Never Confuse There, Their, and They’re Again

by Liz Bureman | 14 comments

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.

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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.

14 Comments

  1. Jen Schwab

    “That’s our chance. Let’s get back into the green room now. We can hide while they’re not looking and hopefully one of us can snag that sweater vest!”

    Underneath Kaylee’s excitement was a sense of sadness. She and Michael had spent weeks in Iowa on their quest, and now it was almost complete. Rick Santorum’s sweater vest was the last treasure to add to their collection: Election Relics of Oh-12.

    There was Michele Bachmann’s flat-iron, and Herman Cain’s wedding ring. Mitt Romney’s weighty container of hair grease had been easy enough to pilfer. But the sweater vest still eluded them. It was like the man never took it off.

    Michael struggled hold in a sneeze as he hid behind the water cooler and couch. If they could just snag this last item, all their efforts would pay off. The ticket revenue for their exhibit would more than make up for the lost pay and the fortune they had spent in gas for their 1981 Winnebago.

    There it was – the soft click of the lock mechanism turning in the door! In strode the Senator himself, wearing a navy blue, cotton/polyester blend…sweater vest.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      No! This so funny.

      Michelle Bachman’s flat-iron! Herman Cain’s wedding ring (which might have been the easiest to snag)? Romney’s grease?! Oh my, Jen. I love it so so much!

    • Jen Schwab

      Santorum’s campaign manager is a buddy of mine, and there’s a running joke about his sweater vests. When you mentioned a man in a sweater vest, I couldn’t help myself! I’m glad you laughed as hard reading it as I did writing it.

    • Joe Bunting

      I’m so out of it. I haven’t even seen Rick Santorum, yet. Just heard him on the radio. Now, I’ve got to look him up to see his vest!

    • Sandra

      Thanks, Joe.

    • Marianne

      Funny!!!! And well written. I love this!

    • catmorrell

      Brilliant.

  2. Kellie Hatman

    No story, but I have a tip… To be honest, I’ve never had an issue with any of these, but my oldest son had MAJOR issues with these three words. Every day I would quiz him and the sentence that I used to help him was “They’re going over there to get their books.” And I had it on a 3×5 card for him to visually imprint it in his brain. After working with him on this sentence, it definitely helped and I saw great improvement. I was then able to switch up and give different sentences and have him choose which one belonged where (he was 15-16 yrs old at the time.) And he could always refer back to it to get the distinction of which one is used when if he needed it. I hope that helps someone here as well.

    Reply
  3. Reagan Colbert

    I’ve had struggles in the past with these kind of situations, but never, ever with the their, there, they’re problem. Certain things just get stuck in your head, and that’s one of them.

    Reply
    • Sandra

      Thanks, Reagan. You understand.

  4. Jason

    There, there’re and their! Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  5. Candace Feo

    I found this article very interesting and a good reminder of how to use the words for there, their an they’re. I do not get confused on this anymore, it took me a couple of years in high school to make sense of it. I have now been out of high school for 41 years, but it is a good refresher. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Stella

    May have missed something – who’re Michael and Kaylee? I don’t normally have difficulty with these words, so just did a short practice.

    *

    “They’re here!” Their ears pricked up at the cry. There was a car coming down the road. Were they here at last?

    Their youngest sister ran in, breathless. She had been the designated scout. “They’re in there, with their things.”

    Their grandparents’ long-awaited arrival. And more importantly, the arrival of the gifts they were likely to bring.

    “There you are! You’ve grown!” Their voices hadn’t changed one bit. “Susan, are you sure these are the same girls you showed us last year? They’re so big!”

    Squinting past them into the car during their obligatory hugs, they could see their eagerly-awaited pile of packages. There was a merry Christmas ahead indeed.

    Reply
  7. Cynthia Maddox

    They’re going there to bury their son.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Things Not to Post on Facebook: Grammar Edition - [...] This should be another gimme. “Their” is a pos­ses­sive pro­noun. “There” is used to refer to abstract or con­crete…
  2. Writing Links Round Up 8/1-8/6 – B. Shaun Smith - […] Never Confuse There, Their, and They’re Again […]

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