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There, Their, and They're

They're, their, and there are three words that are often confused with each other, and often trouble adults just as much as children who are still in school.

Despite their spellings, these words are pronounced the same, so it can be especially difficult if you're the kind of person who "hears" the words in your head as you write them out. In this case, it can be easy to forget the differences and simply write whichever version of the word your brain matches up with that sound.

I'm going to give a brief explanation of the three words and their uses, and share some tips I use to remember which to use.


This one is probably the least likely to be confused with the others, since it is not formed from the word "they," unlike the other two. Use this word for positions ("I put it over there"), places ("we arrived there today"), interjections ("there you go!"), in a more abstract 'place,' emphasizing a particular matter, ("I see what you mean there"), or sometimes used as an introduction when the verb comes after the noun, ("there is a very large building here")

They're and Their

The word their is used as a possessive pronoun. That means it only makes sense to use it if it's referring to something belonging to someone - "they drive their car," "there is a bird in their window," "their return flight was delayed," "there's one day left before their party."

The word they're is a contraction. It's a combination of the pronoun they and the verb are - "they're driving their car," "they're looking at the bird in their window," "they're going to stay there while their plane refuels," "they're having a party tomorrow."

These two are more easily confused because they're both based on the word they. One question to ask yourself if you're unsure which of these to use is "would this sentence still make sense if I read it as they are?"

If I had written "their having a party tomorrow," reading it over and saying "they are having a party tomorrow" makes sense - it's exactly what I want to say. That tells me that I've used the wrong word, because their is obviously not a contraction for they are.

On the other hand, if I wrote something like, "I'm going over to they're house," it wouldn't make sense to say it as, "I'm going over to they are house" - so that tells me I've used the wrong word, and their is what I'm looking for, since it's possessive, and the house belongs to them.

I would guess that the most common mistake I see is the possessive being substituted for the contraction. It may be because their has no apostrophe and is easier to type, but next time you use it, ask yourself "is the next word describing something that belongs to the "they" in this sentence?" If not, check and see if you need to use one of the other words instead.

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