than him. 

"Please, sir, I need to feed my litter!"

“Psh! I can’t feed my litter on that offer!”

When Spot saw a cat selling scarves, he wagged his tail and said, “How bizarre!”


So judgmental.

Berth (n, sometimes v)/Birth (n, v, adj)

This one could be tricky if you’re high on catnip or something. The most common confusion with these homophones is when people talk about playoffs of any sort.

"I've worked too hard for you to ruin this with a homophone error."

“I’ve worked too hard for you to ruin this moment with a homophone error.”

One does not earn one’s right to being birthed into playoff existence, though I can visualize the metaphor (all too vividly). Instead, one wins a playoff berth. So what’s the difference?

Berth has a few definitions. Most of them are nautical. When it comes to “berth” as a verb, all the definitions are about ships. So let’s move on. Here are the most useful, non-nautical definitions of berth as a noun, according to the gospel of Merriam-Webster.

1. “An amount of distance maintained for safety.”

Example. You’re going to want to give this cat a wide berth.



2. “Job, position, place.”

Example: This year the Jacksonville Jaguars will have their first playoff berth since 2007.

"What's the point? It's not like we have a chance at the Super Bowl anyway," said the mopey jaguar.

“What’s the point? It’s not like we have a chance at the Super Bowl anyway,” said the mopey jaguar.

As far as uses for “birth” go, I really hope I don’t have to provide explanation and pictures. Your parents/school districts should have already informed you about that process.

pirate cat

“But what about those nautical terms? Some of us might want to know!”

Fine. You’re asking for it. I’m not kidding about there being a lot of them.

1. Sufficient distance for maneuvering a ship
2. The place where a ship lies when at anchor or at a wharf
3. A place to sit or sleep especially on a ship or vehicle
4. A billet on a ship
And the verb:
5. To bring (a ship) into a place where it can stop and stay : to bring (a ship) into a berth

Complement (v, n)/Compliment (v, n)

Both of these have a positive connotation, so sometimes they’re confused. But trust me, the cat sweater doesn’t “compliment” the sad model’s beard, it “complements” it.

Example of it “complimenting” his beard: “Oh hey,” said the cat sweater, “your beard is awesome and it hides your sadness really well.”
Visual example of a cat sweater “complementing” his beard:

Just like the old saying goes, "They go together as well as a cat sweater and a bearded man."

Just like the old saying goes, “They go together  like a cat sweater and a bearded man.”

“Complement” means, “something that completes something else or makes it better,” as is clearly demonstrated by Vince (probably his name) and his amazing sweater, neither of which would be complete without the other. Can’t you see how complete he feels?

Discreet (adj)/Discrete (adj)

This one is a sneaky homo because most people only know one version of the word even exists, and that’s “discreet.” That version means that something is either out of the way or unlikely to be noticed, or it can refer to a person using good judgement or “being discreet.”

So very discreet.

So very discreet.

“Discrete” is almost never used (except in Grammar Cat conclusion paragraphs), because it’s almost an exact synonym for “distinct,” so people tend toward that word instead. But “discrete” exists, it’s just being very discreet about its existence.

Hangar (n)/Hanger (n)

This cat is hanging out in some hangers.

cat hanger

This cat is hanging out in a hangar.

cat hangar

For those who still don’t get it, note the plane in the background.

Load (n, v)/Lode (n)

If you’re putting something into or onto something else, you are loading. The only word from this homo pair that can be used as a verb is “load.” Simple enough?

Okay, so here’s the thing. You can have a truckload of kittens…

… and you can have the mother lode of cat toys.

Mother lode cat

But while they appear very similar (they both have a large amount of something!), you cannot have a trucklode of kittens or a mother load of cat toys. The trick lies in the origin of the word “lode.” It originally referred only to an ore deposit, and the term “mother lode” referred to a particularly large one (that you might be killed for later if you didn’t keep your big mouth shut). Now we use it in reference to anything that we discover a lot of: “I found the mother lode of Fancy Feast at PetSmart today!” A good rule is that if you’re not referring to gold, and you don’t have the word “mother” in front of it, stick with “load.”

Mantle (n, v)/Mantel (n)

This cat is sitting on a mantel:


Mantel = pointless shelf above the fireplace

This cat is wearing a mantle:

cat mantle

Mantle =  badass cloak

Two other definitions for the -le version:

1. “The position of someone who has responsibility or authority.”
Example: Fluffy had earned his mantle by defeating the mutt next door.

2. “The part of the interior of a terrestrial planet and especially the earth that lies beneath the crust and above the central core.”
Example: Tiger was terrible at geology; he always mixed up the central core and the mantle on his charts.

Stationery (n)/Stationary (adj)

“Stationery” is a thing. “Stationary” describes a thing. So yes, you can have stationary stationery, but not the other way around.

This cat is not moving. She is…



This cat is writing a letter on…




I hope we’ve taken a strong first step in outing some homophones. Keep in mind, there are hundreds, possibly thousands (depending on dialects) of homophones in English, so we’ve only touched on a few. Can you think of a homophone pair that needs to be outed? Let us know by requesting a topic, and it might just be our next PSA.

So next time you’re typing a word and you have this sneaking suspicion that there may be more than one way to spell it, perhaps you have actually stumbled upon a homophone! When that happens, be respectful and remember that homophones are actually discrete (boom!) words, not simply interchangeable spellings for the same thing. Let’s treat all homos with the respect they deserve.

