English has a number of odd rules that often create stumbling blocks for those who learn English online or learn English listening to conversations on English television programmes or videos.
One of the more frustrating English language quirks involves words which sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. These words are known as homophones. Understanding homophones is an essential part of mastering the English language, both for vocabulary building and spelling. Mastering homophones is somewhat complicated by some word processing programs which perform spell check without checking for correct grammar usage.
Homophones are very common in English and are frequently pairs of words. However sometimes these homophones are trios of words; as is the case with ‘their vs there and they’re. On very rare occasions you will hear an English speaker whose pronunciation is perfect which allows you to hear the difference between the three words. However, this occurs so rarely that it is necessary to master the rules for the correct usage of the three words.
Fortunately, no matter which method we use to learn English online, using “their”, “they’re”, and “there” correctly is fairly easy.
We will help you understand the differences between there vs their and they’re by showing you the meaning of the words and giving you some examples of how each is used. We will also provide you with a couple of simple tricks to help you identify which of the three words is the correct one to use. We will finish up with a short quiz which will allow you to practice what you have learned.
When to use There in a sentence
“There” is the slightly more complex word out of the homophone trio, as it can be used as two different parts of speech.
The most prevalent usage is as an adverb. Basically “there” is the opposite of here and means “at or in that place.”
Jody loved visiting England and considered moving there.
Your books are over there.
There can also serve as a pronoun and can be used to introduce a sentence or a clause.
There is a chance of rain.
There is a cat hiding behind the curtains.
Both usages can often be found in the same sentence.
There is a loud party going on over there.
When to use Their
“Their” is the possessive of the pronoun “they” and is used to indicate ownership.
Students taking the exam were told to leave their cell phones behind.
The football players were looking forward to their championship game.
English usage continues to change, particularly in the digital age. While in most cases “their” is considered plural, it has become more acceptable to use “their” in place of a singular “his” or “her” when it follows a pronoun such as “someone.”
Someone left their car keys on the table.
“Their” should not be used when referring to a specific person.
The boy left their lunch at home.
When to use they’re in a sentence
“They’re” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are.”
They’re learning English grammar online.
The teens are angry because they’re not allowed to use their mobiles.
Contractions are seldom used in academic and formal papers and are generally found in personal notes and informal communications.
Hacks for choosing the correct word
Whenever you find yourself wondering which is the correct usage here are some tips that will make it easier to pick the correct word.
You can take a hint from the spelling. “Their” has the word “heir” in it, indicating possession; this can help remind you to use “their” in your sentence. “Their” is also plural so do not use if when referring to a specific person.
Once again you can use spelling to select the correct word. When using “there” as a place or location it is the opposite of “here”; the word “here” is in the word which can remind you that this is the correct word for a place.
“They’re” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are”. When you are trying to decide if “they’re” is the correct word to use, try substituting the words “they are” in the sentence. If the sentence makes sense, the word is correct.
“They’re looking for a way to fix the broken computer” makes sense if you write it as “They are looking for a way to fix the broken computer.”
Another way to learn the difference between the three homophones is by listening to English broadcasts or watching English videos. The three words are very common and are used extensively in everyday conversation. Whenever you hear one of the homophones used, pay attention to the context – if they are referring to a place (there), a possession (their), or using a contraction (they’re).
The following exercise will help you practice using the correct word. For each sentence choose whether to use “they’re”, “their”, or “there.” The answers are at the bottom of the article.
- _______ going on holiday for ten days.
- I know ________ is a solution to this problem.
- The hikers forgot _______ water bottles.
- Sloths are cute but _______ very lazy.
- _______ going over_____ to finish _____ project.
- They’re, there, their
As we mentioned, mastering homophones is a major part of learning English online as they occur frequently in the language. You can also check our blog for articles which focus on other common homophones.