It’s annoying, those words that sound exactly the same but are spelled differently and, on top of it all, mean entirely different things. “Your” and “You’re” is probably the most well known pair of such often times wrongly used words. But today, we will look at a triple that is quite similar: There, Their, and They’re
How are they used correctly?
Words that sound alike but are spelled differently are known as homophones. The counterparts are known as homographs, words that are spelled identical but pronounced differently (e.g. “read” 1st person singular and “read” 1st person plural).
First, lets have a look on the different contexts and environments in which those three words are used. Afterwards, we give you some hints and ideas on how you can remember when to use “there”, “their”, and “they’re” correctly.
The word “there” can be used in two ways as the following examples show:
- “Look at this dog over there!”
- “It was very cold there during the summer.”
- “There is a bright blue crayon in the box.”
- “Did you know that there was a big fire on 5th avenue last night?”
In 1., “there” refers to a place; in this case a quite concrete one. It can be used to refer to less concrete and more abstract places as well, as in example 2. Here, the reference – aka the exact place – is not defined.
If “there” is used as in 3., it is paired up with a variation of the verb “to be”. Here, the mention of “there” serves the purpose of hinting at the existence of something, e.g. the blue crayon, or it serves the purpose of introducing something to the conversation that has not been talked about before (cf. 4.).
“Their” is a possessive pronoun in 2nd person plural. It is used to show that something is in the possession of someone, or rather a group of people.
- “Their mascot did a great job at the last game.” – when talking about a sports team
- “My friends forgot their 3D glasses at home, now we have to buy new ones for them.”
It may look like “they’re” is just a single word when, in fact, it’s two. “They’re” consists of the two words “they” and “are” mixed together. Thus, it can never refer to the possession of something. Take this sentence for example:
I can either say (or in this case write):
- “I love your new shoes. They are so cute!” or
- “I love your new shoes. They’re so cute!”
The meaning of the sentences in 1. and 2. do not differ at all. They both express that the speaker is referring to a set of things (here: shoes) and a state they are in (here: cute).
Easy ways to remember
Now that we know when the words should be used, lets see what kind of tricks you can use to find out whether you are using the correct one. It’s very simple, really. All you have to do is ask yourself a few questions:
- Can I replace “there” with “here”? If so, it’s correct!
- Can I replace “their” with “our”? If so, it’s correct!
- Can I replace “they’re” with “they are”? If so, it’s correct!
You can also learn from your mistakes. Go through an old text of yours (or of someone else) and try to find such mistakes. If you are unsure whether you got it right, you can always use a spellcheck tool to find out if you used “there”, “their”, and “they’re” correctly. Go through the mistakes that have been corrected and see whether you have found them as well.
Because, you know, practice makes perfect!