It’s not surprising that non-mother-tongue speakers of English have difficulty in distinguishing words with the same sound but with entirely different meanings and different spellings.

See the mistake?

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The English language is full of problems like the one presented by there, their and they’re. Most native English speakers pronounce these the same way. Each spelling, however, has a very different meaning.

 Should you wish to learn the difference and improve the level of your English writing skills … read on!

 

1.  There

Use there when referring to a place, whether concrete (“over there at that building”), or more abstract (“it must be difficult to live there”).

  • There is an antique store on Camden Avenue. 

  • The science textbooks are over there on the floor. 

  • There are many documents that are used in investigations. 

Also use there with the verb be (is, am, are, was, were) to indicate the existence of something, or to mention something for the first time.

  • There is a picnic area over here, and a campground across the river.

  • I see there are new flowers coming up in your garden.

 

2.   Their

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

  • My friends have lost their tickets.

  • Their things were strewn about the office haphazardly.

 

3.  They’re

Remember that they’re is a contraction of the words they and are. It can only be used as a subject (who or what does the action) and verb (the action itself). The apostrophe is there to indicate that one letter or more has been left out of the word.

  • Hurry up! They’re closing the mall at six tonight!

  • I’m glad that they’re so helpful to new students here.

 

Test your usage

When you use any of these three words, get into the habit of asking yourself these questions, but remember that they will not work in all cases though:

  • 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 or we are? If so, you’re on the right track!

Recognise 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 practise it yourself.

 

Practise

Practise, practise, practise! Get your English teacher or an English mother-tongue friend to say several sentences aloud that include one of these three words and write down which version they are using.

 

Take some lessons

Enrol for English lessons if you’re still having trouble with there, their, and they’re.