There’s a whole lot of difference between they’re, their, and there.
Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. They’re, their, and there are some of the most troublesome homophones around. If native speakers have trouble remembering when to use these terms, imagine how our students must feel! Try presenting they’re, their, and there to your students using the method outlined below. Review this list often so that students are less likely to mix up these terms.
Meaning: Short for “they are”, it’s the third person plural pronoun and the corresponding form of the Be verb.
Structure: They’re is found at the beginning of a sentence or clause.
Trick: Say they are out loud or to yourself as you’re writing. If it makes sense, use they’re. If not, you’ll need there instead, or their if followed by a noun.
- They’re coming to the party tonight. (They are)
- I like those shoes. I wonder if they’re for sale. (they are)
Meaning: This is the third person plural possessive adjective. It means “belonging to them”.
Structure: Their always appears before a noun.
Trick: Look for a noun that follows. Also, saying they are out loud shouldn’t make sense.
- Is that their dog? (their + the noun dog; not they are dog)
- I’m sure they have their reasons. (their + the noun reasons; not they are reasons)
Meaning: There has many functions in English. Two of the most common are an indefinite pronoun subject and a location.
Structure: There comes at the beginning or end of a sentence or clause. It appears at the beginning when it’s acting as an indefinite pronoun, and at the end when describing a location.
Tricks: At the end of a sentence, it will always be there. At the beginning, say they are out loud or to yourself as you’re writing. If it works, use they are. If it doesn’t, use there. Don’t forget that if it’s at the beginning or end of a sentence but followed by a noun, you’ll need to use their.
- There are two versions of this story. (indefinite pronoun; not they are )
- You can get your ticket at the table over there. (location)
There, that wasn’t so hard!