Many ESL students–and even some native English speakers–will often mix up the spellings of the homonyms they’re, their, and there (homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings). It can be tricky to remember which one to use and when, but sticking to these rules will help you memorize the differences between each one.
THEY’RE = THEY ARE
Let’s begin with they’re. As you can probably tell by the apostrophe, they’re is a two-word contraction. (A contraction is two words linked to form one word. Contractions are mainly used in informal settings or conversations).
The contraction stems from the words they are. This means you are speaking in the plural form of third person. If it becomes confusing, keep in mind that the apostrophe (‘) is a replacement of the letter [a] in the word are.
Check out the following examples:
“They’re sitting on my sofa.”
(“They are sitting on my sofa.”)
THEIR = POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE
Their is a possessive adjective, meaning it denotes ownership or belonging. Note also that it’s plural.
If we are talking about Mr. and Mrs. Martinez and then we notice that they have a black and white dog, we can easily use their in conversation.
For example: “Mr. and Mrs. Martinez have a cute dog. Their dog is black and white.”
As you can see, we are using their to refer to Mr. and Mrs. Martinez. This helps us avoid using their names again.
Let’s look at another example.
“The children are eating dessert. Their dessert is a chocolate cake that their mother made.”
If you change the sentence and substitute their with the nouns, it would look like this:
“The children’s dessert is a chocolate cake that the children’s mother made.”
The difference is that we are substituting the children’s with their. The idea of using the possessive nouns is to avoid repetition of the nouns.
Other possessive adjectives are:
THERE = A PHYSICAL OR ABSTRACT PLACE SOME DISTANCE AWAY
Finally, we have there. When you think of the word there, think of a physical or abstract place.
An easy way to remember the spelling is by thinking of it’s antonym: here. Simply add [T] to here to get there…
Let’s look at an example:
“My sister was standing over there.” (Far)
“My brother was standing over here.” (Near)
There can also be used to signify a task is complete i.e. “There. All finished.” (Informal).
There. That covers there, their, and they’re. They’re a bit tricky, but we hope this will help you to remember their spelling.