I have been seeing the word “thru” pop up in quite a few of my students’ essays. I wasn’t very surprised when I saw it appear in essays written by my ESL students as misspellings are rather abundant in them. When I saw the word pop up in some of my best native English speaking students’ essays, I was bowled over.
There are many who would like to blame the misspelling on the relatively recent rise in popularity of text messaging (for example, take this article). If that were truly the case, though, people would misspell more than just “through.” The word “before” would be written as “b4,” “you’re” would be “ur,” and “know” would be written as “kno” or “no.” That’s not the case in my students’ essays, however. The only text speak that shows up in their writing is “thru.”
This anomaly leads me to believe that text messaging is not to blame. The only other culprit that I can think of that can account for this misspelling being as common as it is is fast food. In particular, fast food’s drive thrus.
It’s important to note that spellcheck will not catch this misspelling. That’s because “thru” is actually a valid dictionary entry. Just because a word appears in the dictionary does not mean it’s acceptable for use in formal writing. Because spellcheck can’t make the distinction between a casual note to your roomie and a formal letter to your dean of your college, “thru” is as correct as “through” is to it. That’s one of the biggest flaws of spellcheckers: they can’t account for context.
As a rule of thumb, spell everything out fully when it comes to academic writing. For why that is, Mignon Fogarty from Grammar Girl takes the words right out of my mouth in her 10th episode “Threw, Through, Thru”:
My impression is that using the spelling t-h-r-u is kind of equivalent to dotting your i's with little hearts: people will know what you mean, but they'll think you aren't a very serious person.
So unless you’re writing a report on drive thrus or textisms, keep “thru” out of your formal writing.
Photo credit: Donna Grayson