Word Confusion: Their vs There vs They’re

Posted April 10, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 23 February 2018

This is one of the most common mistakes writers make, not paying attention to which their / there / they’re that they’re using.

Their basic problem is mostly that they’re not paying attention, so there.

How it works is…

They’re going on their vacation next week, so there!

Translates as:

They are going on the holiday for which they planned next week, so hah!

Their going on there vacation next week, so they’re!

Translates as:

On the holiday for which they planned going on hah vacation next week, so they are!

Which one would you rather read?

Consider the following:
their going

the going belongs to them…which doesn’t make sense. Maybe this is someone whose primary language is not English?

there going

First off, this must be someone’s second language. There going I on my vacation. ???

they’re going

they are going

their ship

the ship belongs to them

there ship

Again, someone’s second language…unless the person is under stress, and the writer really meant to write There! Ship!

It could be a Mel Brooks comedy…

they’re ship

they are ship…no, this doesn’t work for me. Maybe it’s a sci-fi story and they really are a ship. Or maybe if it were they’re shipping?

If anyone wants out, their the door!

Again with that second language problem. It’d be so much better if they deleted the and made it their door.

No, no, it’s my door!

Actually, it sounds more like a humorous tale or the start of a comedy routine…hmmm…

If anyone wants out, there’s the door!

there is the door

If anyone wants out, they’re the door!

…they are the door. Hmmm, must be that sci-fi story again. Or maybe it’s a fantasy tale?

The easiest way to make sure you’re using the correct their/there/they’re is, well, both complex and simple. You’ll have to memorize the proper definition for their (possessive) and there (location of varying sorts). They’re is the easiest. Take out the apostrophe and replace it with the missing letter: they are. Do this with any contraction if you find yourself questioning if it’s the right word.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Their There They’re
Credit to:

Two border collies with their frisbees and their owner

:Border Collies” is Bissabutterfly’s own work under the CC0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two border collies with their frisbees and their owner.

A white-throated swallow in the snow with a peanut shell

“Is There Something in There?” by Dawn Huczek from USA is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two dogs snarling and snapping at each other

“They’re Playing” by Tim Wilson from Blaine, MN, USA, is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Part of Grammar:
Pronoun, possessive Adverb; Exclamation Pronoun, third person plural + Verb, singular present
Belonging to or associated with the people or things previously mentioned or easily identified

  • Belonging to or associated with a person of unspecified sex

Used in titles

In, at, or to that place or position

  • Used when pointing or gesturing to indicate the place in mind
  • At that point (in speech, performance, writing, etc.)
  • In that respect
  • On that issue
  • [With infinitive] Used to indicate one’s role in a particular situation

Used in attracting someone’s attention or calling attention to someone or something

[Usually there is/are] Used to indicate the fact or existence of something

Used to focus attention on something

Express annoyance or satisfaction at it

Used to comfort someone

Contraction for they are
Her taunts had lost their power to hurt him.

She heard someone blow their nose loudly.

A double portrait of Their Majesties was hung in the Royal Gallery.

We went on to Paris and stayed there eleven days.

I’m not going in there — it’s freezing.

The opportunity is right there in front of you.

There on the right!

If anyone wants out, there’s the door!

I’m quite —” There she stopped.

I don’t agree with you there.

At the end of the day, we are there to make money.

Hello there!

There goes the phone.

There’s a restaurant around the corner.

There comes a point where you give up.

Yeah, well, he’s not all there.

We’ve been there before.

We should be there for him.

Oh, please, been there, done that.

He asked me to the dance, so there!

There you go! Fifty-nine cents change.

I reckon thirty or forty years, there or thereabouts.

There you have it — the grand sacrifice.

There they are!

There, there, honey, it’ll be okay.

There, I told you she wouldn’t mind!

They’re coming over at nine.

They are coming over at nine.

They’re going to the movies with us, aren’t they?

They are going to the movies with us, aren’t they?

I hear they’re going to Paris next week.

I hear they are going to Paris next week.

History of the Word:
Middle English from Old Norse their(r)a meaning of them and related to them and they. Old English thǣr, thēr, of Germanic origin and related to Dutch daar and German da, also to that and the. They is Middle English from Old Norse their and related to them and their, also to that and the.

Are is the present simple form for be

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Rules for There and Their by Teacher Art is via English Channel.

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