As a student-turned-college-graduate, I’ll admit that throughout the years, there’s plenty I learned that only stayed in my brain until just after the final exam. Real statistics and chemistry have long been replaced by baseball statistics and knowledge of whiskeys.

But for as many hours of schooling that have been seemingly lost, there are certain things, certain key pieces of information that should never be disregarded or lost. Because to do so makes you look, simply put, like an idiot.

And in this writer’s personal opinion, there’s nothing more important than understanding how to use your own language.

Now, I’m not saying you must have a Shakespearean mastery of the language (I mean, he often made up crazy words of his own) but you should know basic first grade English.

What You Should Know (the bare minimum)

“It’s” vs “Its”

I was always told to think of the apostrophe as a little snitch who is tattling on his buddy – the letter that is missing. And just as it does in every scenario, the apostrophe is letting you know that this is American shorthand for “it is.”

That’s the funny part; this is already us cheating the full breadth of our language, so the least you can do is make sure to use it right.

On the converse, “Its” refers to a thing in the possessive, as in: “The English language should be given its fair treatment.”

“There”, “their” and “they’re”

“There” is the easy one. It’s like you’re saying “here,” but with a “T” like you’re saying “to.” It’s directional. There’s even a phrase, “Here nor there,” that should pretty much literally spell it out for you.

“Their” is a little tricky. It doesn’t make a lot of plausible sense…but then again, neither does the majority of the English language. The good news is, it’s the only one of the three that looks different, so let’s just call it a mashup of his + her + they. Their.

Just like “It’s,” the word “they’re” has the apostrophe snitch again, and this time he’s ratting on his buddy – the letter “A” – in this contraction of “they” and “are.”

God, this is starting to sound like ghetto Sesame Street…

“Your” vs “You’re”

Last but not least, the most commonly incorrect of all the basic grammar contractions.

“Your” is, again, to show ownership. And when you say, “English is our language,” talking about us, the opposite would be: “Apparently English is not your language because you don’t even understand it at a basic level,” which refers to you talking to someone else.

Meanwhile, “You’re,” is—once again— the words “you” and ”are” combined.

Why You Should Know These Things

To avoid looking ignorant

Every time you breeze right over mistaking the most basic of the basics, you look like you either didn’t graduate elementary school or that you don’t actually care about being a functioning human. Or Jack Black was your first grade teacher.

The reason for all this; you learned these rules almost as soon as you learned how to write, and that’s not an assumption—it’s a fact. Everyone who learned to read and write has been taught these basic facts, no matter where they went to school – Public or private, K-12 or home-schooled. They’re called “the basics” for a reason.

So when you make these dumb mistakes, or don’t care enough to correct them, your readers assume you didn’t care much about your schooling either.

To avoid losing any argument by default

This goes out to all you internet trolls and YouTube commenters out there.

There’s a reason there are spell checkers for everything from politicians’ speeches to publications. It’s entirely too easy to prove that you are more intelligent or your points are more valid if the other person doesn’t take the time to speak their language correctly.

There is no quicker way to dismiss your unfocused digital rage as incorrect, unintelligent, or misinformed than by your rants being fraught with spelling errors that would take little more than a once-over to catch.

If you can’t put the correct three letters together in the right order to start your argument – no matter how juvenile – you’re just opening up the floodgates for the grammar Nazis and trolls to put your commentary to shame – regardless how noble or stupid your cause might be.

To Stop Making Americans Look Stupid

We can’t afford to look dumber than we already do, literally and figuratively. And you can’t even use your native language correctly?

For shame.

It’s embarrassing when other countries can write our language better than we can…and they had to learn it later in life. You’re letting scores of American heroes down. Teddy Roosevelt? Poor eyesight. Perfect grammar.

Please. Just get it. And if you can’t figure it out, try sounding the words out. Treat everyday like it’s Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? day.

Teddy would be proud.