Grammar Guide for Their, There, and They’re –
The story is told about a local fast-food restaurant that wanted to share an exciting addition to the menu. On the large reader board in front of the restaurant, an enterprising employee posted in big letters:
THEIR HERE: SPICY WINGS!
Soon afterwards a customer came by and noted, “Your sign out front is misspelled. You should fix it!” The good-natured employee obliged, changing it to:
THERE HERE: SPICY WINGS!
After a few days, the customer returned. “You replaced one incorrect spelling with another!” she laughed. So the employee climbed up and changed the sign one last time:
NOW HERE: SPICY WINGS!
Their, There, and They’re
Using their, there, or they’re incorrectly is a mistake that nobody wants to make. Part of the confusion is these three options are all homophones: words with different spellings and meanings that sound the same. With words that seem so similar, what are some ways to tell them apart?
‘Their’ is a possessive determiner (sometimes called a possessive pronoun). It comes before a noun in order to show ownership:
- “My friends took pictures on their vacation to Europe.”
One clever way to remember this form is to notice the word ‘heir’ hidden inside. An heir is someone who owns something, and the word ‘their’ shows ownership within a sentence.
‘There’ is an adverb (and occasionally an exclamation). It works alongside a verb in order to refer to place:
- “The photos are there on the table.”
An easy way to remember is to think of ‘there’ as the opposite of ‘here’, which also refers to location and is spelled almost exactly the same.
‘They’re’ is actually a contraction of two words: ‘They are’, as in:
- “Unfortunately, they’re not very good photographers.”
The trick here is to remember that the ‘re in ‘they’re’ is actually the verb are. So if your sentence needs a verb, this is the right choice.
Hopefully this helps you the next time you need to decide which of these homophones to use. If only that fast-food restaurant employee had read this guide!
Thanks for spending time with this Grammar Guide for Their, There, and They’re.
A great way to go deeper with these and other homophones is with Bruce Worden’s Homophones Visualized (available on Amazon)
You might also enjoy Lynn Miclea’s Grammar Tips and Tools (available on Amazon)
Finally, be sure to check out my Grammar Guide for Apostrophe Rules
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