Sometimes we need to revisit the basics. We should never assume that we’re above them; there’s a reason that the saying “pride comes before a fall” is still common.

And there is little that brings a writer’s soaring and magnificent prose crashing back to earth faster than using the wrong form of there/their/they’re.

Never Confuse There, Their, and They're Again: There Their They're

Today, let’s look at these three very different words:

When to Use “There”

There is used to refer to a place, either abstract or concrete. For example:

Kaylee elbowed Michael and nodded. “He’s over there!”

In this example, there is referring to a location that may not be known to us specifically. We also use there in combination with a form of the verb “to be” to indicate the existence of something. Example:

Michael rubbed his sore ribs and looked where she was pointing. There was indeed a wisp of a man just offstage, arms crossed over his sweater vest.

When to Use “Their”

Their is a possessive adjective used to describe something that belongs to a group of individuals. See below:

Michael had forgotten to tell their landlord that they were leaving the state for a month, and he crossed his fingers hoping they had enough in the bank to cover rent.

Their is used only as an adjective. If it’s not a possessive adjective, use there.

When to Use “They’re”

They’re is a contraction of they are.

“The show’s almost over,” Michael whispered. “They’re probably going to be changing for a good thirty or forty-five minutes after curtain.”

There, Their, They’re

There you have it. Those three homophones? They’re all there, along with their uses. Let us never confuse their, there, and they’re again.

Do you ever confuse there, their, and they’re? Are there other homophones that give you trouble? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Continue the story of Michael and Kaylee. Who is the wisp of a man offstage and what do they want with him?

Write for fifteen minutes, and be sure to use their/there/they’re properly. When you’re done, share your practice in the comments and leave feedback for your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.