Greetings, Earthlings.

To commemorate Grammar Cat having been viewed in over ninety countries around the globe, let’s talk foreign languages! Well, not actually talk them, because we don’t know many. What we do know, however, is how to integrate them into English text.


The Grammar Cat has been viewed in fourteen countries across Asia! But not China. Never China.

The way to set apart foreign language text from the surrounding English is to add italics. It’s a visual device that’s kind to readers, especially if the language is close to English and may share many words, like, say, French, Spanish, or German.  Since English is essentially the lovechild of French and German, it’s riddled with words that were originally French or German. However, not every French word is italicized, because that would be endlessly annoying. The rule for when to add italics is basically contingent upon one question: How stupid are your readers? Okay, so that’s harsh (maybe). But basically, the first use of foreign words and phrases in a text should only be italicized if they are ones with which average readers may be unfamiliar.

This cat has that je ne sais quoi that makes him so very chic!

If you’re unsure whether or not readers will know the foreign word, see if it appears in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. If it appears in an English dictionary, assume that readers will be familiar with it (or as familiar as they are with the other words in there).

The same goes for when the phrase is found in dialogue.

Example: The man looked longingly at le chat through the glass divider before turning to the clerk. “Combien coûte-t-il?”

While translating “cat” to the French word doesn’t make much sense here, it’s to prove a point, people. Were it not italicized, the sentence might be even more confusing and nonsensical than it already is, because “chat” means different things in each language. You will do your readers a great service if you follow that rule.

At the same time, italicizing every foreign word or phrase is going to become an eyesore.

"Well said! Oh that's jolly good."

Too many eyesores leads to glasses, so unless you’re a swanky British cat and can pull off glasses like you were born to wear them, do avoid eyesores.

Example of eyesore: I met the attaché for our weekly rendezvous at the café. She was a brunette southern belle and a bon vivant, and she spent her days eating croissants and éclairs.

Admittedly, most sentences that aren’t about baked goods have many fewer French terms, but hopefully my point is made.

Sometimes, authors think it’d be cool to have their characters speak a lot of a language that isn’t English (looking at you, Agatha Christie!), and the courteous thing to do is often to include a translation into English.

Example: While he called himself le chat sosie de Poirot (Poirot’s cat lookalike), we all knew who he really was.


Bonjour. Je m’appelle Inspecteur Poirot Chat. Vous avez tué mon père. Préparez-vous à mourir.

For those of you unfamiliar with French, I suggest you Google Translate that caption, because I just killed it with that reference to a previous post.

Anyway, you can also use quotation marks in lieu of parentheses, if that tickles your fancy feast. But we all know how some people deserve to be in QMA (Quotation Marks Anonymous), and so for those of you who can’t have nice things, stick with the parentheses.

Verstehen Sie?
Skilur þú?
Ooday ouyay understanday?

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

You’re not going to like this, grammar cats. I don’t like it either. I’m just going to rip the Band-Aid off:

“Lie” and “lay” are two different words.



Lay and lie get confused because even though they have slightly different meanings, they share the word “lay.” The present tense of “to lay” is the same as the past tense of “to lie.” So we can say:

Frank decided to lay the cat on the dog while the dog lay sleeping.

catTerrible idea, Frank.

The first “lay” is from “to lay”; the second is the past tense of “to lie.” Are you confused yet? Well, it gets worse: Speaking as someone who has to look this up four or five times a week even though I know the rule, I’ve realized that you just have to memorize it.


But it’s okay! Cats can help us. If there’s one thing in the world cats are good at, it’s being motionless.


Like a goddamn champion.


Though we all know cats are noble and honest by nature, they’re good at lying…on things. The present tense of to lie is lie; the past tense is lay; the past perfect tense is had lain.


When you use lay, it should usually take an object. So if you find yourself typing lay, ask yourself, “laying what?” (If you’re not laying anything, you probably want to use lie.) The present tense of to lay is lay; the past tense is laid; the past perfect tense is had laid.

Now I’m going to bombard you with examples.

Present Tense:


Lie: The cat lies on the book.

Lay: She lays the cat on the book and realizes she’s not going to get to read it anytime soon.

Present Continuous Tense:


Lie: The cat is lying on the floor, minding its own business.

Lay: Someone is laying office supplies on that poor, long-suffering creature.

Past Tense:


Lie: Grumpy Cat lay in some jerkface’s hands.

Lay: Jack laid Grumpy Cat down and apologized.

Past Perfect Tense:


Lie: The cat had lain too close to the tracks because it thought it had eight lives left.

Lay: He had laid his cat down in the subway station, so he no longer had a cat.

There you go! Repeat those examples to yourself a few thousand times (or put it on a sticky note and attach it to your monitor) and you’ll be ready to navigate treacherous examples like:

The standing lion laid its mouth on the lying lion.

big cats

I’m sure it’s an affectionate gesture.

PSA: Try to Follow Along

I’ll try to make this quick.

“Try to” and “try and” are not interchangeable.

If try describes an attempt to complete another verb, then to is correct. This is almost always the case.

My cat will try to sleep on my face at night if I don’t stop him.


“I think I’ll try to fit in this box. Oh hey! I succeeded!”


If trying is a separate action from the following verb, then there is an and between them. There’s generally only one phrase that uses this, and it’s try and fail. 


“I may try and fail, but some part of me will end up in this box.”

Note the different meanings:

I may try and fail.

I may try to fail.

Don’t try to fail at things, folks.