There, Their, They’re

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

The other day, I came across a WikiHow entitled How to Use There, They’re and Their.  These are three of the most misused words in the English language, so I’ve decided to post the WikiHow here.

The English language is full of problems like the one presented by there, their and they’re. Most native English speakers pronounce these words the same way; therefore, it is difficult for some to judge in which situation to use which spelling. Each spelling means a very different thing; if you’d like to learn the difference, read on!

Use there when referring to a place, whether concrete ("over there by the building") or more abstract ("it must be difficult to live there").   For example:

  • There is an antique store on Camden Avenue.
  • The calculus books are over there on the floor.

Use their to indicate possession. It is a possessive adjective and indicates that a particular noun belongs to them.   For example:

  • My friends have lost their tickets.
  • Their things were strewn about the office haphazardly.

They’re is a contraction of the words they and are. It can never be used as a modifier, only as a subject (who or what does the action) and verb (the action itself).  For example:

  • Hurry up! They’re closing the mall at 6 tonight!
    • I’m glad that they’re so nice to new students here.

When you use any of these three words, get in the habit of asking yourself these questions:

  • If you wrote there, will the sentence still make sense if you replace it with here? If so, you’re using it correctly.
  • If you chose their, will the sentence still make sense if you replace it with our? If so, you’ve chosen the correct word.
  • If you used they’re, will the sentence still make sense if you replace it with they are? If so, you’re on the right track.

Recognize incorrect examples and learn from the mistakes. By looking over others’ work with a critical eye, especially by offering proofreading or copyediting help, you can become more sensitized to correct usage and practice it yourself.

  • Wrong: Their is no one here.
  • Wrong: Shelley wants to know if there busy.
  • Wrong: The dogs are happily chewing on they’re bones.
  • RIGHT: I can’t believe they’re leaving their children there alone!

More Tips

  • Spell out your contractions. Replace can’t with cannot, you’re with you are, and they’re with they are. This way, you will catch yourself if you make a mistake in writing.  The students misplaced they’re books → The students misplaced they are books. Here, the second sentence makes no sense; hence, it is improper usage.
  • Turn off the auto-correct feature in your word processor. People tend to get lazy and forget special rules when the computer automatically corrects mistakes like the ones listed above.
  • If you’re unsure if you’re using "their" correctly, try replacing it with "my" —the sentence should work with the substitution. For example: Their house is purple. If you replace "their" with "my" the sentence still makes sense: My house is purple. So, you know you’re using "their" correctly.
  • If you’ve ruled out "they’re" or "their" as the correct form, then "there" is one you should go with!
    • If you have "there is" or "there are" then it’s always "there" — you’d never say "they’re is" or "they’re are" or "their is" or "their are".
  • Learning to spell correctly can help you succeed in school, and on the job… and become a contributor to wikiHow articles.

There is some great common sense advice in this WikiHow.  Learn how and when to use there, their, and they’re and you’ll be a better communicator in writing.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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