Difference Between There, Their & They're

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The confusion between 'there', 'their' and 'they're' is a classic homonym problem. This lesson will help sort out the differences between the adverb, possessive pronoun, and contraction that all sound the same.

Homonyms

We have all had this situation. You are writing a sentence like this:

  • John and Susie left their kids with a babysitter.

But wait, you think. Is it 'their'? or 'there'? And what about 'they're'? You can never remember which one is which.

These three words are all homonyms, meaning words that sound alike but mean different things. And not only do they have different meanings, they are completely different parts of speech, meaning they have very different functions in a sentence.

All homonyms can cause problems for writers from time to time. However, because these three are all very common and frequently-used words, they cause a special headache. So, let's walk through and learn the differences.

Over There

Poster for World War I Song Over There
Over There

The first spelling, 'there', is an adverb that is used to show location. It is most commonly used to refer to a location that has already been mentioned or that is assumed the reader knows, such as:

  • John is building a new house over there by the lake.
  • I went to Omaha for work and had to stay there for two weeks.

It is also used to refer to a specific object or person that is in a location:

  • There is only one slice of pizza left in the box.
  • There are three new employees starting in the office this week.

A trick for determining if 'there' is the 'there' you want is to look to see if it is showing any sort of location like this.

Their House

The next spelling, 'their', is what is known as a possessive pronoun. A pronoun is a word used to replace a noun, and a possessive pronoun is used to show ownership. 'Their' is the possessive form of 'they', used to show possession by a group of people. Some examples include:

  • Bob and Susie bought their house last year.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship.
  • The audience cried their eyes out at the sad movie.

A trick for using this 'their' is to look for the noun or nouns that it is replacing. All pronouns take the place of a noun that has already been mentioned, called its antecedent, so see if there is an antecedent. In our examples, for instance, the antecedents were 'Bob and Susie', 'Cleveland Cavaliers', and 'audience'.

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