FAQ - English & Grammar

Their They're and There

How to Use Their, They’re, and There

The issue of mixing up or misusing the words “their,” “they’re,” and “there” is a common one shared by even the best readers and writers. It’s a mistake that is easy to make, even if you know the differences between each one. Mistaking the three is also understandable, considering they’re homophones, which means they sound exactly the same. 

Before you can truly understand the differences between “their,” “they’re,” and “there,” it’s important to consult your nearest grammar guide for assurance that you’re at least somewhat familiar with possessive pronouns, contractions, adjectives and adverbs, as well as how these devices are used in a sentence. Fully understanding these parts of speech will help you to know right away which “their,” “they’re,” or “there” to use.  

When to Use “Their”

The word “their” is a possessive pronoun and is the possessive form of the pronoun “they.” It refers to ownership. If the subject of the sentence is “they” or any other plural pronoun, you would use “their” as the possessive pronoun. See the following examples:

  1. “She put all of their toys away.”

  2. “The teacher administered their tests.”

  3. “I’m their daughter.”

One reason why this can be confusing is that, typically, possessives are shown with an apostrophe, such as in the following examples:

  1. It is the people’s choice.

  2. That is Aaron’s favorite dish.

Therefore, sometimes you see the apostrophe and your brain automatically thinks “ownership.” This is why “their” and “they’re” are often mixed up. 

When to Use “They’re”

The word “they’re” is a contraction for the words “they are.” A contraction brings two words together into one shorter word and uses an apostrophe. Other examples of contractions include “can’t” for “cannot,” or “shouldn’t” for “should not.” 

When you’re writing a sentence and you’re unsure if you should use “their,” “there,” or “they’re,” ask yourself if what you need is a contraction. If so, then use “they’re.”

When to use “There”

The word “there” is all about location. Consider the following examples:

  1. There is the door.

  2. Stay right there!

  3. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.

These are all examples of reference to a location, but sometimes “there” doesn’t refer to a physical or literal place. However, even when you’re using it in more of an abstract or figurative sense, it still somewhat refers to location, such as:

  1. There we go again.

  2. I’ll have to disagree with you there.

  3. He’ll always be there for you.

Even in these figurative examples, there’s still a sense of location. When this is the case, the correct choice is “there.”

Tricks for Remembering Which “There,” “Their,” or “They’re” to Use

Even when you fundamentally understand the differences between each word, and can even define them, it can still be difficult to choose the right one when writing, whether it’s a manuscript, essay, or even a simple work email. Either way, choosing the incorrect word can make your writing look less professional. 

Using memorization tricks to remember which “they’re,” “there,” or “their” to use will help to prevent these mixups. 

Remembering When to Use “There”

Many people consider “there” to be the simplest and easiest to remember. There is no strange spelling or apostrophes thrown in, and it’s a widely and often-used word. The word “there” can often be the simplest to implement of the three forms. 

Remembering When to Use “Their”

Things can get a bit sticky with the use of “their,” but it doesn’t have to be difficult to remember. It’s the only one of these three words that contains the letter ‘i.’ So, you can think of it as the “selfish” word that wants to possess everything. It only thinks of itself — I, I, I, and me, me, me! That may seem a bit silly, but sometimes silly concepts work with memorization techniques. So, when you need to show possession, think ‘I,’ and then use “their.”

Remembering When to Use “They’re”

Sometimes writers and students mistakenly use “they’re” as the possessive form of “they.” After all, it has that pesky apostrophe that usually denotes ownership. However, it’s important to remember that apostrophes used in possessives are followed by ’s,’ as in the following examples:

  1. I took Carrie’s car to the dealership for repairs. 

  2. He returned the man’s wallet.

  3. The teacher’s desk was piled high with papers. 

In each of these examples, the apostrophe is followed by an ’s.’ Keep this in mind when trying to decide between “their” and “they’re.” The word “they’re” is not used to show possession or ownership.

A trick for checking this is to see if the sentence makes sense with “they are” spelled out. See the following examples:

  1. I put the book right they’re.

  2. He washed they’re laundry yesterday.

  3. I don’t know if they’re going to the store. 

If we spelled out “they’re” in example 1 (“I put the book right they are.”) and example 2 (“He washed they are laundry yesterday.”), these sentences wouldn’t make sense. Therefore, we know that “they’re” is incorrect for these sentences. Example 3, however, does make sense: “I don’t know if they are going to the store.” 

So let’s correct those first two examples. We now know that “they’re” is the wrong choice for examples 1 and 2. The next question to ask yourself is whether or not the sentence is showing ownership. In this case, example 2 is showing ownership of the laundry. The laundry belongs to whomever “they” are. And since we are talking about the possessive form, the correct choice for example 2 would be “their” (remember: the selfish “me” or “I” word).

In example 1, the subject is informing the listener where a book was placed. As explained above, the correct choice for showing location, whether literal (as in this example) or figurative, is the word “there.” So the corrected sentences would be:

  1. I put the book right there.

  2. He washed their laundry yesterday.

  3. I don’t know if they’re going to the store. 

Even knowing all of these rules and tricks doesn’t make anyone perfect. It’s still possible to mistake one “their” for another “there” or “they’re.” It happens. But keeping your eye out for these mistakes and using these or other tricks to remember, will help to keep those errors to a minimum. 

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