'They're Not' vs 'They Aren't': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on June 30, 2023

‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t’: What’s the difference? Despite their different appearance, these phrases actually mean the same thing. So how can we tell them apart? Why do they appear different if they mean the same? Read more below to clarify the difference between these two phrases. 

In a rush? Here’s a short overview of what you’ll learn: 

  • ‘They’re Not’ is the shortened version of ‘They Are Not’ where ‘They’ and ‘Are’ are contracted.
  • ‘They Aren’t’ is another shortened version of ‘They Are Not’ where ‘Are’ and ‘Not’ are contracted. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t’

As mentioned above, ‘They’re Not’ and ‘They Aren’t’ both mean the exact same thing: ‘They are not.’

This raises questions about why there are multiple versions of this phrase and whether there are rules about using them. 

The short answer is no:

  • There is no set rule about when it is appropriate to use a specific version of the phrase ‘they are not.’

But, the key component that separates these two phrases is the usage and placement of contractions. Depending on where the contraction is, the phrase will have put weight on a certain word and, in turn, pull the focus to that word. We will dive into how this directly affects the phrases ‘They’re Not’ and ‘They Aren’t’ later, but first, let’s learn a bit more about contractions and how they work. 

Contractions: What Are They? How Do They Work? 

Contractions are linguistic shortcuts that allow us to save time in language by combining two words into one.

  • They can be used both in speech and writing and most commonly appear in informal settings.
  • Some letters (typically vowels) are dropped and omitted from the new contracted word to form a contraction. 

For example:

  • The “a” from ‘Are’ is dropped in the case of ‘They’re Not.’
  • The “o” from ‘Not’ is dropped in the case of ‘They Aren’t.’

Note that the omitted letter is replaced in the contraction by an apostrophe. 

Contractions can appear in all different places, thus meaning there are a variety of types.

The main types of contractions are: 

‘They’re not’ is a Subject + verb contraction —the subject ‘they’ is combined with ‘are,’ which is a form of the verb “to be.” Meanwhile, ‘They Aren’t’ is a negative contraction — the verb ‘are’ is combined with the negative ‘not.’ 

You can learn more about contractions when you check out our other articles, but this basic overview should help you understand how to use contractions with the phrases ‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t.’ Now that you’ve learned how they’re formed let’s look at when to use these contracted phrases. 

‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t’: Which Do I Use? 

As mentioned, contractions are often used in informal settings because they pull emphasis from the words that have been combined to make them more usable and efficient. This can help us determine when it is best and most common to use ‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t.’ 

With contractions, the stress or emphasis in the phrase usually falls on the non-contracted word.

  • So in ‘They’re Not,’ the emphasis is on the thing that is not happening.
  • On the other hand, in ‘They Aren’t,’ the emphasis is on the subject, so the focus is on who is not doing something. 

While this small distinction isn’t an official rule, it has subconsciously become the linguistic norm in our speech and writing because although we may be using an informal tone, a specifically used (or not used) contraction can help best convey the focus of a sentence. 

So in the case of ‘They’re Not,’ you will likely see this used when people wish to call attention to a lack of action as opposed to in the case of ‘They Aren’t,’ which is more common in day-to-day speech and calls attention to who the subject is in particular.

How to Use ‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t’ in a Sentence

Phrases like this, with the same meaning but different social and linguistic contexts, can, of course, be confusing without seeing them in action.

Here are some example sentences of how to use these phrases that will also give you a glance at what type of context they typically appear in in the real world. 

‘They’re Not’

  • They’re not done with their chores yet, but I am finished with mine. 
  • Be sure not to ruin the twins’ surprise party. They’re not supposed to know about it. 
  • They’re not going to the family reunion because they’re going to Disney World instead. 
  • I don’t know what they told you, but they’re not supposed to crash the dinner party. 

‘They Aren’t’

  • They aren’t coming with us. My other friends are joining us instead. 
  • The substitute never showed up to teach the students, and they aren’t sure what to do. 
  • I have to return the shoes I ordered online because they aren’t the right size. 
  • They aren’t ready to give their final presentation in front of the class. 

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t’

It is important to be able to use both phrases in a sentence while speaking, and aside from understanding them, you need to know how to pronounce them. The location of the apostrophe will be the biggest clue to adjusting your pronunciation. 

Use this guide and phonetic spelling of ‘They’re Not’ for reference: 

  • Th-air Not (the “a” in ‘are’ disappears)

Use this guide and phonetic spelling of ‘They Aren’t’ for reference:

  • Th-ey Ahr-n-t (the “o” in ‘not’ disappears)

Final Advice on ‘They’re Not’ vs ‘They Aren’t’

This article has covered a lot, from contractions to sentence structure and linguistics norms. Knowing when to use phrases that don’t follow any specific grammar rules can be difficult, especially when those phrases have the same meaning. But, if you use the tricks you’ve learned and keep an eye out for context, you’ll easily be able to identify when phrases should be used. 

Want a recap? Here’s a short overview of what we covered: 

  • ‘They’re Not’ and ‘They aren’t’ are both contractions meaning ‘They are not.’ 
  • Contractions allow us to combine words and often appear in informal conversations and writings, and they follow unwritten social and linguistic norms. 
  • The location of the contraction helps us determine emphasis. ‘They’re Not’ focuses on the lack of action, while ‘They Aren’t’ focuses on who is not doing the action. 

Sometimes even the simplest of phrases can include confusing words, so be sure to read more articles to clarify other linguistic norms and constructs. A final tip for all of this is to follow your gut and sound things out as you would in a conversation because sometimes saying things out loud is the best way to ensure your writing flows well.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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