There, Their, They’re

Homonyms are the bane of English speakers everywhere. For some people, the differences sink in immediately and choosing the right one is easy. For plenty of other people, it might as well be a task for Hercules.

One of the basics, the necessary ones you must know for an agent to respect you, is “There,” “Their,” and “They’re.” Each has a very different meaning and purpose. This means a reader can usually figure out what you meant to say, but why risk the confusion? When self-editing, it’s easy to go through and check that you’ve used the right “There” if you remember a few simple facts.

THERE

An adverb, “there” specifies location. “Over there” is a simple concept that specifies a place that isn’t “here.” In fact, one could say that “there” is anywhere that isn’t “here.” However, you’re probably more likely to write something like “Over there, on the far side of town, is the graveyard.” See? Describing a location.

“There” and “here” both describe location, and conveniently, “there” is simply “here” with an extra “t” on the front. Useful trick for remembering which “there” is “over there.”

THEIR

This time, our homonym is a pronoun. A possessive pronoun, specifically. It identifies something owned by “them.” For example, if a book could be described as both “his book” and “her book,” one might rather say that it is “their book.” The possessive pronouns are a short list, and you probably remember most of them easily:Mine, yours, his/hers, their, whose.

That’s it. So when you want to write about something belonging to a group, remember the right homonym is “their.”

THEY’RE

This one is the easiest to identify, at least for me. Why? Because it’s a contraction. That’s what that apostrophe (the comma-looking thing up high between the “y” and the “r”) means. Contractions are two words mashed together so they take less effort to say. Like “can’t” or “don’t.” Those mean “can not” and “do not.” Well, “they’re” means “they are.” It’s a combination of the pronoun “they” and the verb “are.”

So if you want to use “they’re,” ask yourself if you could put “they are” in the same place and the sentence would still make sense. If the answer is “yes,” you’re using the right “they’re.”

See, simple. Place (there), possessive pronoun (their), and pronoun/verb contraction (they’re). Three very different words that sound (and look) alike. Any questions?


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