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?
There is an adverb meaning that place, but it is also used as a pronoun introducing a clause or sentence.
Their is a possessive pronoun and it is used to show ownership of a thing or concept.
They’re is a contraction of they are, used as a matter of style or in informal speech and writing.
Consider these examples:
They’re (they are) willing to go there (that place), but it will depend on their (possession) schedules.
There (introductory clause) wasn’t enough time fortheir (possession) speeches. They’re (they are) going to have to come back and make them tomorrow.
Their (possession) troubles started when they wentthere (to that place), yet they’re (they are) refusing to come home.
When to Use There
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:
I love Paris. I go there (to Paris) every summer.
The attic scares me. That’s why I don’t go up there (to the attic) anymore.
However, there can also be used when it is assumed that place is already known or to indicate a general direction.
Don’t go down there, Jane. (It is assumed that Jane knows where there is).
Oh, it’s somewhere over there. (A vague direction, and you might assume the speaker is pointing).
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 thereis as a way of introducing that something exists or happens.
There is a mouse under the table.
It’s raining now, but there will be sunshine tomorrow.
Is there any hope for humanity?
“Therenow, doesn’t that feel better?”, the mother said, kissing her daughter’s scraped elbow.
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.
I’ll just stop you there.
Stop right there.
Meaning (roughly) what you have said and used to refer back to something someone has said:
Well, you’ve got me there.
I have to agree with you there.
Meaning in place or available and used to refer to something that can be used:
The money is there for you to buy a new car.
The opportunity is there. Let’s grab it.
When to Use Their
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.
It is their prerogative.
Their presentation was by far the best.
Can we take theircar instead?
Normally, theiris 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:
Someone left their backpack behind.
Somebody has got their wires crossed.
Will anyone let me borrow their key?
I couldn’t get in. Nobody wanted to give me their key.
When to Use They’re
They’re is a contraction of the words they and are. They’re has exactly the same meaning as theyare , but is substituted for style, brevity and informal speech.
They’re going on vacation for six months.
They’re already at the restaurant.
Let me know when they’re ready.
They’re older than Tommy and Jane, right?
At times, they’re a bit annoying.
How to Remember the Difference
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:
They’re going to the store for groceries. Test sentence.
They are going to the store for groceries. Correct.
There going to the store for groceries. Incorrect.
Their going to the store for groceries. Incorrect.
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.
T(here) = that place, over here. Should we sit over there, or right here?
T(heir) = indicates ownership, heir. Prince Charles is the heir to the throne.
More Examples of There vs. Their vs. They’re
They’re going to move their car over there, closer to the apartment.
There isn’t much clarity about their plans, but they’re usually right about these things.
Their new idea is up there with the best, but they’re going to need more money to make it happen.
There vs Their:
There wasn’t any room for their things, so they bought a new closet.
Their favourite city is New York, but they don’t go there in the winter.
Is that their suitcase over there?
There vs They’re:
They’re going to walk there instead.
There is a chance that they’re going to be late.
If they’rethere before me, let me know.
They’re vs Their:
If they don’t study, they’re going to fail their exams.
Their biggest problem is that they’re easily distracted.
It isn’t that they’re lazy, it’s their short attention span.