There, their, they’re!

So, which of these phrases is spelled correctly? Is it “Look at the people over there.”,  or is it Look at the people overtheir.”?

If you chose the first way then you’re correct. If you chose the second way, then maybe this video will help you avoid similar errors in the future.

There really aren’t too many rules to understanding this, but first we’re going to introduce another version of the spelling, that sounds almost identical, and which occasionally trips people up too. This version should be easier to understand.

So, the third version is “they’re”, which, as you can see, has an apostrophe, andit sounds indistinguishablefrom the other twospellings, but it’s used quite differently.

They're = "They are"

Okay, let’s tackle the third version first, since that’s quite straightforward. The apostrophe here indicates this is actually a contraction, where two words are basically joined together, but with a letter or two missing in between. In this case the term is a contraction of the words “they” and “are”.

So whenever you use this term in a sentence, you should always ask yourself if the same sentence would make sense if you expanded the contraction to “they are”.

Here’s an example, which sounds okay, but is actually using the wrong version of “there”.

They’re is nowhere I’d rather be than on the beach right now.”

It sounds okay, right? But it’s actually not right at all. Remember what I said just now? Ask yourself if the same sentence would make sense if you expanded the contraction to “they are”. So, in this case that would be:

They are is nowhere I’d rather be than on the beach right now.”

That obviously makes no sense at all, so you can be sure that version is incorrect in this sentence. Here’s a sentence where it does make sense though:

They’re going to be getting married soon.”

So, we’ll expand the contraction again, and see if the same sentence makes sense with “they are”:

They are going to be getting married soon.”

Sure. That makes perfect sense. So, “they’re” with an apostrophe and “they are” are basically the same thing.

Here are a couple of other examples.

  • I’m not sure where they’re going to be staying.
  • Whatever they’re doing, I hope they enjoy it.

And, as you can see, both of those sentences also make sense when you expand the words of the contraction.

There vs Their

However, the more common mistake that people make is to mix up usage of the other two versions. Even though they sound the same, they’re really not related to each other, and are used in entirely different ways.

So, the first version, there, can be used in several different ways. The most common way it’s used is to refer to a place, or a location of some sort. Here are some examples where the word is being used correctly in that way.

  • I don’t think I’d like to go over there.
  • Look! All the way over there is an eagle.
  • I asked for directions, and he pointed over there.
  • I went there early in the morning.

As you can see, in all of those examples the word “there” is related to a place, or location of some sort.

The same word is also often used to introduce a sentence too. Here are some more examples:

  • There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.
  • There she goes again; she never stops.
  • There but for the grace of God go I.
  • There often seems a fine line between genius and madness.

It can also be used in the following ways too:

  • Are there any trains on Sunday?
  • Will there be free food at the party?
  • There! I told you I was right.
  • There! We’ve finished it at last!
  • There, there. Don’t worry. Everything is fine.

The other version - the abbreviated “they are” version which we looked at previously, would obviously make no sense in any of those examples. Try it if you like.

Okay, let’s tackle the third spelling we have: their

Merriam Webster dictionary says: Their, is the possessive form of they, so it has to do with what belongs to, relates to, or is made or done by certain people, animals, or things.”

Okay, but if that confuses you at all, then just think of this version of “theiras having to do with possession of something, or belonging to someone of something. Some examples should make this clear.

  • We are going to their wedding in June
          - here, we’re talking about something that belongs to someone else. The wedding belongs to someone else.  It’s not my wedding. It’s not your wedding. It’s their wedding.[spacer height="5px"]
  • Their dog always barks when I open the door.
    - whose dog? Not my dog! Not your dog.
    Their dog![spacer height="5px"]
  • The neighbours asked me to fetch theirmail today.
    - whose mail? Not mine or yours.
    Theirs! It’s someone else’s mail; it belongs to the neighbors.[spacer height="5px"]
  • I think you’ll find their car is on fire.
     again, whose car? Not yours. Not mine. Someone else’s. The car belongs to someone else.[spacer height="5px"]
  • The school is having their sports day next week.
    - whose sports day would that be then? It’s the sports day which belongs to the school. It’s
    their sports day.

If you’re just getting familiar with using the three versions of “there/their/they're” that we've looked at, then just keep practicing, and you’ll soon become comfortable with them.

Quite often you’ll come across instances where you need to use more than one version of “there / their / they're” in the same sentence. In fact sometimes you could even correctly use all three spellings in the same sentence.

Here are a couple of examples of correctly using more than one version of the spelling in the same sentence.

  • They’re going to be building their new house on the land over there.
  • I wish their dog wouldn’t sit there staring at me.

So, the first example has all three spellings in the same sentence, and they’re each correct. The first instance, with an apostrophe, we can obviously switch for “they are” if we wanted, so we know that’s correct. The second spelling, their, we can see that we’re talking about something which belongs to someone else; it’s someone else’s house – it’s their house, not mine or yours. And the last spelling, there, refers to a place or location; it doesn’t refer to here, it refers to “over there”.

The same rules always apply, and the second example has the same ideas. We refer to someone else’s dog (not my dog or your dog), so we use the “their” spelling, and we’re referring to the dog sitting in a location or place of some sort; it’s not sitting here – it’s sitting there!

If you struggle to get these words right, here’s a quick checklist to figure out the correct spelling to use each time.Just ask yourself this:

If you’re thinking about using “they’re”, then just check:

- does the sentence still make sense if you change “they’re” (with an apostrophe) to “they are” ?

- if it does, then that’ll be the spelling which is correct; if not, then it must be one of the other two spellings

- so, then ask yourself if the phrase relates to something “belonging to” someone or something in some way. For example, are you referring to someone else’s home, or somebody’s children, or someone’s holiday, or maybe something which belongs to a school, or a business?

Are you referring to “their” home, or “their children”, or “their jobs”? If you are, then the “their” version is what you’ll be wanting to use.

And then, of course, if neither of those two spellings is correct, then you only have one option left anyway, which is the most commonly used spelling – there, so that must be the one you need to use.

Hopefully the examples above make some sense to you and helped you understand when to use each of the spellings. If you watch the video then you'll find a short quiz at the end to test your knowledge!