Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings (and usually different spellings). For example, there is a massive difference between “I proposed to my fiancée with five carats,” and, “I proposed to my fiancée with five carrots.”
The SAT will occasionally test certain differently-spelled homophones (there is a small chance that you will have to choose between words such as fair and fare, as you will see in your practice tests), but it very frequently test the most commonly misused homophones – those involving possessive pronouns and contractions. Let’s take a look at the drill below:
“[Its/It’s] a shame,” she sighed. “[They’re/Their/There] on [they’re/their/there] way to taste [your/you’re] famous chili and yet [your/you’re] stuck [they’re/their/there] at the airport. I’ll do my best to make sure they appreciate it in all [its/it’s] glory!”
These three sets of homophones are very frequently tested on the SAT – and very frequently misused in day to day communication. Their commonality is that they all involve possessive pronouns (its, their, and your), and contractions (it’s = it is; they’re = they are; you’re = you are).
To the academic elite – a group you seek to join as you pursue acceptance to college – the misuse of these common words tends to be a major sign of poor education, so make sure that you get these right on test day and in your application essays.
Its vs. It’s
Its is the possessive form of it. If an object possesses something (e.g. your phone has a case), then you’ll use its (e.g. “I never take my phone out of its case.”).
This is often misused because you’re used to putting ‘s for possessives, but keep in mind, you don’t do that for other pronouns, either! If he has something, that thing is his (not he’s or him’s). Is she has something, that thing is hers (not she’s or her’s). And if they share something, it is theirs (not they’s or them’s). So if it has something, that thing is its thing.
It’s, on the other hand, is a contraction for “it is.” (e.g. “Where is your textbook? It’s (it is) in your locker.”)
There vs. Their vs. They’re
There refers to a place. (e.g. “I’d love to visit Barcelona; I hear it’s beautiful there.”)
Their is the possessive for the pronouns they and them. (e.g. “The Lakers are in last place in their division.”)
They’re is the contraction for “they are.” (e.g. “Who are The Beatles? They’re only the most famous band in world history.”)
Your vs. You’re
Your is the possessive pronoun for you. If you own something, people will say that it is yours. (e.g. “Go to your room!”)
You’re is the contraction for “you are.” (e.g. “You’re grounded!”)
With these rules in mind, let’s look at the answer for that drill we saw earlier:
“It’s a shame,” she sighed. “They’re on their way to taste your famous chili and yet you’re stuck there at the airport. I’ll do my best to make sure they appreciate it in all its glory!”