I apologize for my delay in getting this next post up in my series. I have not been well as I’ve mentioned in other posts, so unfortunately some posts had to get postponed. Without further delay, let’s move forward with clearing up the differences between “their,” “they’re,” and “there.” This post would be almost identical to “Your vs. You’re” (with “their” following the rules of “your” and “they’re” following the rules of “you’re”), but English likes to complicate things. So, we have to take into account a third word that sounds the same – “there.”
OK, let’s start by breaking them down.
Their: possessive pronoun. Belonging to them.
A few examples of using “their” are:
- Followed by a noun (person, place, or thing). “This is their dog.”
- Followed by an adjective that is describing a noun. “This is their silly dog.”
- Followed by a verb ending in “ing.” “Their singing can be heard outside the building.”
- Followed by an adverb that is describing a verb ending in “ing.” “Their beautiful singing can be heard outside the building.”
In all cases they own the object or action and whether there is a descriptive word or not, there will definitely be an object or action that is possessed by them.
They’re: contraction of they are.
A few examples of using “they’re” are:
- They’re the family that lives down the street.
- I really think they’re great!
- They’re doing a great job!
“They’re” can precede both nouns and adjectives. If it precedes a noun or an adjective describing a noun it should also have an article like “the,” “a,” or “an” or a possessive pronoun. It can also precede an adjective by itself since it is, after all, describing them. As I mentioned in Your vs. You’re confusion can happen (in this case between “their” and “they’re”) because “they’re” CAN also precede a verb ending in “ing” as shown in one of the examples above.
There: at or in that place.
A few examples of using “there” are:
- There are the keys.
- We went there yesterday.
- There, I said it!
“There” is a place or direction – for the most part. Going into details about “there” would be a full lesson as it can be used as an adverb, pronoun, adjective, noun, or interjection. Obviously by using three sentences above I didn’t even use it in all of these scenarios. For the purpose of this post, though, I want to try to keep it as simple as possible as a way to differentiate it from “their” and “they’re.” If requests are made about the full uses of “there,” I can surely cover that in a later post.
Tips to prevent getting them confused:
Because there are three of them it’s not as easy to make cut-and-dry tips other than – know their use and meaning.
If you can replace the word with “they are” you need to use “they’re”
If the meaning of the sentence is correct with “they are,” the correct option to use is “they’re.” This will work every single time in determining whether or not the proper choice is “they’re,” though if you discover it is not it will not help distinguish the correct choice between the remaining two. It will help with the process of elimination. Let’s look at an example:
“*Blank* going to the park today. Can we go, too?”
I chose to insert a blank so we can decide which word to use. Some may use “their” or “there” in this case as the most common mistake is using one of them when “they’re” needs to be used. Would “they are” be appropriate, though?
“They are going to the park today. Can we go, too?”
Yes! That means “they’re” is the appropriate choice for this sentence instead of “their” or “there.” You can ALWAYS use the “they are” check to be sure you aren’t accidentally using “their” or “there” when you need to be using “they’re” because it can give you the answer 100% of the time.
If there is ownership involved it is “their.”
If you are using the word “their” there must be some type of object or action that is being owned by them. If there is no noun (person, place, or thing) or no verb ending in “ing” re-read the sentence again because “their” is not the likely choice.
Some other tips for “their:”
- “Their” won’t be followed directly by a verb that doesn’t end in “ing.” If your sentence has “their” immediately before a verb that doesn’t end in “ing” re-read it and determine if “they’re” (using the tip prior) or “there” is the correct choice. In this case unless “there” is being used as an interjection it most likely won’t be the option, either (though I won’t make any concrete statements since “there” can be sneaky).
- “Their” won’t be followed directly by an article like a, an, or the. Again, if you have an article immediately after “their” it would be wise to re-read the sentence and determine if “they’re” or “there” is the correct choice. Once again, “there” would most likely only be the correct choice if it’s being used as an interjection.
- “Their” will not be the final word in the sentence. The only way this would happen is if it is changed to “theirs.” Ex: “This car is theirs.”
Concluding with “there”
Again, I can’t possibly cover all of “there” in this post, so I hope the few tips I have shared plus a few tips about “there” I will share do help. For the most part “there” refers to direction. I will address some specifics in my tips. One major exception I mentioned is the interjection. An interjection is an abrupt remark, an aside. It will appear at the beginning of a sentence and will be followed by a comma or an exclamation point. Here are some examples:
“There! I hope you are happy.”
“There, this is the information we needed.”
Although it isn’t used often it makes setting specific tips a little harder as it doesn’t follow the general “rules.” Regardless, I will share a few that I hope will help since the interjections are generally an uncommon use of “there.”
- If it is at the very end of the sentence the choice should be “there.” Because “they’re” must precede a predicate and “their” must precede an object or action of ownership, “there” is the only one of the three that can actually be used at the very end of the sentence with the exception of changing “their” to “theirs” as I mentioned above.
- If “there” is being used as a pronoun it is generally followed by a verb (most often “to be”) and is used to introduce a clause or sentence. Ex: “There are a lot of ants in our yard.” You can see in this case the idea that “there” is a direction doesn’t fit, which is why it is important to note the use of “there” as a pronoun. *Please don’t confuse “there are” and “they are,” which are completely different. I have seen this mistake made as well. Because of our tendency to “write as we speak” I have also seen people write a sentence like “They’re a lot of ants in our yard.” If you open that sentence up you realize it is incorrect as it really says “They are a lot of ants in our yard.” Because people also tend to run “there are” together in speech it is sometimes misinterpreted in writing incorrectly, so be sure to note the differences!
- A general rule of thumb may be if you truly struggle with differentiating between the three you may have to eliminate the other two first. “There” is so diverse. It is easier to eliminate the other two then re-read the sentence with “there” instead. If after doing so you may not only realize “there” is the correct choice, but you will also start to recognize the different forms of the word and be able to better identify it in the future!
When in doubt go to the dictionary. They’re going to find answers to all of their definitions and uses there. 😉
I hope you have found these tips helpful! If anybody else has tips to share on how they differentiate between the three please share!
Stay tuned for my next Grammar 101 post where I will be addressing a new “trend” I have been seeing and discussing the difference between the Plural S and Possessive S. Each week I will also share a grammar resource I love! I may share two Grammar 101 posts in one week, so both posts will have the same resource that week.
Grammar Resource of the Week
This week’s grammar resource is Grammaropolis! This is a fun learning website after my own heart. I just recently joined, but I’m already in love! OK, the kids love it, too! 🙂 It is so much fun! It is available as an app as well!