'Their' vs 'they're' vs 'there' are three words that are often confused in English. In this article, you'll learn what each means and when to use it.
In short, these three words are homophones and mean different things:
Why do 'their,' 'they're,' and 'there' sound exactly the same but mean different things? That's because they're homophones. There are many homophones in English, such as 'scents' and 'cents,' 'suite' and sweet,' 'feat' and feet.'
What makes these words tricky to deal with is that they sound the same when you say them out loud. That's all well and good when in conversation because you can deduct the meaning from the context.
For example, if someone says, "I threw the ball," you know they were referring to the verb that describes the arm movement to send the ball through the air, and not the preposition 'through' that describes the action of moving in one side and out the other.
But when it comes to writing them, you need to get the spelling right so as not to confuse your reader.
And that's the difficulty with homophones. But don't worry, in this article, we're going to go over the meaning of each word so that you can be sure to choose the correct spelling the next time you use one of them.
Let's start with 'their.' This is a possessive adjective, which means you use it to indicate possession. Here's a list of possessive adjectives:
'Their' is the possessive adjective for the pronoun 'they.' It can either be the third person plural, used to refer to two or more people:
My parents have sold their house.
The backpackers finally arrived at their destination in the early hours.
Or it can also be used as a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to just one person.
Someone forgot their wallet.
Sally loved their job.
In the first example, 'their' is used as a gender-neutral term because we aren't sure of the gender of the person who forgot their wallet. The second example uses' their' because Sally is non-binary, and their preferred pronouns are 'they'/' their.'
Possessive adjectives are not to be confused with possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs).
'They're' is a contraction of 'they are.' Contractions are often used in English to shorten a word. Some other examples of contractions are:
Contractions are often confused for possessives, but remember, apostrophes only indicate a possessive when it's a noun followed by an's, like in "the sky's colors."
You can always check if a contraction is correct by stretching it out so it's no longer contracted. So with 'they're,' swap it for 'they are' and see if the sentence still makes sense.
Here are a few examples:
Have you seen the spoons? They're not in the drawer.
When they're hungry, they'll come home.
I can't understand what they're saying.
Does it still make sense if you try to replace 'they're' with 'they are' in the sentences above? The answer is yes; they all still make sense if you do that, which means 'they're' is the correct spelling. Look at the following example, on the other hand, where that doesn't work:
I haven't read their final report yet.
You couldn't say:
I haven't read they are final report yet. ❌
That's how you know 'they're' would not be the correct spelling in this instance.
Top tip! Contractions are often considered informal in academic writing, so it's best to use the complete phrase 'they are.'
'There' is a tricky one because it has many different definitions and can be different parts of speech. We'll go through them each one by one.
'There' is an adverb of place, which means it refers to a location. This location could be either physical or figurative. For example:
You can just leave the book over there.
He's always been there for me whenever I've needed support.
Top tip! 'There' has the word 'here' in it, which can help you remember the correct spelling when using the adverb of place.
'There' can also be used as a pronoun, in which case it introduces sentences or clauses.
There will be many opportunities for you to ask questions at the end.
When 'there' is used as a noun, it describes a specific place.
Yes, I know Paris well; I've been there many times.
In that sentence, 'there' replaces the proper noun' Paris,' which makes it a noun too.
'There' can also be an adjective. Remember, adjectives can be removed from a sentence without affecting the meaning.
That man there can help you.
The sentence would still make sense if it said:
That man can help you.
That makes 'there' in this sentence an adjective.
Finally, 'there' can be used as an interjection. Remember, interjections are single words that can be used to express several things: emotions, expressions, and even making a request.
You could use 'there' as a soothing interjection:
There, there, everything will be alright.
Or when a task has been completed:
There! It's ready.
Or even as a confirmation that you were right:
There! I told you that would happen.
Now you know what these three words mean, and you also know that they have different pronunciations. Would you like to know how that pronunciation sounds? Read on.
'Their,' 'they're,' and 'there' rhyme with 'bear,' 'fair,' and 'aware.' If I were to write the words the way they sound, I would write them like this:
[th - air ]
According to the International Phonetics Alphabet, this is how the words sound phonetically:
/ θɛər /
I hope you feel more confident now in differentiating these three words. I will now give you more example sentences that use these words to consolidate your understanding.
The guests are expecting their usual welcome drinks.
They were eating their supper when they heard a knock on the door.
He was now their favorite boss.
They usually have their meetings in the conference room.
Sally and David are hosting the dinner at their house.
They're planning to watch the Miss America contest on TV.
You can join them now; they're on the tennis court.
She doesn't believe in ghosts; she says they're not real.
They're posting your certificate on Monday.
I think they're doing great work.
I wouldn't choose to go there for my honeymoon.
There are many people who would love to be in your position.
Your glasses are over there.
I'm grateful for you always being there for me.
There! All done for you.
And guess what? You could even write a sentence using all three of these words.
There is no doubt in their mind that they're going to win.
So there you have it! Three words, three different spellings, three different meanings, and just one pronunciation. I hope this article has helped you feel more confident about using the correct word in the proper context.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you found this article helpful and would like to learn about more homophones and other confusing words, head to our blog.