The differences between there, their and they’re are quite easy to understand are profound, yet the words are commonly mixed up in writing. Part of the issue is that they look very similar when written and are similar in terms of spelling.
But perhaps the biggest issue is that they are homophones, which are words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and meanings. Other well-known and easily confused homophones include for/four, weather/whether and our/hour. Because they sound the same, it is understandable that their, there and they’re can be misused in a sentence.
So, what are the meanings of their, there and they’re?
Consider these examples:
There is one of the most common words in English and has a variety of uses. In its adverb form, it simply means in or at that place and can easily be remembered as the opposite of the word here. It is often employed in a sentence to stop unnecessary repetition of a noun:
However, there can also be used when it is assumed that place is already known or to indicate a general direction.
As an adverb, there is very easy to understand. However, it can be a little bit more difficult to explain as a pronoun, where it is used to introduce a sentence or clause. In a way, it can be viewed as a place-holder, a word that doesn’t have any synonyms or an easy translation, yet almost acts like an engine to get the sentence or clause started. The best way to think of there is as a way of introducing that something exists or happens.
There also has some specific functions in speech, some of which are informal and colloquial. Examples are provided below:
Meaning at this/that point and sometimes used as an interjection.
Meaning (roughly) what you have said and used to refer back to something someone has said:
Meaning in place or available and used to refer to something that can be used:
Their is the possessive pronoun of the subject they. It is used to indicate ownership of a thing or concept (usually) by more than one person.
Normally, their is used as a plural to indicate ownership by more than one person, but there can be exceptions when it is singular if the identity or gender of the owner is not known, usually indicated by words like someone or anybody:
They’re is a contraction of the words they and are. They’re has exactly the same meaning as they are , but is substituted for style, brevity and informal speech.
There are a couple of different tricks to remembering the difference between they’re, their and there. They’re is arguably easiest to understand (and probably the one that gets confused the least) as it has the apostrophe in the middle. The simple way to check if it is correct is to replace it with they are and see if the sentence still makes sense:
There and their probably join your and you’re as the two most commonly mixed up words in written English, and you will often see them incorrectly used on social media and, even, occasionally within major news organizations’ websites and newspapers. The trick to remember the difference between there and their is the last four letters of each word. Their indicates ownership and has the word heir in its last four letters. An heir is someone who inherits something or will take ownership of something. There normally means ‘that place’ and has the word here in its last four letters, so we can think of it like in the sense of position – here and there.